Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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The Light of a New Creation: John 20:11-17
Mary of Magdala stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ’I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:11-17)

The first words of the Easter story place us on a threshold. Something new is about to begin. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark...” (John 20:1). When the early Christians heard these words, many of them would have been reminded of the first lines of the Bible when God, in seven days, created heaven and earth, and of that moment on the first day when God said, “Let there be light.”

As we continue reading the Easter story, however, we see that the subject of these first lines is Mary Magdalene. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” Mary is a picture of loving attachment to Jesus and audacity. After having gone out in pitch dark to the tomb and returning to tell two of the disciples about the stone, she follows as they then go there. Once they’ve left, she stays. She stands there and weeps, it says. Overcome but standing.

Two angels call out to her. “Why are you weeping?” they ask. The word angel means messenger. When angels intervene in the Bible they do so on God’s behalf. But here, rather than announce simply what God has done, as one might expect, the angels seem to see only Mary. Their words convey tenderness and concern.

Then Jesus appears. “Why are you weeping?” he asks, “Whom are you looking for?” The first words of Jesus in John’s Gospel were very similar, “What are you looking for?” Jesus never stops seeking people out. Mary replies to him, thinking he’s a gardener. The tomb is located, it said earlier, in a garden. Is this another reference to the beginning of the Bible? In Genesis chapter 2, after having created Adam, God entrusted the Garden of Eden to human care. Finally the decisive moment arrives. Jesus calls her by name. Suddenly recognizing his voice, Mary the disciple bursts out, “Rabbouni, Teacher!”

As one contemporary theologian has put it, “Christianity is a contact before it is a message.” (Rowan Williams, in Tokens of Trust, Canterbury Press, p. 92) Its essence lies not in ideas or even fine principles but in something we find here in the Easter story and which indeed the entire Gospel is communicating to us, namely the way God sees and approaches us, the manner of God’s presence, Jesus’ voice and gestures, in short, the way God loves us. This touch of God in Jesus Christ is what was at work, both powerfully and gently, on that first Easter morning, overturning death, bringing new life.

The words Mary then brings back to the other disciples suggest surprisingly that relations—among them, with Jesus and with God—have been changed, opened. “Go to my brothers,” the risen Christ tells her, using the word for the first time in John’s Gospel, “and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” In the light of the resurrection, there is only one family in God. The new creation is not some other world. It is this world transformed by God’s touch, infused with fraternity. And it is present already now, in nascent form, through the words and gestures by which we take responsibility for one another and for our common home.

- What does the good news of the Resurrection change for me, in my outlook and my hopes?

- In what way does Mary Magdalene inspire me?

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Printed from: - 31 May 2020
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