Father Donald Senior, CP

April 4: Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

"Speak, Mary"

Acts 10:34, 37-43; Ps 118-1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

The tone of the Easter Sunday readings is set by the beauty of John’s Gospel. The beauty is not only in John’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb, which is the Gospel selection for today, but also in what is called the Easter Sequence, which is a lovely poetic reflection that dates to the 11th century and has become part of the Easter Mass readings.

John’s Gospel is noted for its emphasis on the women who encounter Jesus. Not only the mother of Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana and again at the foot of the cross, but also the unnamed Samaritan woman whose life is transformed when she meets Jesus at the village well (Jn 4:1-42). John also tells us of the woman shamed by religious authorities for having committed adultery but who is protected and forgiven by Jesus (Jn 8:1-11, a beloved story that may have originally drifted into John’s Gospel from that of Luke); also the close friends of Jesus and sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha of Bethany (Martha makes one of the New Testament’s most profound acknowledgments of Jesus’ identity in Jn 11:27, and Mary anoints his body with precious oil, Jn 12:1-8). Above all, John writes of Mary Magdalene, whom we meet especially in connection with the resurrection of Jesus. Mary apparently was from the seaside Galilean town of Magdala (which, by the way, in recent years has been wonderfully excavated and open to the public).

Today’s selection is the first of a series of encounters with Mary Magdalene in John’s Gospel. We first meet Mary of Magdala when she stands with Jesus’ mother Mary and other women at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25).

In John’s account it is Mary Magdalene alone, driven by her intense love for Jesus, who comes to the tomb on Easter morning (Jn 20:21). Unlike the other Gospels, which describe several women coming to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, in John’s version we have the sense Mary Magdalene comes because of her grief, just wanting to be near the tomb of Jesus. 

But she discovers the large stone sealing the tomb has been rolled back and the tomb itself is empty. Alarmed, she runs to tell Simon Peter and the unnamed “beloved disciple.” They run to the tomb (in typical Johannine perspective, the beloved disciple runs faster than Peter and gets there first).

Then they enter the empty tomb and find that the burial cloths in which Jesus’ dead body was wrapped were not tossed aside as if his body had been snatched away by grave robbers, but are neatly folded, a sign of deliberation and order. This is the first hint of the marvel that has taken place and now proclaimed on this Easter Sunday: Jesus is alive, raised from the dead, and filled with life eternal! 

This is the first scene of Mary Magdalene’s special place in the Easter account. Later, in the Gospel reading for the Tuesday of Easter week, she returns to the tomb, still perplexed and sorrowful, and there she becomes the first person to encounter the Risen Jesus in a scene of exquisite tenderness. 

Once again she is the one who proclaims the Easter message to the apostles. For this, the early church identified Mary Magdalene as “the apostle to the apostles,” which is a remarkable title.

And this brings us back to the poetic entreaty of the Easter Sequence:

“Speak, Mary, declaring

What you saw, wayfaring.”

 Her answer is a beautiful expression of Easter faith:

“The tomb of Christ, who is living,

The glory of Jesus’ resurrection,

Bright angels attesting,

the shroud and napkin resting,

Yes, Christ my hope is arisen. …”

Through the witness of Mary Magdalene, a disciple in love with Jesus, we encounter once again the heart of our Christian faith, our “hope,” as Mary calls him.

We have been through a year when it seemed that death stared us in the face at every turn. But, as Christians, we believe that God’s love is stronger than death, and that is where we must place our hope. That is the Easter message. 



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