ON EASTER MORNING…
“But the women, as always in the case of death, had more immediate and more homely tasks to perform. The Body of Jesus had been buried hastily, without proper reverence. They would return to the tomb and take proper care of the Body of their beloved Master.
THE WOMEN SET OFF TO TAKE PROPER CARE OF THE BODY
Early Sunday morning, at the first legal moment after the Sabbath, Mary, the mother of James, Salome, Joanna and Mary Magdalen went directly to the tomb while the others went to the sellers of spices and ointments to purchase some to anoint the Body of Jesus and perfume His tomb.
AFTER THE FIRST SHOCK THE GUARDS FLEE
Meanwhile, at the tomb, an angel of the Lord had descended, rolled back the stone at the entrance and sat on the stone. The guards were terrified, for ‘His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment like snow’ (Matthew 28:3). After the first shock the guards fled to the city to report what had happened.
SHE INFORMS JESUS’ APOSTLES
When Mary Magdalen arrived at the tomb she found it open. She looked inside, but could not see the Body of her Master. Thinking that someone had stolen the Body, she ran to the upper room and said to the Apostles, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him’ (John 20:2).
‘HE HAS RISEN, HE IS NOT HERE’
While Mary was hastening to tell her story to the Apostles, the other women, after having obtained the spices and ointments they sought, came also to the empty tomb. Like Mary Magdalen they were surprised to find that the Body of Jesus was not there. But two angels appeared to them and one of the angels said, ‘Do not be terrified. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see him, as he told you’ (Mark 16:6-7).
MOST OF THEM DO CONSIDER THE WOMEN’S ACCOUNT TO BE NONSENSE
They also hurried to the upper room and told the Apostles what they had seen and heard. Most of the Apostles took their story for ‘nonsense, and they did not believe the women’ (Luke 24:11). Peter and John, however, were moved by the stories of Mary Magdalen and the other women. They left the upper room and ran to the tomb. St John arrived there first. But out of deference for the head of the Apostolic band he waited and allowed Peter to enter first. After both had entered they saw that the Body of Jesus was indeed gone. The linen cloths which had been wrapped around the Body were lying on the floor and the linen handkerchief which had been about the head of Jesus was lying separately, neatly folded.
PETER IS PERPLEXED, JOHN BELIEVES THAT JESUS IS RISEN
Peter, as St Luke tells us, was perplexed. He did not know what to make of it all. He ‘went away wondering to himself at what had come to pass’ (Luke 24:12). But John, the beloved disciple, when he saw the Body gone and the cloths lying there and remembered the words of the angels to the women, believed that his beloved Master had really risen from the dead.
‘WOMAN, WHY ART THOU WEEPING?’
Peter and John then returned to the upper room. But Mary Magdalen, who had followed them to the tomb, remained standing outside the tomb. She was weeping for her lost Master. She looked again into the tomb. There she saw two angels. They said to her, ‘Woman, why art thou weeping?’ She answered, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him’ (John 20:13).
PERHAPS HER EYES ARE SO FILLED WITH TEARS THAT SHE CAN’T SEE CLEARLY
Mary could find no other explanation for the absence of the Body of Jesus except to suppose that someone had stolen it. But then she turned around again to face the garden. Someone was standing there. At first she did not recognise Him. Perhaps her eyes were so filled with tears that she could not see clearly. Perhaps her state of mind – fixed as it was on the idea that the Body of Jesus had been stolen – prevented her from recognising the man before her. He also said to her, ‘Woman, why art thou weeping? Whom dost thou seek?’ Taking Him for the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if thou hast removed him, tell me where thou hast laid him and I will take him away.’
SUDDENLY SHE RECOGNISES HIS WAY OF SPEAKING
Then, with an accent and a tone so familiar and dear to her, the figure before her called her by name: ‘Miriam’ (the Aramaic word for ‘Mary’). At these well-remembered tones Mary recognises Jesus, her Master. ‘Rabboni,’ she said, and she rushed to embrace His feet.
AN IMPORTANT MISSION
But Jesus had a more important task for Mary. Except for a first appearance to Mary of Nazareth, His Mother (and surely it is natural to suppose that the risen Jesus will have gone first to see His own Mother, who had given Him flesh and blood, nourished Him, stood by His Cross suffering with Him), this appearance to Mary Magdalen is the first appearance of Jesus to any of His disciples. He wishes her to make known to the Apostles that He had risen from the dead. He says to her, ‘Do not touch me (that is, do not cling to me), for I have not yet ascended to my Father, but go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17).
Mary was sent by Him to be an Apostle to the Apostles. The Apostles, who were to bring the story of the risen Jesus into the world, were to learn of His Resurrection first from the lips of the penitent woman of Magdala. Mary went to the Apostles and announced to them, ‘I have seen the Lord, and these things he said to me’ (John 20:18).
MOST OF THE APOSTLES DON’T EVEN SEE THE NEED TO TRY AND VERIFY THE TESTIMONIES
The news which Mary Magdalen brought to the Apostles, if it were true, should have been both consoling and inspiring. Jesus had told them that it was necessary for Him to die and rise again on the third day. The fact of the empty tomb they had already learned from Mary, from the other women and from Peter and John. They themselves had seen Jesus bring Lazarus back to life from the grave. But that Jesus should Himself have arisen, this they found impossible to believe. Perhaps John believed Mary Magdalen when she said she had seen Jesus. He says that he believed from the moment when he saw the empty tomb and the clothes neatly folded therein. But the other Apostles found the thought of a risen Jesus too impossible for belief. ‘And they, hearing that he was alive and had been seen by her, did not believe it’ (Mark 16:11).
So strong was their conviction that it could not be true that none of them (except Peter and John who had already done so) even went to the tomb to verify the absence of the body of their Master.
A ‘GOLDEN HANDSHAKE’
Meanwhile the soldiers who had been guarding the tomb reported to the priests the incident of the earthquake and the rolling away of the stone by an angel. The priests were in an embarrassing position. What they had feared had come to pass. The body of Jesus was missing from the tomb. In their minds, no doubt, the followers of Jesus had somehow succeeded in removing the body of their Master. But the guards claimed that this had been effected by some supernatural agency. It would do to accuse the guards of negligence. They would naturally protest and their story of supernatural forces might be accepted. On the other hand, it was necessary to prevent any such story of angels from being told and accepted. Shrewdly enough the priests found a practical stratagem to relieve themselves of the embarrassment. They gave the soldiers money to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were sleeping’ (Matthew 28:13).
Of course, by telling such a story (which was evidently a lie, for if they were sleeping they could not have known what happened at all), the soldiers ran the risk of being reprimanded or punished for sleeping on duty. But the priests promised to use their influence with the Roman authorities to prevent any punitive action against the guards.
TWO DISCIPLES LEFT FOR THE VILLAGE OF EMMAUS
While the Apostles in Jerusalem refused to credit the story that Jesus was alive and had been seen by Mary Magdalen, two of the disciples, perhaps two who had lost heart at the death and burial of Jesus, left for the village of Emmaus. On the way they were joined by a stranger, at least a man whom they did not recognise. They told Him of the death and burial of Jesus, of the women and of Peter and John who had found the tomb empty, of the message of the angels saying that Jesus was alive. Apparently they did not believe that Jesus was alive, for they were neither remaining in Jerusalem to see Him nor going to Galilee to await Him as He had requested. The stranger said to them, ‘O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken: Did the Christ have to suffer these things before entering into his glory?’ (Luke 24:25).
Then He sought to prove to them that the Sacred Scriptures of the Jews had foretold that the Christ, the Messias, would achieve His victory through death and resurrection.
HE VANISHES FROM THEIR SIGHT
Late in the afternoon they arrived at Emmaus and asked the Stranger to stay with them. At dinner He broke bread with them. At that moment they recognised Him. It was Jesus Himself.
But at the moment of recognition He vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Was not our heart burning within us while He was speaking on the road and explaining to us the Scriptures?’ (Luke 24:32).
At once they determined to return to Jerusalem and tell the Apostles that they had seen Jesus alive.
LATER, BACK AT JERUSALEM…
At Jerusalem, before they could tell their story, the Apostles informed them that the Lord was indeed risen and had appeared to Simon Peter. They themselves told how they had recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread.
IT IS MENTIONED THAT THE LORD HAD APPEARED TO SIMON PETER
The Gospels do not tell us of the details of this appearance of Jesus to Peter. But St Paul mentions it also. And it is easy to see that it was fitting that Jesus should appear to Simon Peter, the man He had chosen to lead the Apostolic band, before He appeared to the others.
WHY THE ‘DELAY’?
It might seem more difficult to understand why the risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalen before He appeared to any of His Apostles, and why He showed Himself to the two disciples at Emmaus before He showed Himself to the Apostolic band (with the possible exception of Peter). In the mind of Jesus the Apostles were to be His heralds, telling the story of His death and Resurrection to the whole world. Why did He not show Himself first to them?
But perhaps the answer lies in the very role which Jesus expects them to play. They are to preach His Resurrection to the world for the salvation of men. It is of the utmost importance that their integrity, their truthfulness and trustworthiness should be recognised by everyone. As His closest associates, as men who might hope to gain power through preaching so marvellous a fact, their word might be suspected if it were unsupported by other testimony and if it were claimed that Jesus had appeared first of all to them. Men might too easily say that the Apostles were liars or were deceived because of their own hopes, their own interests. From that point of view it was better that Jesus should be seen and heard and touched by others first, while the Apostles themselves remained unbelieving.
THE ELEMENT OF THE UNEXPECTED
It should of course be noted that all the first witnesses of the risen Jesus were not expecting to see Him. Mary Magdalen saw the empty tomb, but she thought only that someone had taken the body away. Peter saw the empty tomb and was perplexed. The two disciples at Emmaus had lost their belief in Jesus. No one of these could be accused of excessive credulity.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (Headings in capital letters added afterwards)