All four Gospel accounts mention Mary Magdalene as visiting the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning.
We might note that, in John’s account, she does not report to the two male disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead, only that Jesus’ body is missing. Simon Peter does not conclude that the resurrection has taken place after running to the grave of Jesus. The reason for this is that the empty tomb is no proof of anything: it can only tell us that “he is not here”; it cannot supply the reason for this situation. People come to believe that Jesus
“is risen”, apart from one exception, through an encounter with the risen Jesus or through an angel, a divine messenger, that is, through revelation, not from human deduction or hearsay.
The one exception is the anonymous other disciple, “the one Jesus loved”, who does come to believe without any personal meeting with the risen Lord. What enabled him to perceive the true reason behind the scene in front of him was his relationship with Jesus: this individual has been highlighted in the second part of the Gospel, in which the self-giving love of Jesus for his disciples has been stressed and illustrated by his washing of
the disciples’ feet.
The mention of the linen burial cloths and head covering recalls the Johannine account of the raising of Lazarus, who came out of his tomb still wrapped in his funeral sheets and had to be released from them. The Fourth Evangelist is telling us that Lazarus was restored to the life he had lost: the resurrection of Jesus is of a different order altogether
The male disciples of Jesus are often criticised or ridiculed for not believing the women when these female disciples tell them that Jesus is risen. However, the New Testament tells us that the testimony of the first disciples, on whose testimony belief in the resurrection of Jesus depends, is founded on “a personal experience of the risen Lord”. Paul claims to be as much of an apostle as the likes of Peter on this very basis. The empty tomb is no proof, as we see from the Gospel narratives themselves: for example, Mary Magdalene will soon mistake the risen Jesus for the gardener and ask him what he might have done with the body. It is only when Jesus speaks her name that the joyful truth is revealed to her.
Those who enjoy detective stories will appreciate that the empty tomb is not a proof of the resurrection, but is in some ways a consequence of that event. The reason, according to the Christian scriptures, must come from divine revelation, from God: this is supplied either through angels or by the risen Jesus himself. This means that each of us has to decide for her- or himself whether or not to believe in the resurrection: no one saw Jesus rise from the dead, despite the purely imaginative pictures in many stained-glass windows and illustrated Bibles.
Today is the greatest feast in the Christian year: celebrate it accordingly!
No one, including the soldiers on guard in Matthew’s account, actually saw Jesus rise from the tomb.
“The disciple Jesus loved” is the figure at the source of the Johannine tradition and therefore of great importance in the Fourth Gospel.
Mary Magdalene is the only constant factor in the stories of the women’s visit to the tomb of Jesus.
The Lord is truly risen, alleluia!
(from one of the Entrance Antiphons of the Mass on Easter Sunday)