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In suspense before the Resurrection

· ​Meditation ·

El Greco, “The Resurrection” (detail, 1596-1600)

John 20:1-18

In the Gospel according to John we are not granted to hear the explicit announcement of Jesus’ Resurrection. The two angels who are at the tomb do not tell Mary Magdalene, as happens in the other Gospels, that “he has risen”. No, in John’s Gospel there is silence and a succession of episodes that see the disciples facing what appears to be an enigma: the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene is the first to see the stone rolled away from the tomb and she does not enter it but runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple and announces to them not the Resurrection but her own dismay at what she thought was the snatching of Jesus’ corpse (cf. v. 2).

In their turn Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb and see the cloths which had covered Jesus’ body neatly rolled up, as if by some wise hand which had seen to this and not left them in a heap as after a theft. The Gospel tells us nothing about Peter, it does not tell us whether he reacted in some way. Peter disappears in front of the empty tomb, even though the other disciple lets him enter it first. He remains silent and absent.

The text then mentions that at the sight of that empty tomb the beloved disciple “saw and believed” (v. 8). But what kind of faith is this? Joy is not talked about, there is no mention of an announcement of the Resurrection when they go back to the other disciples (cf. v. 10). All it says is that as yet they did not know the scripture, “that he must rise from the dead” (v. 9).

However, John leads us by the hand to listen to the revelation: from the doubt and suspicion of a snatching of the body to the knowledge that Jesus’ body had not been stolen, to a newborn faith on the basis of the remembrance of what the Scriptures had announced, to a community which, in silence and perhaps in a shock that is beginning to wear off, giving way, in wonder, to a certain faith, gathers together once again (cf. v. 10).

But Mary Magdalene has not yet taken the step towards an interpretation of the event: she still believes that someone has removed Jesus’ body (cf. vv. 13 and 15). The text tells us that she did not see the burial cloths left behind in the tomb; we are not told that she entered it or that she saw and believed. She seems not to know of the event of the other two disciples and the text presents her as though she were living a separate story; she appears enclosed in the nostalgia for a past of which even the remains have been taken from her.

William Blake, “The Resurrection” (c. 1805)

The disciples which this passage presents to us are disciples who remain as if in suspense in the face of an aporia which alone the initiative of the Risen Jesus will be able to resolve when he reveals himself to Mary Magdalene, calling her by name (cf. v. 16), and when he shows himself to the other disciples offering them peace and showing them the wounds of his Passion (cf. 20:19-23).

Yet even when facing the Risen Jesus whom she had at first failed to recognize, Mary Magdalene needs to make a journey of faith: first she calls him “Sir”, and it is only thanks to the words of Jesus which reveal his communion with the Father that she manages to confess him “Lord” (v. 18). She is led to make a journey of faith and to pass from withdrawal into a longing for something that is past and from the joy of its reconstitution (“Rabboni”) to open herself to a radical newness of life. This newness makes her a witness of that relationship woven by Jesus with her and with the disciples, her brothers, during his life, which is destined not to die but rather to endure and indeed to be renewed, for Jesus, living, “ascended to the Father” (v. 17), his and ours.

This is the Good News: what the Father did in the life of the Son was to ensure, through the Resurrection, that he was not separated from his brothers and sisters, from all human beings, and that therefore the event of love, consisting of betrayals, infidelities and contradictions too, but which the disciples also experienced and which today too people experience with Jesus, might not be lost but be assumed into the relationship of love of Jesus with His Father and our Father for ever.

The Sisters of Bose

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