Dearest Friends in Christ,
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!!
Today on this marvelous and wonderful day let us contemplate on the Gospel of St John Chapter 20:1-18.
1) St John Chapter 20:1:-“Now on the first day of week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early…”
We see in the Gospel of St. John about many events where women played great roles: the first miracle he reports reveals the holy Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord, as an intercessor for those present at the wedding in Cana. In chapter four, the Lord meets with the Samaritan woman who attracted the whole city of Sychar. In the incident of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (Ch. 11), the presence of the two sisters, Martha and Mary is of great significance. In this Chapter, Mary Magdalene appears with her amazing inner faithfulness.
The word ‘Magdalene’ means ‘Mary, from Magdala’. The Talmud mentions that there was a city called Magdala, and it took about twenty minutes to walk from Tiberia (on the sea of Galilee) on the northern side to that city. The word ‘Magdala’ means ‘tower’. Actually there was a tower in the region which carried that name- probably a watch tower.
She came to the tomb while it was still dark. She was driven by her great love to her Lord who was absent from her at that time. She stood by the Lord up to the moment of His death on the Cross. Now, she had come to His tomb without fearing the possible obstacles and dangers.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb at the beginning of the week. That is, she came as soon as the Sabbath of the Old Testament was over. The Gospel here begins with the first day in the new week. It opens before us a totally new age. It proclaims, in that new age, a new resurrected life and a new world. Since that time, Christians have designated Sunday as the day of rest: it is celebrated in memory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is called ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev 1:10).
She ‘saw that the stone had been taken away’. St John Chrysostom comments that ‘”the Lord arose while the stone was in its place with the seals on it. However, to ensure that all the others would be completely assured, it was necessary to open the tomb after the resurrection. This is what happened, and this is what drove St. Mary Magdalene to take action. She was so filled with love for her Lord, that she could not rest;”
2) St John Chapter 20:2: “Then she ran to Simon Peter….”
Mary Magdalene ran to the two disciples to beg them to look for the Lord’s body. She probably suspected that the high priest had ordered that the body be moved to another place as a form of humiliating the Lord. Or could Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have feared that the Jews would be angered by their act so they had carried the Lord’s body to another tomb?
The amazing thing is that Peter and John stuck together. Peter’s denial had humbled him, yet he did not despair. Through repentance and tears, he came back to share fellowship and service with John. Lovingly, John did not reject drawing close to the person who had denied the Lord but later showed remorse.
3) St John Chapter 20:3-9: “Peter therefore went out….”
The two disciples ran together as soon as they heard the news from Mary Magdalene. Her words did not lead them to despair though the matter was out of their control and they could do nothing.They ran together and did not compete as to who would enter into the tomb first. Even though John outran Peter due to his youthful age, yet they cooperated. Each ran as fast as he could. Peter did not envy John as he ran faster, nor did John despise Peter for his slowness.
John did not go in because he trusted that the words of Mary Magdalene were true and that the body was no longer in the tomb. He was assured just by looking inside the empty tomb. Then Peter came and motioned John to come in. They looked and saw the linen clothes placed in order and folded. This was a sign of the resurrection. Indeed, anyone who intended to steal or remove the Body would not have stripped the linen clothes from it. St. John the evangelist reports in the earlier chapters that His Body was covered with a lot of spices. These would let the linen clothes stick to the Body just as hard as lead.His own disciples, if they intended to steal the body wouldn’t have removed the linen (as that would be a sign of humiliation). The Lord’s resurrection was indeed a reality.
A mention needs to be made regarding the handkerchief that was not lying with linen clothes but folded up in a place by itself. Joe Brusherd in his book “Hebraic Insights” mentions an interesting Jewish tradition regarding the handkerchief. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure it was set exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly and the servant would wait, just out of sight until the master had finished eating. If the master finished eating, he would rise from the table wipe his mouth and wad up the handkerchief and toss in onto the table. The wadded handkerchief meant “I am finished”. The servant would then clean the table.
But if the master got up from the table and folded his handkerchief and laid it beside the plate; the servant wouldn’t dare touch the table, because the folded handkerchief meant “I am coming back”!!!
4) St John Chapter 20:10-11-Then the disciples went away again to their own homes….”
St John Chrysostom comments the following on Peter and John going back home while Mary Magdalene staying back at the tomb weeping for the Lord.
“The female species is characteristically emotional to a great extent, and is more inclined to tenderness. We say that so that you would not be surprised why Mary wept so bitterly at the tomb, while Peter showed no emotions! The Holy Word reports that ‘… the disciples went away again to their own homes’. As for Mary, she stood there weeping; on account of her weak nature and because she had not yet comprehended well enough the matter of the Resurrection. In contrast, the two disciples marveled and believed after having seen the burial linen clothes; and so returned home. Why did they not go back immediately to Galilee according to the command the Lord Jesus Christ had given them before His suffering? Maybe it was because they were waiting for the arrival of the others as well as due to their own state of ultimate astonishment. These two disciples therefore went on their way home, whereas Mary remained by the tomb. As we have said earlier, just looking at the tomb gave her great comfort”.
5) St. John Chapter 20:12- “ And she saw two angels…”
After the two disciples had left, and probably after the sun came up on that same day, that Mary returned alone. She was still searching for her Lord. When she again stooped inside the tomb, she saw two angels sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’s body was kept.
St Gregory the Great gives the following symbolic meaning regarding the two angels:
a) The angel seated at the head proclaims the Lord’s divinity: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). The other angel, seated at the feet proclaims the Lord’s incarnation: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14)
b) They are like the two cherubim who sat on the Ark of the Covenant where the glory of God shone. The word ‘cherubim’ means ‘perfect knowledge’. What else could that mean other than the two Testaments? What is the mercy seat other than the Lord who became man?
c) They could also be a reference to the two Testaments, the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament proclaims a matter that is imperative and bound to happen. The New Testament announces that this proclamation has been fulfilled and completed. Both Testaments faced each other while they faced the seat of mercy at the same time. They contemplated the Lord who became incarnated; and with one heart, they explained the mystery of His plan.
The western Church Father St Augustine says the following about the two Angels- “Why was one angel seated at the head, while the other was seated at the feet? Is it not because the Greek word for angels is translated into Latin as ‘untie’ (bearing/carrying news)? Therefore the angels refer to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that is preached from head to foot- or from the beginning to the end of time.”
We also see that the Angels were sitting. Did they need rest?
Angels do not need to sit in order to rest for they do not possess a body that is liable to get tired. Their sitting down indicates an invitation to shake off our fear of the grave. Wherever the Lord is present, we may sit and rest.
We will take the rest part later.
Wishing you all a blessed feast of resurrection.
May the prayers of the holy Theotokos, holy Angels, saints and martyrs be a refuge and fortress for us.
Your friend in Christ,
1) Rev. Fr Tadros Y. Malaty, The Gospel According to St John; Volume II; Page 450-466.
2) Joe Brusherd, Hebraic Insights,iUniverse Inc Bloomington,ed.2011, Page22-23.