March 24, 2005
Our redemption is the fruit of two trees. The first tree was in the Garden of Eden. It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Against God’s command, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of that tree. Now all their children taste death. The second tree was on Calvary. On the tree of Calvary, Jesus was obedient to the Father, loving us even unto death. From that tree now comes new life.
Nearby Calvary there was a garden. And in it, an unused tomb. The body of Jesus was placed there. On Easter morning, the tomb is empty. Life lost in a garden is now restored in a garden. But even greater is the second garden. It bears the gift of life that conquers death. No sin of ours destroys God’s desire to bring His sons and daughters to Paradise.
When Peter and John inspect the empty tomb, they return home without seeing Jesus. But Mary lingers. Love binds her to the place where Jesus’ body had been placed. And her love reaps its recompense. Looking into the tomb, two angels appear to her. Not to Peter and to John. St. John Chrysostom imagines Mary speaking to the angels when Christ suddenly appears behind her. The angels immediately turn their attention from Mary to the Lord. Magdalene notices their quick change of attitude and attention. She turns from them and sees the Risen Lord. In the gospels, she is the first to see him. She is the first to speak with him. Those who love Jesus most fervently will always enjoy the deepest communion with him.
At first, Mary does not recognize Jesus. In all the appearances of the Risen Lord, Jesus is not immediately known. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize Jesus even as they walk and talk with him. They only come to know him when they sit at table for the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:13-35). After the crucifixion, the disciples go back to earning a living on the Sea of Tiberias. The Lord comes to them in the midst of their work. They see him. They talk to him about fishing. But only after the beloved disciple says, “It is the Lord,” do they recognize Jesus (Jn 21:1-8).
Jesus has been raised from the dead. It is Resurrection, not resuscitation. He has not returned to his former earthly life. He has been raised up by the glory of God. The body is His, but He is transformed. The resurrection appearances came to an end. But we who believe today are in no way at a disadvantage. Mere sight of the Risen Lord does not produce Easter faith. Only the heart open to a new relationship to Jesus as Lord comes to Easter to faith.
At first, Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener. In a sense, she is right. He is the one who sows and waters all creation with the gift of grace. But Mary is not thinking spiritually. Her thoughts are bound to earth. She mistakes the Risen Lord for the keeper of this small garden. She accuses this stranger of taking away the body of Jesus. The Risen Lord says but one word, “Mary.” Her name. The tenderness unmistakable. Instinctive her response: “
Rabbouni, Teacher.” “The sheep hear his voice; one by one he calls them by name” (Jn 10:3). The Good Shepherd is gathering his scattered sheep (Jn 10:14-16). It is the word Jesus speaks to Mary that gifts her with Easter faith. It is the same word that Jesus continues to speak in his Church to us. Listening to the Word proclaimed in the
praeconium paschale and in the preaching of the Church, we enter into our dialogue of faith with the Risen Lord.
Joy overwhelms Mary’s heart. As Matthew tells us, she falls down and grasps Jesus (Mt 28:10). Love desires permanence. “Do not keep clinging to me,” Jesus tells Mary (Jn 20:17). Jesus will remain. He does not leave us orphans (Jn 14:18). The Crucified Jesus has been lifted up. Through the mystery of his death and resurrection, he ascends to the Father. Because he goes to the Father, he now sends the Spirit (Jn 16:7-8). Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with his disciples and so does the Father (Jn 14:23-26). The new life that the Risen Lord shares with us is his divine life. We become the very dwelling place of the Trinity. What an Easter gift! The tomb is empty. Our hearts are full. Like Mary, our souls are flooded with the joy of God’s Presence that no one can take from us.
Love enkindles love. And so Jesus sends Mary to bring the good news of the Resurrection to the others. “Go and find my brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God” (Jn 20:17).
My brothers. This is the first time Jesus ever calls the disciples his brothers. There is great mercy in this. They have betrayed him, deserted him, and fled. They are still his brothers. What forgiveness! What love that binds them together.
Go, tell them. To women as well as to men, the Lord entrusts divine truths. In his commission given to Mary, the Risen Lord fulfills the words of the prophet: "I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Jl 3:1; cf
Mulieris Dignitatem, 16). Through the word of Jesus, Mary came to faith. Now she bears that word to others. First in the gospels to see the Risen Lord, first to share the good news with others. Mary Magdalene, is, as tradition rightly calls her, “the apostle to the apostles” (St. Thomas Aquinas,
In Ioannem Evangelistam Expositio, c. XX, L. III 6). Those who truly believe always become, like Mary, eager to share with others the joy of knowing the Risen Lord.