Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’
A frequent literary device in John’s gospel is the use of gradual recognition, or misunderstanding as a stage on the path to understanding: see for example, the conversations Jesus had with Nicodemus (ch. 3), the Samaritan woman (ch. 4), etc. In today’s passage we find it once again: Mary thought at first that Jesus was the gardener.
The moment of full recognition was when he spoke her name. This has a great deal of resonance throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I am pleased with you and I know you by name’” (Exodus 33:17). Referring to himself, Jesus said, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep…. The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3). A faith that does not go to the depth of one’s personal existence is not faith but theory. Even theology is not faith: a person may know a great deal of theology but have no faith. I heard a woman describe her husband, “He’s very interested in religion, but he has no faith.” Conversely, a person may know little about religion but have profound faith. St Thomas Aquinas said that one old lady (una vetera) may have more faith than a host of learned theologians.
Matthew’s account says, “The women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy” (28:8). A tomb is not a place you come away from with joy: you come away in deep grief in the early days of bereavement, and later on with quiet resignation; hardly with joy! But with the death of Jesus there was to be no 'closure': the past was not to be closed up and sealed with nostalgia. The past had flooded into the present through the open tomb: the past is no longer past, it is timeless. This is the destruction of time. “Christ yesterday and today and the same forever” (Heb. 13:8).
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