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MONDAY HOMILY: Mary Magdalene, Meeting the Risen Lord

By Rev. Stephen B. Reynolds
July 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Mary Magdalene's personal encounter with the Jesus fortifies her, removes her doubt, and equips her to give witness to the Resurrection: "I have seen the Lord" (John 20:18). In order to give witness to the risen Lord, we too need to encounter Jesus.  He reveals himself through his Word and his sacraments, especially in the Holy Eucharist.  May we always return to these sources of light, so that we might always recognize Jesus and be fortified to witness to him.

SUGAR LAND, TX (CATHOLIC ONLINE) - Since today is the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene, the ongoing reading of the Gospel of Matthew is interrupted, so that we can contemplate the encounter between the risen Lord and this most faithful disciple. 

St. John relates how, on the morning of Easter Sunday, Mary goes to Jesus' tomb, accompanied by "the other Mary," that is, Mary the mother of James and Joseph (see Matthew 27:56).  They were intent upon completing the burial preparations that had been cut short by the beginning of the Sabbath.  The two Mary's were also undoubtedly motivated by a desire to pray at the Lord's tomb.  There is as yet no indication that they expected the Lord to have risen.

Finding the tomb empty, Mary Magdalene hurries back into Jerusalem and finds St. Peter.  As the leader of the Apostles, he has the right to the information that Mary carries.  Leaving Peter to ponder her revelation, Mary returns to the empty tomb in tears.

This historic event - for it is a real event and not a metaphor, story or the fruit of an active imagination - becomes more vivid for us when we understand the "geography" of the tomb of Christ.

Like other tombs in ancient Israel, the tomb made available for Christ's burial, through the magnanimity of Joseph of Arimathea, was constructed according to a well-established pattern. 

As was typical for that time and place, the tomb of Christ had two chambers, both carved out of the solid rock of the hillside.  The first chamber was an anteroom in which the body could be prepared for burial and where mourners could gather on special anniversaries. 

Beyond this was the tomb itself, a small room with two shelves or "beds" carved out of the rock, on which the dead body could repose.  Since this tomb was new (see John 19:41), only one of the shelves had been constructed. On the back wall of the tomb, there would have been a series of niches for ossuaries, containing the bones of previous burials.

The outer door of Jesus' tomb faced east, the direction of the rising sun.

After Mary had returned to the tomb, she has an interesting encounter with two angels and an unknown man.  What catches our attention is Mary's casual interaction with the angels.  The scriptures frequently recount angelic visitations, but they are usually accompanied by fear and trepidation.  On this occasion, Mary acts as though speaking with angels was perfectly normal and commonplace. 

Turning to the other Gospels, and reading their accounts of the Resurrection in harmony with John's, we learn that Mary has already met these angelic guardians (see Matthew 28:5-7).  In fact, one of the angles had sent Mary back to find Peter and bring him word of the Lord's Resurrection.  When Mary returns to the tomb, the angel is perplexed at her weeping, since she had already been given word about Jesus having risen from the dead.

We can understand how overwhelmed Mary Magdalene must have felt by all of this.  The fact of Jesus' resurrection hadn't registered with her, despite the angelic announcement.  Overcome with sadness and fatigue, Mary breaks down.

At this moment, the gardener appears on the scene and speaks to Mary (John 20:15).  Why didn't recognize him or his voice?  Remember the layout of the tomb.  At this point, Mary was sitting in the anteroom of the sepulcher.  The only light was streaming in from the eastern door, and since it was early in the morning (John 20:1), the sun was still low in the sky.

When the gardener speared at the door, having the sun at his back, Mary would not have been able to see him clearly.  He would have appeared only in outline, since no light would have been illuminating his face.  Since she had been crying, Mary's eyes were probably swollen and full of tears, making it even harder to see anything clearly.  The sun was also in her eyes, causing her to squint or to look away.

Only when the gardener speaks Mary's name does she recognize him as the risen Lord.   Her tears turn from those of sadness to joy, and she believes.  Her personal encounter with the Jesus fortifies her, removes her doubt, and equips her to give witness to the Resurrection: "I have seen the Lord" (John 20:18).

In order to give witness to the risen Lord, we too need to encounter Jesus.  He reveals himself through his Word and his sacraments, especially in the Holy Eucharist.  May we always return to these sources of light, so that we might always recognize Jesus and be fortified to witness to him.

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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