Wed, April 13, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

Easter Sunday

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

The Resurrection, by Sebastiano Ricci (ca. 1715).

Bible passages


John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. It was still dark. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance. So she ran to Simon Peter and another disciple, the one Jesus loved. She said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb! We don’t know where they have put him!’ So Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. Both of them were running. The other disciple ran faster than Peter. He reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there. But he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him. He went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there. He also saw the funeral cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place. It was separate from the linen. The disciple who had reached the tomb first also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she cried, she bent over to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white. They were seated where Jesus’ body had been. One of them was where Jesus’ head had been laid. The other sat where his feet had been placed. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where they have put him.’ Then she turned round and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t realise that it was Jesus. He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’ She thought he was the gardener. So she said, ‘Sir, did you carry him away? Tell me where you put him. Then I will go and get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’. She turned towards him. Then she cried out in the Aramaic language, ‘Rabboni!’ Rabboni means Teacher. Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me. I have not yet ascended to the Father. Instead, go to those who believe in me. Tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news. She said, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Biblical Homilies


“Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. It was still dark. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance. 2 So she ran to Simon Peter and another disciple, the one Jesus loved. She said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb! We don’t know where they have put him!’” (cf. verse 1-2)

On the first day, early in the morning, when it is still dark, Mary of Magdala goes to Jesus' tomb. This relatively accurate description of the external situation points to something beyond it, for we are dealing here with the Word of God, and John always takes external situations to reveal something fundamental to us. In this case, the darkness is a sign of grief, hopelessness and terror. Jesus is dead and no one believes in life any more, not even Mary of Magdala. She only goes up to see the dead Jesus once more.

But when she sees that the tomb is open and the stone has been rolled away, she does not go in and look, but immediately runs to Simon Peter and John ("the disciple whom Jesus loved") and reports quite excitedly that someone has taken Jesus' body out of the tomb. Because she found the tomb open, it was quite clear to her that the body must have been stolen.

“So Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 Both of them were running. The other disciple ran faster than Peter. He reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there. But he did not go in.“ (cf. verse 3-5)

Peter and the other disciple, despite their fear, fulfil the request of Mary of Magdala and go to see what is going on. One must bear in mind that the disciples were still very afraid that the same thing might happen to them as to Jesus, that they too would be sought and crucified. That is why they run to the tomb in a great hurry, so as not to be discovered. You can almost feel something of this fear in them.

Nevertheless, they go out and come to the tomb. Although they both walk together, John is faster than Peter and comes to the tomb first. John is the disciple of love. That is emphasised again and again. And this love recognises. We do not know God with the mind, but only through love. When I love a You, it can reveal itself to me. And the lover now presses on, so he runs faster than Peter. But although he comes to the tomb first, he waits. He does not go in. In his Gospel, John always consciously recognises Peter as the first of the apostles, as the rock. That is why John lets Peter go first in this situation too: although in his love he certainly feels the urge to look for his Jesus, he nevertheless has respect for the office that this Jesus has given to Peter.

Jesus speaks to those who have chosen him and have thus become his disciples. And the kingdom he promises to these poor is actually the good of all goods. But: I must first admit that everything is given. Only then can God give me anything at all, namely the highest, the Kingdom of God. But first the first thing must be true, namely that I am poor. If I am rich, if I want to be like God, then God cannot give me the kingdom of heaven, then I do it all myself. But what man does leads to hell rather than heaven.

“Then Simon Peter came along behind him. He went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there. He also saw the funeral cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place. It was separate from the linen. The disciple who had reached the tomb first also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.” (cf. verse 6-10)

John has already looked into the tomb and discovered the linen bandages. But Peter now goes into the tomb and sees not only the linen bandages, but also the face-cloth that had been on Jesus' head. So they gradually discover one thing after another. But only of John it says: "he saw and believed." So John, in his love, already sensed something that was still hidden from Peter. Here again: the lover recognises. Peter only sees the linen bandages and the shroud, and does not yet quite know what to make of them. In any case, it is clear that Jesus' body cannot have been stolen, the tomb has been left far too neatly for that. So something special must have happened, but Peter in particular does not know what, because "they did not yet know from the Scriptures that he had to rise from the dead." (V. 9)

The two disciples then simply go back home. They did not investigate further - perhaps still out of fear - what happened to Jesus' body. John also writes nothing about Peter now making propaganda at home. He apparently does not even think about something like resurrection.

“But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she cried, she bent over to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white. They were seated where Jesus’ body had been. One of them was where Jesus’ head had been laid. The other sat where his feet had been placed. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where they have put him.’ Then she turned round and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t realise that it was Jesus. He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’ She thought he was the gardener. So she said, ‘Sir, did you carry him away? Tell me where you put him. Then I will go and get him.’“ (cf. verse 11-15)

But Mary does not leave. She stays by the grave and weeps. It is love again that continues to seek. And while she weeps, she leans into the tomb once and sees these two angels. Interestingly, this angelic apparition does not seem to touch her at all. She has been looking for Jesus and is so concentrated on him that even the angels cannot distract her, cannot frighten her or make her feel insecure. Yet these angelic apparitions, along with the linen bandages and the face-cloth, are important "proofs" of the empty tomb.

When the angels ask her: "Why are you weeping?" she gives the reason for her grief: "My Lord has been taken away, and I do not know where he has been laid". (v. 13) But it is not the angels who answer her, but Jesus who stands behind her and asks her so wonderfully, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom seekest thou?" (v. 15) Here, then, Jesus' first question is no longer "What do you seek?" as at the beginning of John's Gospel, but "Whom do you seek?" because in the case of this lover it is clear whom she seeks. And Mary immediately asks for her Lord, whereby it is clear that as a woman she would hardly be able to bring back the body alone, but here again we find the expression of the lover. Mary of Magdala is no longer dissuaded from her intention, she is no longer afraid of the enemies. She has completely forgotten herself. This is the loving person who is so focused on Jesus that he risks everything, even his life.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’. She turned towards him. Then she cried out in the Aramaic language, ‘Rabboni!’ Rabboni means Teacher. Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me. I have not yet ascended to the Father. Instead, go to those who believe in me.“ (vgl. Vers 16-17a)

Jesus simply calls Mary by her name and she immediately feels completely recognised by this name. This can only be Jesus, whom she loved and accompanied and who freed her from her guilt. By calling her name, Mary feels addressed: I am meant. God means me. Jesus means me. I am recognised. He knows me.

And she in turn responds with the exclamation: "Rabbuni" - my master. It is understandable that now that he is standing before her, she wants to embrace him and have him for herself. She wants to hold him so that no one can take him away from her.

But Jesus replied: "Do not hold me, for I have not yet gone up to the Father. (v. 17a) Until now he had been bound to the earth and walked on it like a man from place to place. If you wanted to be with him, you either had to go with him or try to hold on to him. But now Jesus makes it clear to Mary: "You don't need that any more. Now I am risen. When I have gone to the Father, I will send the Holy Spirit and through this Holy Spirit I will be present in you. I will be present among you. I will always be there. You do not need to hold me any more. You do not need to walk to Capernaum to meet me. You no longer need to go to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God because he is present there. That time is over. I am now always with you. That is a wonderful promise.

“Tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news. She said, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (vgl. Vers 17b – 18)

This passage is the only time Jesus uses the word "brothers", expressing that the apostles have now come into a completely new relationship with the Father through redemption: My Father is your Father and my God is your God.

It is also interesting that Jesus immediately sends Mary away again. She was looking for him with an endless longing. And now that she has found him, she is to leave again immediately. And she obeys! The lover does what the beloved wants. She goes to these doubting, unbelieving disciples, still hiding in fear and still unable to believe, and tells them everything he has told her. We learn nothing about how the disciples reacted to Mary's message. Later, the Emmaus disciples are told once: "Some women from our circle also caused us great excitement. They were at the tomb early in the morning, but did not find his body. When they returned, they said that angels had appeared to them and said that he was alive. Then some of us went to the tomb and found everything just as the women had said; but they did not see him themselves." (Lk 24:22-24)

The disciples did not believe. But she, the lover, reacts. The lover recognises, but she also lets herself be sent away again. That is something wonderful. The lover does not hold on, because wanting to hold on is self-love. The lover gives freely and does what is the will of the Lord. That is the expression of his love and so it should be with us. The more we love God, the more we will know Him. The more we love God, the more we will have a desire like Jesus himself: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me." (Jn 4:34). And then we will let ourselves be sent.