Angelico, fra, approximately 1400-1455. Noli Me Tangere – “Do not hold me.”, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 2, 2023]. Original source:

RCL Year A, Easter Day
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Saint John 20:1-18

The Gospel just proclaimed arguably is the most important episode in all the Gospels. Since we Christians are defined by our belief in the resurrection of the Lord, and this Gospel is the Lord’s quite early and dramatic resurrection appearance to any of his followers, it follows that this appearance dominates the other appearances. The Lectionary agrees. This Gospel is proclaimed at the principal service every Easter Day.

Mary Magdalene visits the tomb early and alone. She sees the stone removed, and she runs to tell Peter and John. They set out for the tomb. John arrives at the empty tomb first and looks in to see the linen wrappings. Peter arrives after him and enters the tomb to see also the linen wrappings. Then John enters and believes. He is the first to believe. He understands the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Peter and John return home.

Mary Magdalene, who first saw the empty tomb, told the disciples about it, and followed Peter and John there, remains outside the tomb weeping. She thinks the body has been moved. She says so three times, first to the disciples, then to the angels in the tomb, and finally to the man she supposes is the gardener.

She stands weeping and looks at the Resurrection and the Life and fails to recognize him. All Jesus does is to say her name. With that, he embraces and cherishes all that she is and will be. She recognizes him, and he gives her something to do. She becomes the first messenger of the resurrection when she tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”[1] They have not seen him, though John believes he has been raised. Mary is the only one who has seen him. John believes, but Mary has seen and believes. Each one of these steps is important, as we shall discover in the Gospel’s sequel next week.

Mary Magdalene is a hero of mine. In Matthew and John, she is the first to peer into the empty tomb. She holds a special place among resurrection witnesses. She devotedly follows the Lord through his crucifixion and burial, and she visits the tomb on the third day before anyone else while it is still dark. Her belief and her fervent emotion are rewarded by the first glimpse of the Resurrection and the Life, newly raised. Both Mark[2] and John[3] recognize her as the first to see the Risen Lord.

The encounter she has with Jesus, at the tomb, thus becomes the prototype of all encounters with the Risen Lord. She justly has become known as “the apostle of the Apostles.” I put it to you this way. If you and I aspire to be witnesses of the resurrection, perhaps Mary Magdalene’s example sets a higher bar than simply believing. Perhaps we have actually to do something beyond simple belief. Perhaps our lives have to demonstrate what she declares, “I have seen the Lord.”

[1] Saint John 20:18.

[2] Saint Mark 16:9-10.

[3] Saint John 20:14-17.