CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Tears and Joy at the Tomb
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But 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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
- John 20:1-18
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Easter morning is here—we have come from the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday to the morning of the third day and to the entrance of a tomb set into a hill. We left Jesus on Good Friday in the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea, with the help of Nicodemus, had prepared for him. According to John’s gospel, Nicodemus had given Jesus a lavish burial—Jesus’ body has been anointed for burial twice already (12:1–8; 19:39–42). Things are quiet on that morning; many of Jesus’s disciples, closest friends and even family were laying low.
In John’s gospel, Mary is the first one to speak to the Risen Lord, but that is jumping ahead in our story. Early on the third day, the morning after the Sabbath, Mary ventures out in solitude to the tomb. She has not come to bury Jesus; she has come out of a dedication to him, not out of obligation or dread. I imagine that Mary had Jesus on her heart—perhaps she was going to pray for Jesus and for the fledgling movement that was most likely in tatters after the event of the last few days. Instead of a body, she finds a stone rolled away and a bare tomb. Assuming the body has been stolen or moved, Mary leaves to tell the disciples. Peter and John, the beloved disciple, make a run to the tomb. Peter and then John see that the body is gone—perhaps they, too, believe the body has been moved or stolen. A stolen body would not have been out of the ordinary—grave robbers were common in the first century. I can picture Peter and John’s confusion and perhaps depression as they left the empty tomb to return to their homes.
Mary, still in the grip of anguish, remains at the tomb crying—her tears raw with grief and pain. Perhaps she is recalling, in the slow, steady, growing light of morning, what Jesus last said to the disciples: “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain but it will turn into joy.” (John 16:20) Mary’s tears were real; Mary was living in the present moment, racked with grief. Simone Weil says this about Mary’s journey: "Affliction contains the truth about our condition. They alone will see God who prefer to recognize truth and die, instead of living a long and happy existence in a state of illusion. One must want to go towards reality; then, when one thinks one has found a corpse, one meets an angel who says, ‘He is risen.’"
Angels appear and acknowledge her pain, asking, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:13) Mary turns unknowingly to face Jesus. Jesus says, “Mary,” using her name, not just “woman.” Mary then recognizes Jesus, her Lord, exclaiming, “Rabbouni.” Rabbouni was not merely teacher but master—a title reserved for honored and beloved teachers. How she must have felt to hear Jesus’s voice—the voice of the shepherd who knows the names of his sheep.
Mary instinctively reaches out and touches the Risen Christ. Yet, Jesus tells her not to hold on—but can’t you imagine how hard it would be to let go? Yet, let go she must. Aren’t we like that, too? Holding on to the familiar past—not yet ready to move forward nor comprehending that we can only move on with open hands and arms? I imagine Mary gripping Jesus in her anxiety and grief.
Mary receives the first commission from the Risen Christ—to tell the others that Jesus is ascending, “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary tells a first-person perspective of the resurrection—a first-person claim, a testimony, a witness to what she has experienced: “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20: 18)
The empty tomb is the invitation to the resurrection. Mary began her journey to the tomb with devotion and ended it with a commission filled with courage and truth. Mary showed courage that first Easter day—and bore witness to the Resurrection—to new life and new hope. The resurrection changed everything that first Easter day from grief and despair to the day of ultimate new beginnings, new joys and new hope. The joy is all around us—even behind the tears. Let’s wipe away the tears, and let the love burst in—allowing ourselves to celebrate and feel as deeply as Mary.
Today, my prayer is that we will continue to bear witness to Easter morning—the redeeming love of the empty tomb—and reach across to our neighbors and communities, extending to them the new life and hope that the empty tomb promises.
I want to close with a poem from Elizabeth Rooney (1924—1999), a poet who grew up on a farm in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. (The poem was written in 1981 and is available in the book Morning Song). She describes the resurrection as the fabric of our day “rent wide by love.” Jesus is alive. Everything is brand new. We have been rent wide by love.
Now is the shining fabric of our day
Torn open, flung apart,
Rent wide by Love.
So He can enter in.
Now does the dance begin.
Jenny Beaumont is the missioner for adult and lifelong formation for the Diocese of North Carolina.
 Simone Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction” in George A. Panichas, ed., The Simone Weil Reader (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1977), 463
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