12 April 2014

‘They have taken away my Lord, and
I do not know where they have laid him.’

‘Noli me Tangere’ (1524), by Hans Holbein the Younger

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next [20 April 2014] is Easter Day, and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Acts 10: 34-43 or Jeremiah 31: 1-6; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, or the Easter Anthems; Colossians 3: 1-4 or Acts 10: 34-43; and John 20: 1-18, or Matthew 28: 1-10.

This leaves us with a complicated choice, and the Church of Ireland Directory is specific: “When the Old Testament selection is chosen, the Acts reading is used as the second reading at Holy Communion.”

This morning, in our tutorial group, we are looking at Saint John’s account of the Resurrection, and the questions we may ask include how does the Gospel reading fit in with the other Lectionary readings for that morning, and what makes the account in the Fourth Gospel different from the Resurrection accounts in the other three Gospels.

John 20: 1-18

1 Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἔρχεται πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ βλέπει τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου. 2 τρέχει οὖν καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ηραν τὸν κύριον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου, καὶ οὐκ οἴδαμεν ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 3 Ἐξῆλθεν οὖν ὁ Πέτρος καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητής, καὶ ἤρχοντο εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον. 4 ἔτρεχον δὲ οἱ δύο ὁμοῦ: καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς προέδραμεν τάχιον τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ ἦλθεν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 5 καὶ παρακύψας βλέπει κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια, οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν. 6 ἔρχεται οὖν καὶ Σίμων Πέτρος ἀκολουθῶν αὐτῷ, καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον: καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα, 7 καὶ τὸ σουδάριον, ὃ ἦν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ, οὐ μετὰ τῶν ὀθονίων κείμενον ἀλλὰ χωρὶς ἐντετυλιγμένον εἰς ἕνα τόπον. 8 τότε οὖν εἰσῆλθεν καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς ὁ ἐλθὼν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν: 9 οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισαν τὴν γραφὴν ὅτι δεῖ αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι. 10 ἀπῆλθον οὖν πάλιν πρὸς αὐτοὺς οἱ μαθηταί.

11 Μαρία δὲ εἱστήκει πρὸς τῷ μνημείῳ ἔξω κλαίουσα. ὡς οὖν ἔκλαιεν παρέκυψεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 12 καὶ θεωρεῖ δύο ἀγγέλους ἐν λευκοῖς καθεζομένους, ἕνα πρὸς τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ ἕνα πρὸς τοῖς ποσίν, ὅπου ἔκειτο τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. 13 καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῇ ἐκεῖνοι, Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Ηραν τὸν κύριόν μου, καὶ οὐκ οἶδα ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 14 ταῦτα εἰποῦσα ἐστράφη εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω, καὶ θεωρεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἑστῶτα, καὶ οὐκ ᾔδει ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν. 15 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; τίνα ζητεῖς; ἐκείνη δοκοῦσα ὅτι ὁ κηπουρός ἐστιν λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ σὺ ἐβάστασας αὐτόν, εἰπέ μοι ποῦ ἔθηκας αὐτόν, κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἀρῶ. 16 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Μαριάμ. στραφεῖσα ἐκείνη λέγει αὐτῷ Ἑβραϊστί, Ραββουνι (ὃ λέγεται Διδάσκαλε). 17 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Μή μου ἅπτου, οὔπω γὰρ ἀναβέβηκα πρὸς τὸν πατέρα: πορεύου δὲ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου καὶ εἰπὲ αὐτοῖς, Ἀναβαίνω πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν καὶ θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν. 18 ἔρχεται Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἀγγέλλουσα τοῖς μαθηταῖς ὅτι Ἑώρακα τὸν κύριον, καὶ ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῇ.

Translation (NRSV)

1 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. 2 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.’ 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15 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.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 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.” ’ 18 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.

The setting and context of the readings:

Acts 10: 34-43:

The settings for the reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10: 34-43) is the house of Cornelius, a centurion. Already a believer in God, he has a vision (verses 1-8), and invites the Apostle Peter to visit him. It is against Jewish law for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile, but Peter comes anyway, with “some ... believers from Joppa” (verse 23).

The Greek here is difficult and full of grammatical errors, unlike the rest of the Acts of the Apostles. Perhaps what we have here are Peter’s unedited words, spoken in a language that at best is his second language but that he is still uncomfortable with.

Saint Peter tells all who are present that God does not favour Jews over others: anyone, whatever his or her ethnic background, who reveres God and lives in unison with him “is acceptable to him” (verse 35).

Saint Peter then (verses 36-38) summarises Christ’s earthly ministry, and he applies to Christ prophecies from Isaiah (52: 7 and 61: 1) and verses from the Psalms (Psalm 107: 20) to Christ who is Kyrios, “the Lord of all” (verse 36).

Christ suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence, but the Father “raised him” (verse 40) and “allowed him to appear” to those chosen by God – to be “witnesses” (verse 41). He is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge the living and the dead (verse 42), he fulfils many Old Testament prophecies, he is the one through whom sins are forgiven, and that forgiveness is now available to all who believe (verse 43).

Jeremiah 31: 1-6

In the Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 31: 1-6) we read a prophecy that the exile will end, that God will not desert Israel. It depicts the return from exile as a new exodus. The people “found grace in the wilderness” (verse 2), God loved them then and his love is “everlasting” (verse 3). The nation of Israel will be rebuilt, the people will make merry, and agriculture will prosper (verse 5).

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24

In the psalm (Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24), we are called to give thanks to God for his mercy and love, which are everlasting. The one who was rejected is now God’s chosen ruler, and all shall share in the power and blessing of God, who “has given us light” (verses 22-27).

Colossians 3: 1-4

In the Early Church, the Baptism of new believers took place at Easter. In the Epistle reading (Colossians 3: 1-4), Baptism is described as sharing in Christ’s suffering and death and being raised with Christ to new life in Christ. So baptism has ethical implications for our discipleship: we are to cast aside both sins of the body and of the mind. In the baptised community, ethnic and social barriers are shattered, for “Christ is all and in all.”

Introducing the Gospel reading:

Mary Magdalene at Easter … a sculpture by Mary Grant at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Early on the Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”) after the Crucifixion, before dawn, Mary Magdalene, who has been a witness to Christ’s death and burial, comes to the tomb and finds that the stone has been rolled away.

Initially it seems she is on her own, for she alone is named. But later she describes her experiences using the word “we,” which indicates she was with other women.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, these women are known as the Holy Myrrhbearers (Μυροφόροι), They include: The Myrrhbearers are traditionally listed as: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Joanna, the wife of Chuza the steward of Herod Antipas, Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Susanna, although it is generally said that there are other Myrrhbearers whose names are not known.

Mary and these women run to tell Saint Peter and the other disciple (presumably Saint John the Evangelist) that they suspect someone has removed the body. The “other disciple” may have been younger and fitter for he outruns Saint Peter. The tidy way the linen wrappings and the shroud have been folded or rolled up shows that the body has not been stolen. They believe, yet they do not understand; they return home without any explanations.

But Mary still thinks Christ’s body has been removed or stolen, and she returns to the cemetery. In her grief, she sees “two angels in white” sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head, and one at the feet. They speak to her and then she turns around sees Christ, but only recognises him when he calls her by name.

Peter and John have returned without seeing the Risen Lord. It is left to Mary to tell the Disciples that she has seen the Lord. Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the Resurrection.

All four gospels are unanimous in telling us that the women are the earliest witnesses to the Risen Christ. In Saint John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ sends Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples what she had seen. Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

The word apostle comes from the Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstólos), formed from the prefix ἀπό- (apó-, “from”) and the root στέλλω (stéllō, “I send,” “I depart”). So the Greek word ἀπόστολος or apostle means one sent.

In addition, at the end of the reading (see verse 18), Mary comes announcing what she has seen. The word used here (ἀγγέλλουσα, angéllousa) is from the word that gives us the Annunciation, the proclamation of the good news, the proclamation of the Gospel (Εὐαγγέλιον). Mary, in her proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection, is not only the apostle to the apostles, but also the first of the evangelists.

In Saint Matthew’s account of the Resurrection (Matthew 28: 1-15), two women go to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” go to the tomb at dawn, and while they are there the Angel of the Lord rolls back the stone and shows them the empty tomb. But they do not see the Risen Christ – he is already on his way to Galilee, and there they shall see him. They return to the disciples and tell them what they have seen.

On their way, Jesus meets them “suddenly” and greets them. But Saint Matthew is unclear about whether this first appearance is to the women, to the women and the disciples, or to the disciples.

In Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16), the stone has already been rolled back when the women arrive at the tomb. Inside the tomb, a young man (or angel) speaks to them, and they are told to go and tell Saint Peter and the Disciples that Christ is going ahead of them to Galilee. The longer ending of Saint Mark’s Gospel then tells us that Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene, but the disciples would not believe them. He then appears to two walking in the countryside, and only then appears later in the day to the 11 remaining disciples.

In Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24), the women go to the tomb and find the stone is rolled away. They are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women. They tell the disciples, who do not believe them, and later Peter goes to the empty tomb and is amazed at what he sees. But the first appearance of the Risen Christ is to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Saint Paul tells us that the Risen Christ first appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to 500 at one time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself (see I Corinthians 15: 3-8).

Why does Saint Paul not name the women?

What does Saint Paul count all 12 disciples?

Why does Saint Paul name Saint Peter but not Saint John, and why does he name Saint James separately?

Who are the 500?

Who are apostles here?

‘Noli me tangere’

‘Noli Me Tangere’ (ca 1500), an icon in the Museum of Byzantine Icons (Museo dei Dipinti Sacri Bizantini), next to San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice

In the Fourth Gospel, when Mary first sees Christ, she does not recognise him. In this reading, the Greek is regularly phrased in the present tense: Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb (verse 1), she sees (verse 1), she runs, she comes, and she says (verse 2); John sees (verse 5), Simon Peter then comes, and he sees (verse 6); Mary sees the two angels (verse 12), they say to her and she says to them that she does not know (verse 13); she then sees Jesus (verse 14); Jesus says to her (verse 15, and again verses 16 and 17) – notice this is three times in all; and she then comes announcing what she has seen and heard.

The language is constantly punctuated with ‘and’ giving it a rapid, fast-moving pace, rather like the pace in Saint Mark’s Gospel. This is a present, real, living experience for all involved, and not one single episode that be relegated to the past.

The Risen Christ does things he did not do before: he appears in locked rooms, there is something different about his appearance, his friends do not realise immediately who he is. This is the same Jesus, but something has changed.

Why does Jesus tell Mary: “Do not hold onto me” (Μή μου ἅπτου, Noli me tangere)?

How do we recognise new life in the Risen Christ?

How do understand the invitation from the Risen Christ to feast with him?

When we accept the new life Christ offers, how does our vision change?

Where do we see the presence of the Risen Christ?

Do we see his presence in the people and places we like and that please us?

Can we see him in the people we do like to and in the situations we find challenging? – the hungry child, the fleeing refugee, the begging person on the street, the homeless addict sleeping in the doorway or sitting on the Liffey boardwalk?

Is my heart changed by the Risen Christ?

Where do I see the broken and bruised Body of Christ needing restoration and Resurrection?

Do I know him in the word he speaks to me and in the breaking of the bread?

Is the presence of the Risen Christ a living experience for me, this morning?

Is Easter an every-morning, every-day, living experience for me, or one we all-too-easily relegate to the past and to history?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 12 April 2014.

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