The discovery by two disciples of the empty tomb, and Mary Magdelene’s encounter with Jesus, in John 20.1–18, is one of the main options for the gospel reading for Easter Sunday in Year C (the alternative is Luke 24.1–12). And it is, in many ways, the most appealing choice, because of its polished literary form, its focus on individuals, and its description of the moments of recognition.
The passage is full of features worth noting, many of which make it quite characteristic of the Fourth Gospel:
- The double meaning of timings and descriptions which have both literal and symbolic significance;
- The selection of individuals to focus on, including one-to-one encounter with Jesus, when there were clearly others present;
- The repeated ironic theme of reversal, expressed in both implicit and explicit ways;
- The importance of seeing and believing leading to faith;
- Literary and thematic connections with earlier passages in the gospel, particularly chapter 1 (the ‘prologue’) and chapter 11 (the raising of Lazarus) as well as chapters 9 and 10.
And even though we have hardly met Mary Magdelene before, here we feel we know her.
James and Ian discuss why this story is so engaging, and what it tells us about the meaning of the resurrection.