Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Monday, January 12, 2009
They Have Taken Away the Lord! (John 20:1-2)
1 Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
The first day of the week is, of course, Sunday. The Sabbath was now over, and work was now allowed. Jesus’ body had been hastily buried by Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus, and the women who had been at the foot of the cross had not had a chance to pay their own respects to the body of their Lord. They seem to have agreed to meet at the tomb first thing Sunday morning so that they could further anoint the body with aromatic resins and spices.
Note that this act is a totally unselfish act on the part of the women. They knew that they were taking a risk by trying to get into the tomb of this alleged “traitor to the state.” The tomb had been sealed by the Jewish authorities, and it was under strict guard by Roman soldiers. The women had nothing to gain personally from this action, but had much to lose. But they did it anyway, because of the depth of their love for Jesus. While the disciples were all hiding, the women were sticking out their necks for the Lord.
The four evangelists differ slightly on exactly who went to the tomb. Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not further identifying this second Mary). Mark lists Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (son of Alphaeus?), and Salome (who may have been the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee). Luke only mentions “the women who had come with Him from Galilee…and certain other women.” And, as we have seen, St. John only gives the name of Mary Magdalene. What to make of this apparent discrepancy?
Strictly speaking, the four evangelists are not contradicting each other; they are merely singling out different women for personal mention. Most likely the group of women was somewhat large (as Luke hints), including all the women mentioned by name and others. It may be that the women went in small groups, to reduce the chance of getting caught.
At any rate, it seems likely that Mary Magdalene went alone and earlier (she went “while it was still dark”) than the rest. As the first one to arrive at the tomb, she is the first to discover that something extraordinary has happened. The stone has been removed from the front of the tomb (no easy task, that, since these stones could weigh several hundred pounds!). She naturally concludes that foul play has occurred. Surely someone (the soldiers? the Sanhedrin?) has stolen the body. So she runs as fast as she can back to the place where the disciples were staying, and she finds Peter and John. Breathlessly, she tells them that someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb.
Little did she know that the person responsible for this theft was Jesus himself!