The fear of women: “They took the Lord away from the tomb and we don't know where they put him”

Homiletics of the Fathers of The Island of Patmos


Saint Augustine, with the acuity that distinguishes him, honestly reads what these words say: «He entered and didn't find it. He should have believed that he was resurrected, not that it had been stolen"










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While on Easter night we have read the oldest gospel story about the resurrection of Jesus, Marco's, today the beginning of the twentieth chapter of John is proclaimed, probably the last text of the Gospels on the resurrection of Jesus to be written. We are, in this way, in front of a parable that starts from what is contained and taken up by Mark, that is, a "pre-Marc" account of the passion and resurrection of Jesus and reaches up to the last story, the Johannine one, dating back to the end of the first century. The Liturgy, in the space of a single night, from the Easter Vigil to the mass on Easter day, it collects sources and traditions that have settled over several decades and allows us to enjoy the different perspectives of the evangelists. This is the proclaimed text:

Salvador Dali, The dawn, 1948

«The first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb in the morning, when it was still dark, and he saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. He then ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, what Jesus loved, and told them: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we know not where they have laid!». Peter then went out together with the other disciple and they went to the tomb. They both ran together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down, he saw the sheets laid there, but he did not enter. Meanwhile, Simon Pietro also arrived, who followed him, and he entered the tomb and observed the cloths laid there, and the shroud - which had been on his head - not placed there with the cloths, but wrapped in a place apart. Then the other disciple also entered, who had reached the tomb first, and he saw and believed. In fact they had not yet understood the Scripture, that is, he had to rise from the dead" (GV 20,1-9)

Reading this passage a profound emotion grips us, the same experienced by the first witnesses of the Resurrection, a woman and two disciples. This seems to be the evangelist's intention. We would expect, indeed, a mature and convinced confession about the event, however in our text we do not yet have the Easter announcement, rather, what Mary Magdalene runs to tell the two disciples is: “They took the Lord away from the tomb and we don't know where they put him”. Maria, prey to fear and discouragement, he takes it for granted that the body of Jesus has been stolen and his concern focuses on "where" the body can now be found. The Gospel story therefore shows the genesis of the Easter faith by presenting its inchoative moment, the release of the spark that will soon become a fire. The internal journey that will lead to the cry and announcement "He is risen" passes through the awareness of the evidence of death constituted by the bandages and shroud that wrapped the body and the tomb in which it had been placed.. The Holy Gospel makes these disciples feel very close to us, to our gradual journey towards a firm faith in the Resurrection of Jesus. Full faith will be that of Thomas who says: "My Lord and my God" (GV 20,28); but not without having also had to go through the temptation of not believing and distrust.

The absence of faith in the Resurrection is symbolically anticipated by the note that "it was still dark outside" (GV 20,1) when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. And the "dark" in Johannine symbolism refers to that which is opposed to the light (GV 1,5; 3,19), designates the problematic situation of the disciples in the absence of Jesus (GV 6,17), it is the condition of uncertainty and confusion in which those who do not follow Jesus find themselves wandering (GV 8,12), who does not believe in him (GV 12,46). In short, we are on the "first day of the week" (GV 20,1), but dawn hasn't broken yet, we are still in the dark.

In this context the evangelist presents the reactions of three disciples faced with the empty tomb and in particular the inchoative faith of the beloved disciple who, having seen the bandages on the ground and entered the empty tomb, «believed» (GV 20,8), or better, "he began to believe" (cf.. the ingressive aorist: the epistemological and he believed). Only in this way can we explain the note that the evangelist makes for immediate comment: “For they had not yet understood the Scripture that he must rise from the dead” (GV 20,9). Saint Augustine, with the acuity that distinguishes him, honestly reads what these words say: «He entered and didn't find it. He should have believed that he was resurrected, not that it had been stolen" (cf.. WHO). Easter faith is not born from the mere observation of an empty tomb: this can also lead to the hypothesis of the theft of the body. The facts must be compared to the words of Scripture and illuminated by it. Only then will they give life to the Easter faith. Faith that will find its fullness with the gift of the Spirit which illuminates minds, opening them to the understanding of the Scriptures, as it was for the disciples of Emmaus (cf.. LC 24,45), Why: «When he comes, the Spirit of truth, will guide you to all the truth” (GV 16, 13).

In fact, the resurrection is an unheard of event, unthinkable and disconcerting. Paul will know something about it when he tries to announce it to the Athenians (At 17, 32). It is God's absolute novelty and the disciples are totally unprepared for the event. Only the beloved disciple, precisely because of that intimate knowledge that binds him to Jesus, he begins to understand and make room in his soul for the newness accomplished by God.

However, it is there in these three disciples the emotional aspect that at the time had led them to leave everything to follow Jesus. In Magdalene who fears that she will no longer be able to see and touch her Lord and for this reason she runs. He runs towards Peter and the beloved disciple, the two points of reference of the group of disciples. And in turn they run too, this time on the contrary, back towards the tomb. The moment the emotional level is let loose, everyone expresses themselves without enforcing the rules of the group.. However, having reached the tomb, the beloved disciple waits for Peter and lets him enter first, respecting the primacy established by the Lord. Maria's emotional and affective level (running to the two disciples) and of the beloved disciple (who waits for Peter and lets him enter the tomb first) they remain ordered and submitted to community objectivity. But to guide emotion and affectivity to full faith, intelligence of Scripture and faith in it will be needed., which is the ineliminable and objectifying foundation of the Paschal faith and ecclesial life.

We today who hear these words once again of the Holy Gospel proclaimed we express gratitude towards these important disciples who wanted to maintain their hesitation in the face of such an unusual event. We feel them close, grateful for their testimony of faith that they handed down to us in the Scriptures. They taught us to look for the Risen One no longer in the tomb (mnemonic in Greek: became. "memorial"; GV 20 which is cemetery memory, dead. But now living in his glory and present when we love each other, when we witness it in the places of our existence, when we encounter suffering or when we bring hope. As we gather every Sunday, Easter of the week, without which we can no longer live. Because there we confess not only our sins, but we listen again to the Scripture that speaks to us about Him and we feed on Him, waiting for Him to come.

I end with these words of the Florentine poet Mario Luzi (1914 – 2005). Pope John Paul II asked him to comment on the stations of the Way of the cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday 1999. And that's how it ended:

«From the tomb life exploded. / Death has lost its harsh battle. / A new era begins: the man reconciled in the new alliance sanctioned by your blood / he has the path before him. / It's difficult to stay on that path. / The gate of your kingdom is narrow. / Now yes, or Redeemer, that we need your help, / now we ask for your help, / you, guidance and supervision, don't deny it to us. / The offense to the world was immense. / Your love was infinitely greater. / We ask you for love with love. / Amen». (Mario Luzi, Way of the cross at the Colosseum, 1999)

Surrexit Christus SPEs MEA ... Dominus vere, and he appeared to Simon, Alleluia!

Happy Easter everyone.


From the Hermitage, 31 March 2024

Holy Easter of Resurrection


Sant'Angelo Cave in Ripe (Civitella del Tronto)



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2 replies
  1. Antonello
    Antonello says:

    Mi piace pensare che la traduzione più corretta non sia che le bende erano a terra, ma posate, cioè afflosciate come se il corpo fosse svanito dall’interno, mentre il sudario avesse mantenuto la sua forma a causa degli oli o balsami che lo avevano intriso. Se si tiene presente questa tipo di traduzione, si capisce meglio perché iniziarono a credere.

    • father ariel
      father ariel says:

      Questo è quanto ha sempre sostenuto anche Vittorio Messori rifacendosi a vari mistici ed esegeti, è una lettura e una interpretazione molto pertinente.

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