Questions for Bible study groups
- What did Mary Magdalene see?
- What did Jesus say and do?
- Why is Mary Magdalene called ‘apostle to the apostles’?
In brief: Mary Magdalene, weeping at the empty tomb, sees two angels standing guard. Grief-stricken and disoriented, she mistakes Jesus for a worker in the garden. Jesus gently corrects her, telling her to go to the disciples and give them the Good News: he is risen, and will ascend to his Father.
Mary Magdalene and the angels
Underground stone tombs from the Tombs of the Kings in Jerusalem. Notice the stone slabs which held the bodies of the dead.
Mary Magdalene was outside the tomb in which Jesus had been placed immediately after he died. She had seen his body placed there, but when she and the other women returned with spices to anoint his dead body, it was missing. All of the women were distraught, but perhaps Mary especially.
When she leaned down to peer through the entrance of the tomb, she saw two ‘angels’ – though what exactly is meant by ‘angels’ is open to debate (see The Women at the Tomb).
‘Why are you weeping?’ they asked. It seemed rather an odd thing to ask in the present situation – the reason was obvious, but of course these words are God’s, and they had a special purpose. They were pushing Mary towards a greater truth than the fact that Jesus’ body was missing.
What seemed like a gentle reproof was really a subtle hint that happiness, not sorrow, should be our response to the empty tomb.
Read the blue Gospel text at bottom of page
Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene
But Mary was submerged in grief. She had fallen into a bent-over position and her eyes were blurred with tears. When she heard a male voice she did not look at the man but assumed it was a worker in the garden surrounding the tombs. Here, she thought, might be someone who knew something.
She blurted out a question, but when he answered she did not recognise the voice of Jesus. Only when he gently said her name ‘Mary’ did she recognise who it was standing there beside her.
She was immediately overcome with emotion, and grasped hold of him, calling him ‘rabboni’, a Hebrew word meaning ‘teacher’.
Why Hebrew, an ancient language, and not Aramaic which was the ordinary everyday language of Jews at that time? There is a certain formality in her use of this word. It must have been the word she and the other disciples called him by in the years before his death.
This formality puts paid to the ridiculous notion that she and Jesus were at one time lovers (for the reasons why this could not have happened, see Did Jesus Marry Mary Magdalene?)
Jesus gently disengaged himself from Mary’s grasp. The words he spoke are often translated as ‘Do not touch me’, but a better translation is ‘Do not continue to grasp hold of me’. She must begin to let go, to stop clinging to his physical self. From now on, there would be a different relationship between Jesus and his disciples
Read the green Gospel text at bottom of page