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women discover an empty tomb

John 20:1-9

St Augustine tells us that Christians call the Lord’s Day the first day of the week because it is the day on which He rose from the dead. Chrysostom reminds us that just as Christ was born from the inviolate womb of his mother, so he rose again from the closed tomb; as he was the first-born of his mother, so now he is the first-born from the dead. Hesychius of Jerusalem teaches us that just as he sanctified human flesh by his incarnation, so he gives life to the dead by his resurrection. This day brings us a message of joy; it the day the Lord rose again and with him rises the race of Adam; on this day paradise is opened to us; on this day death is trampled underfoot; the underworld is despoiled and Christ is King indeed!

Dionysus of Alexandria points out the mystery of the resurrection, and how the evangelists give slightly different accounts: Matthew says it is at the end of the Sabbath; it was ‘early, when it was yet dark’, John tells us; it was ‘very early in the morning’ according to Luke’; the ‘the rising of the sun’ according to Mark. In truth no one knows the hour save the Father; but the tomb was empty; He is Risen! Theodore of Mopsuestia reconciles the varying accounts for us, as does St Cyril of Alexandria who point out that early morning and late night coincide, and all agree that it was in the middle watch before dawn broke.

Gregory the Great reminds us that we are like Mary, we come in darkness to seek Him, but we find, too, that the tomb is empty, that He is Risen indeed. Chrysostom remarks upon the deep love for her Lord which took Mary to the tomb at that hour. As Augustine comments: ‘She was unquestionably more ardent in her love than these other women who had ministered to the Lord’. But although John mentions her alone, it is clear from her later comment that ‘we do not know’, that she was not alone.

St Cyril of Alexandria too comments upon her ardour and her piety. The moment the Jewish sabbath was over, she went to the tomb, and bearing in mind the hatred shown to Jesus by the Jewish authorities, she feared they had taken the body; her love is so great that she goes back to get the most faithful of the Apostles to go back with her to find him. For her, though seemingly dead, he is still her ‘Lord’. The others run to see whether what she says is true, despite their previous fear, they, too, need to see what has happened. As St Gregory Nazianzus put it in his Easter Oration:

Be a Peter or a John;

Hasten to the sepulchre,

Running together,

Running against one another.

Vying in the noble race.

And even if you are beaten in speed,

Win the victory of showing who wants it

more –

Not just looking in the tomb, but going on

Chrysostom reminds us that the scattering of the grave clothes is a sign of the resurrection; grave robbers would not have left them behind. Augustine points out that John did not yet believe in the resurrection, what he believed was what he had seen, that the tomb was empty and that Mary was telling the truth. Peter and John were, as St Cyril comments, two men and therefore competent witnesses according to Jewish Law. But it was only once the Rise Christ had appeared that they too believed and saw the meaning of the prophecies He had made.