Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on the first day of the week—Sunday, the day of resurrection that later became the Christian Sabbath. Unlike in the other Gospels, she came alone. John’s narrative has her arriving in the dark, perhaps to symbolize that the world lies in darkness as it awaits the light of Christ’s resurrection.
Because the stone has been removed, she runs to tell Simon Peter and the other disciples that someone—perhaps grave robbers or the authorities—has taken the Lord. They run to the tomb, with John, the Beloved Disciple, arriving first. Peter enters the tomb but John is the first to see the linen wrappings. The other Gospels describes Jesus’ burial cloth as a single linen shroud rather than the mummy-like strips reminiscent of Lazarus’ grave clothes found in John’s narrative. Lazarus needed to be unbound by his friends (John 11:44). However, Christ’s release comes from a divine source.
While Peter and John both “saw,” the Beloved Disciple is the only one who “saw and believed” (v. 8). His faith and witness of Christ’s resurrection came without the proof of seeing Jesus in person. Both men saw the same evidence in the empty tomb. Only John’s faith gave him the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The disciples then leave the tomb to go to where they were staying while in Jerusalem. Their departure sets up the dramatic encounter of Mary Magdalene with the Risen Christ and the Johannine understanding of how resurrection faith is born.
Mary stands outside the tomb “weeping.” She bends down and looks in the tomb, seeing two angels in white sitting where Jesus would have lain. They ask her why she’s crying, and she replies, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (v. 13).
In her distress she turns and sees a man who she thinks is the gardener. He asks her why she is crying and who she is looking for. During this brief exchange, the gardener (Jesus) calls her by name, “Mary!” The scene of despair and searching turns into a divine manifestation. The personal call of her Risen Lord who calls his sheep by name creates within her an authentic faith that two angels in white within the tomb could not generate.
Before her stands Jesus Christ—the visible expression of God’s love for her and all people. The Risen Christ fulfills the longing of her soul. Mary’s faithful witness is born. She runs to share her faith with others and proclaims, “I have seen the Lord” (v. 18). Mary becomes the first witness among many witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. As such, she is often acknowledged as the apostle to the apostles.