– Roberto Ceolin
After His Resurrection, Jesus met His disciples and friends, eating and drinking with them. Often, however, He was not immediately recognized, not until people had their ‘eyes opened’ and could understand that ‘it was the Lord.’ The following are the two first encounters Jesus had after coming back from the dead.
Jesus appears to his Mother
According to Church Tradition, after His resurrection, Jesus met his mother. This episode is not recorded in Scripture, as other episodes of Jesus’s life aren’t either, such as when, on the way to Calvary, Veronica wiped his face. The tradition of Jesus meeting his mother is, however, well represented in medieval imagery and it made its way into the religious processions of Holy Week in countries of Southern Europe.
In Salamanca (Spain), for instance, on Resurrection Sunday, after Mass, the floats of the resurrected Christ and that of Our Lady of Sorrows, after going around town in procession all morning, each their own way, finally they meet face to face in the Cathedral square. The Virgin’s black mantel is pushed down and a white cloak is revealed, turning her from La Dolorosa (The Sorrowful Mother) into Nuestra Señora de la Alegría, that is Our Lady of Joy. This beautiful and very emotional moment closes the week-long set of processions in many Spanish cities.
It would follow from logic that Jesus would have met his mother after his coming back to life even if such an episode was not reported in Scripture as such. There is, however, an episode of Jesus’s childhood in the Gospel of Luke (2:40-52) which can stand as a prefiguration of this later encounter. With no parallel case in the gospels, this episode is a unique insight into the youth of Jesus; it’s exceptionality makes it almost out of sorts.
Lk. 2 45 And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. (…) 48 And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49 And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business? 50 And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. 51 (…) And his mother kept all these words in her heart.
Here too, when He and His mother were in Jerusalem at the time of the solemnity of the Jewish Passover, Jesus went missing and was found three days later; and what would it be to descend into hell in order to free the dead from the their chains and come back to life proclaiming thus the triumph of live over death if not to ‘be about the Father’s business’? On both occasions Mary was in deep distress up until the moment when they met again. Perhaps the difference between the two episodes would be that Mary, after seeing her son back from the dead, finally would have understood all those things that she had been keeping in her heart for so long.
Jesus appears to Mary Magdalen
It is noteworthy that the resurrection of Jesus is first witnessed, not by Peter and the disciples, but by women, who in Jewish society were considered almost as second-class citizens. One of such women is Mary Magdalen.
When Mary Magdalen first meets Jesus by the tomb, she cannot recognize Jesus at first and she talks to him believing him to be the gardener. The word for gardener in the original Greek text is κηπουρός kēpourós (hortulanus in the Vulgate). This Greek word, however, does not mean gardener as we nowadays understand a gardener to be, but a guard or a watchman of some sort. The word κηπουρός kēpourós is actually composed of two words κῆπος kḗpos ‘garden’ and οὖρος oúros ‘guard, custodian’. In antiquity, graveyards were always placed outside the walls of any given citadel for fear of infection. We know that the burial place of Jesus was originally outside the first ring of Jerusalem’s walls, even if today the Holy Sepulchre Church is within walls. We also know that Jesus’s burial place wasn’t in just any rundown graveyard as the tomb where Jesus was placed belonged originally to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Synedrium, the Jewish council of Elders. This suggests that this kēpourós is to be understood as a sort of overseer or custodian looking after the place and trying to keep the undesirable away. The undesirable might be, for instance, lepers who could not go inside the city walls, occasional thieves on the lookout for people visiting their ancestors’ tombs, or vagabonds of different sorts.
When Men were expelled from the Garden as a consequence of Original Sin, Cherubim were placed as guards at the entrance and a revolving flaming sword blocked the access to the Tree of Life. The work κῆπος kḗpos ‘garden’ is not found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Instead, the Septuagint, followed by the Latin Vulgate, chooses to translate the word for garden in the Hebrew phrase גַּן־עֵדֶן gan-‘ēden ‘Garden of Eden’ or Garden of Pleasures’ by the word παράδεισος parádeisos, a Persian word originally meaning garden, now translated as ‘Paradise’. This Greek translation is not without theological consequences, as Paradise is to be the reward for the just after the end of times. The Talmud too speaks of a higher Garden of Eden as the reward for the righteous.
At first, by the tomb, Mary Magdalen, takes Jesus for the custodian of the graveyard, that is to say, for the one responsible for denying access to the garden and keeping the undesirable at bay, a task like that of the Cherubim placed at the gates of the original Garden of Pleasures. But as soon as Jesus calls Mary by her name she recognises Him; no longer is He blocking the path to the Garden; quite the opposite, He is the very true path to the to Paradise, the new Garden, his Cross having become the true Tree of Life which replaces the one kept away by the flaming sword of the Old Law.
The triumph of life over death attained through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ opened the gates of Paradise which were once closed to us through sin; no longer are there guards standing at the gates to keep us away. (Image: Christ Appearing to the Virgin, c. 1475 by the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden.)