The experience of Mary Magdalene in finding the tomb empty is much expanded in the account of John. In the account of Jesus’ burial in John 19:41, the sepulchre is specifically described as being in a garden. It is in this garden that Mary’s touching experience with the Risen Lord is then described in John 20:1–18. In this account Mary came to the garden tomb alone, and, finding it empty, she ran to tell the disciples that Jesus’ body was missing. Upon hearing this news, Peter and another disciple, usually assumed to be John, ran to the garden, stooped to enter the tomb, and found in it only the linen cloths with which Jesus’ body had been wrapped. (John 20:3–10).
The disciples then left Mary weeping alone in the garden. Soon she saw two angels in the tomb at the spot where Jesus’ body had lain. When they asked why she was crying, she said it was because she feared that someone had taken the Lord’s body. Then, turning, she “saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.” Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus saith unto her, “Mary.” She turned herself, and saith unto him, “Rabboni,” which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:15–17)
Mary thus became the first person to see the Risen Lord, and, obedient to his direction, she went and told the disciples all that she had seen and heard. In this Mary serves as a model witness for all believers, but especially to women. As I wrote in God So Loved the World, 114, “Given the restrictions on women in that time and culture, which allowed them to do very little without the permission, guidance, or direction of the men in their lives, Mary’s ability to gain a testimony on her own—without father, brother, husband, or guardian—provides an important and empowering image for women today. Just as the Beloved Disciple gained his testimony standing at the foot of the cross and in the empty tomb, so can Woman gain the surest witness possible directly from the risen Lord.”
Yet Peter and John too serve as examples for believers, even when our witness is less secure than that of Mary. When she had told them that the tomb was empty, they did not walk, they ran to the garden to see whether her report was true. And though they did not see the Risen Lord at that time, seeing the tomb empty and the burial clothes lying there, they nonetheless believed. Do we too run to find out whether the testimony of the resurrection that we hear and read from others is true? And are we able to accept on faith its reality even when we have not yet seen the resurrected Christ?