The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre,
Painted by William Blake (1757-1827),
Painted in 1805,
Watercolour, pen and ink on paper
© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre,
Painted by William Blake (1757-1827),
Painted in 1805,
Watercolour, pen and ink on paper
© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Gospel of 14 April 2020

Mary Magdalene saw two angels

John 20:11-18

Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' 'They have taken my Lord away' she replied 'and I don't know where they have put him.' As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.' Jesus said, 'Mary!' She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbuni!' – which means Master. Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.

Reflection on the Watercolour on Paper

Our Gospel passage today mentions the two angels who greeted Mary upon her arrival at the tomb. Our watercolour shows these two angels watching over Jesus before He resurrected. William Blake (1757-1827) painted over 80 watercolours of subjects from the Bible. Where the feet of both angels are situated is where they are sitting when Mary Magdalene arrives: at the top and feet of where Jesus had lain. The imagery of this drawing is drawn from a description in the Book of Exodus. When the prophet Moses is alone on Mount Sinai, God tells him to instruct the Israelites to make a 'mercy seat' flanked by cherubim (angels) all made of gold (Exodus 25: 20: And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be'). The description of the angels in the Book of Exodus is the source for Blake's design here. Where the angels' heads meet, there is a burst of light. They have folded hands. The angels themselves, in our drawing composition, look like a giant pair of prayerful hands, where just the tips of the wings or our fingers would meet. It also almost looks like a keyhole… the resurrection being the key to our Christian lives…

After the two angels are seen, Jesus Himself appears. It is significant that Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom Jesus revealed Himself. We would have thought that Our Lord would have revealed Himself first to one of His disciples, as the first witnesses of His resurrection. Or even first to His own mother, Mary, or perhaps even Mary of Bethany, who anointed Him just before His death… If Christ chose Mary Magdalene, as sinner like us all, to be the very first witness of His resurrection, that surely must bring hope and rejoicing for all of us. Christ truly came for all!

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