Jacopo di Cione, “The Three Marys at the Sepulchre,” detail from the San Pier Maggiore Altarpiece, 1370–71
The Easter Vigil’s many readings walk us through the story of God and God’s people. As we reach the Gospel, we arrive with Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome at the empty tomb of Jesus. Jacopo di Cione’s altarpiece detail captures the moment of encounter between the three women and the mysterious men dressed in white, angels heralding the Resurrection, just as they heralded the birth of Christ many years before.
The image is splendidly detailed: the women bring their spices in small, ornate boxes, as they approach the tomb on a lawn spotted with delicate flowers. The tomb is an ornate sarcophagus carved with decorative patterns. The fine robes on the women are in bold jewel tones, and the angels’ robes are trimmed delicately with gold. The angels wear small tiaras, and their colorful wings hint at heavenly glory through their rainbow of feathers. The golden embossed halos, also signs of the heavenly realm, add another dimension to the image.
Even in the midst of this detailed representation, Mary Magdalene receives special attention. Her traditional red garments and loose red hair allow us to identify her. Behind the spice box she holds, we see another object tucked into her robes, resembling a white scroll. The scroll encapsulates the words offered to her by the angel; it is a symbol of the message she is sent to share. It is also a symbol of the new law, the new reality brought about by Christ in light of his Resurrection; elsewhere in Christian art we will see Peter and Paul with the scroll as a sign of their apostleship and service to the new law of Christ. Mary Magdalene will carry the tucked away scroll and its message of the Resurrection and pass it along to Peter and the disciples, serving as the first apostle to the Apostles themselves.
Immersed in the stories of God and God’s people which climax with the Good News of the Resurrection, the Easter Vigil is replete with scrolls, handed on to each of us to go and share. Like Mary Magdalene and the disciples after her, we are all sent with the Good News to all the world.
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, director of ministerial formation at Saint John's University School of Theology and Seminary.
In the Just for Schools section of Finding God Grade 6, Session 25, young people discuss how shocked, surprised, confused, and even doubtful Jesus’ followers were at the news of the Resurrection. Mary and Mary Magdalene were afraid to tell anyone, though the angels specifically gave them the message to share. Young people are asked to imagine that they are newspaper reporters covering the story of Jesus’ Resurrection. Have them consider who they would interview, what questions they would ask, what information they would include in an article about Jesus’ Resurrection, and what the headline would be. Encourage young people to write the story with the three women who were present in mind. When finished writing the story, have young people design a newspaper layout to share their articles. Make copies for all to read, and display the articles in the classroom or in the vestibule of the church for Easter.