From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
Lectio Divina: “outside”

Lectio Divina: “outside”

Gospel reading: John 20.11-18

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


We have now been in lockdown for three weeks, and are still getting used to the curtailment of movement and access to church buildings and services. Tonight is the first of three trial sessions of shared Lectio Divina, which I am hosting on Zoom. Will it work online? Will the sessions be helpful to Exeter Cathedral community? Will they provide some sort of glue, binding us together in our dispersion?

It is Easter Week, and the Gospel reading is the wonderful narrative of Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. When I usually hear this story, my focus is on the words spoken – “Mary!”… “Rabbouni!”. This time the looking, seeing, movements and directions struck me:

  • Mary stood outside the tomb
  • She bent over to look into the tomb
  • She saw two angels sitting
  • She turned around and saw Jesus standing
  • For whom are you looking?
  • She turned on hearing her name
  • “Do not hold on … but go
  • “I am ascending
  • Mary went
  • “I have seen

During the time of reflection, I initially sat with the feeling of being an outsider. Much of the action in the passage preceding this was inside the tomb, and taken by Peter and ‘the other disciple’. We are all on the outside at the moment, through Zoom and screens. But with reference to the church and its institutions, most of us are usually on the outside anyway. There are many more outside the church than inside, many more outside the clergy club than inside, many more outside the ‘norm’ than are the ‘norm’ (male, white, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, etc).

Part of my vocation is not to be ordained. But this often leaves me wondering whether what I have to offer will be of value, and will be valued. (For example, will anyone join these Lectio sessions?)

Yet it is outside the tomb that Jesus appears, and the woman with whom he speaks, and who he commissions. And Mary is no passive extra in the story, but a full participant.

First, she remained. She stood still. She didn’t enter the tomb, but looked into it and paid attention. And in her abiding she was able to see the angels in their abiding, sitting inside the tomb, and later Jesus in his abiding, standing outside in the garden.

Secondly, she moved and changed. She needed to turn twice – turn only half way and she only half sees Jesus as the gardener; turn around fully and she sees Jesus as Teacher and Lord. This is the full turning of metanoia, that is repentance, that causes the blinkers to fall from our eyes and enables to see reality.

Then the stillness and turning takes on the dynamism of ascending and going. In his Passion, Jesus was acted upon. Now the Gospel shifts from addressing him in the passive tense – “they have taken… I will take him away” – to the active – “I am ascending”. Mary for her part is no longer to stay and cling. Jesus calls her to action on his behalf – “go… and say”. And she went.


Since April 2020, I have been jointly hosting a shared Lectio Divina group on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings. These are my reflections only, during the prayer session and as I wrote them up. Please see my separate commentary and leaflet for more information about shared Lectio.