Fra Angelico painted this fresco on the wall of a monk’s cell in the Convent of San Marco in Florence, Italy. It is entitled “The Resurrection of Christ and the Women at the Tomb.” It is dated 1438-45. The picture is simple. There are no distracting details.
The disciples of Jesus are in hiding. Jesus has been crucified. They fear for their lives. But, early Easter morning, the courageous women come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18).
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, Salome and Joanna are greeted by an angel. With his right hand, the angel points to the empty tomb, announcing: “Jesus is not here” (Mk 16:6). With his left hand, the angel points to the Risen Lord exalted in glory, proclaiming: “He has been raised up” (idem).
The earth trembles at this word. History will never be the same. The Resurrection of Jesus is God’s response to our sins that crucified his beloved Son. Easter is the birth of hope.
The angel’s message seems so incredulous! Mary Magdalene peers into the empty tomb. The other women stand amazed. In the horror of the crucifixion, they had forgotten Jesus’ own promise that he would suffer and die and be raised up on the third day. Grief clouds their minds. As great as their love has been for Jesus, so now is their grief for him. Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow (Tolstoy).
Above the women, the Risen Lord is exalted in glory. In his right hand, he carries a palm branch, a symbol of his martyrdom on the cross. With his left hand, he holds the banner of the Resurrection. In this image is contained the kerygma of the Church: Christ died for our sins. He rose from the dead victorious, reconciling us to God. Christ alone is the one Savior of all. He is “the one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5).
At the tomb, the women do not see the Risen Lord. Though Jesus is present to them, they cannot see him. Believing does not come from seeing. Rather, seeing his presence comes from believing. Faith opens the eyes and strengthens the heart.
In the corner of the fresco, St. Dominic kneels in prayer. In prayer, faith touches the wounds of the Risen Lord. In prayer, we experience the Risen Lord in our lives. Through our own personal prayer and most especially the Liturgy, the public prayer of the Church, we come to the sure and certain hope that “God, who is rich in mercy,… has brought us to life with Christ…and raised us up with him” (Eph 2:4-6).