The Three Mary’s – 2 April 2018

It is before dawn on the first day of the week, and the three Marys (Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome) are making their way to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They carry ointment with them.

This picture captures the moment when they can see that something is not quite right at the tomb, and hope and expectation begin to rise in their hearts. Each of the women has a slightly different reaction to what she sees.

This picture is by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1910), an African American Artist who, unusually for the time, painted religious paintings in the realist tradition. His own faith had been formed in relationship to that of his father, who was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The tension and excitement of the subjects in this picture is handled well. The figure of Mary Magdalene, in the centre, is completely surrounded by space so that her body does not overlap those of her companions. This gives her psychological independence, and her own longing comes to the fore. The space to the left of the painting allows the viewer to sense that these women are moving from right to left, towards the tomb and good news. Hope is rising, and they will not be disappointed.

The picture invites us to travel with them, it touches the hope within us, and encourages us to pay attention for the things that we long for. We too are encouraged to look for the risen Christ.

O Risen Jesus,
may I always seek you and find you,
think about you, speak to you,
and do everything
for your honour and glory.

Be always my hope, my peace,
my refuge and my help
in whom my heart is rooted,
so that I may never be separated from you.

(Saint Bonaventure)