Depicting the Resurrection in the Saint John’s Bible
Pepperdine Libraries is the proud owner of a beautiful copy of the Heritage Edition
of the Saint John’s Bible. As Easter approaches, we prepare to turn the page of the
volume of Gospels and Acts, currently on display by the spiral staircase in Payson
Library. This season we will have it open to John 20:1-23 and the illustration of
the resurrection that accompanies the passage.
At first glance, this image is striking with its vibrant use of colors that call attention to Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the foreground. Unlike conventional depictions of the scene, it is Mary, rather than Jesus, who is highlighted, and we see her detailed face revelling in the glory of the risen Christ. Beside Mary appears in Hebrew the word “Rabbouli,” the Aramaic word for “rabbi” or “teacher.” Mary longs to reach for Jesus, but he says to her, illuminated in gold text above the pair, “Do not hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to my Father.” Jesus stands, facing away from the reader, in robes of royal purple.
Looking more closely at the background of the image, we see the journey from Good
Friday to Easter Sunday. At center-left, the three crosses identify the site as Golgotha,
where Jesus was crucified. Despite the somber subject, the crosses appear luminous,
indicating brighter days are ahead. At center-right, the story comes full circle with
the resurrection of Christ, as two white figures contrasting against a dark shadow
represent the angels that appeared to Mary at the empty tomb of Jesus. The image is
awash in brushstrokes of yellow and blue, identifying the time of this encounter as
dawn and reminding us that Jesus is the light (John 8:12). We also see the tree present
in an earlier illustration in this volume, corresponding to the story of the road
to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-36. In that image, two disciples sit under a tree and recount
the story of the crucifixion. Visual symbolism abounds in this illustration.
As Jesus bade Mary Magdalene to “Go and tell my brothers that I am going to ascend to my Father,” so do we go forward to share the news that Christ is Risen. We wish you a beautiful and illuminating Easter season!