11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
(John 20:11-18 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, a group of women went early in the morning to finish preparing Jesus’ body for a proper Jewish burial. When they arrived at the tomb, the large stone in front of the entrance was rolled away, and the tomb was empty. John records Mary Magdalene’s point of view, as she ran back to Jesus’ disciples and reported what she had seen. Peter and John, not believing Mary and the other women, went to check out the tomb for themselves.
Mary likely followed Peter and John back to the tomb. John had an idea that Jesus was raised from the dead, but Peter had not yet figured it out. Both men left the tomb and garden area and walked back to where the other disciples were staying.
In today’s passage, we see Mary Magdalene at the tomb alone, broken-hearted and openly weeping as she missed Jesus. The thought of someone stealing or moving Jesus’ body was too much to bear. The idea of Jesus alive again (raised from the dead) was not even in her realm of possibilities.
When Mary looked into the tomb through her tear-stained eyes, she saw two angels, one at the foot of where Jesus had been laid, and one at the head. They asked her why she was crying. As if the shock of Jesus’ missing body was not enough, now she was seeing and being questioned by angelic beings!
Mary, most likely startled by the sight and question of the two angels, abruptly turns around and finds herself face-to-face with a different man, whom she assumes is the gardener (remember that the tomb was in a garden setting, John 19:41). The man asks her the same questions – why she is crying, and for whom she is looking. Mary mournfully begs the man to tell her where he has taken Jesus’ body so she can retrieve it and give Him a proper burial.
Jesus reveals His identity to Mary by simply saying her name. John makes the point that Mary did not know this was Jesus. Did Mary not recognize Jesus because He had concealed His identity, or because of her anguish, or just because she thought Jesus was dead and did not expect to see Him? No matter what the circumstances, when Jesus called Mary’s name, she instantly recognized Him.
Mary responds by vocalizing Jesus’ relationship to her – “My Teacher!”.
As Mary likely falls at Jesus’ feet, wrapped around His ankles like a little chid, Jesus responds with words of comfort, not words of criticism: “You don’t have to hold on to me, I have not left yet.” Jesus then tells Mary to tell the disciples that Jesus told her He will be ascending to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God.
Mary runs off to share the astonishing news: “I have seen the Lord!” Her tears of mourning are replaced with tears of inexpressible joy.
While we will never know the pain Mary experienced when she thought her Savior was dead and gone, we can experience the joy that Mary felt when she realized Jesus was alive.
May we celebrate His resurrection, not just on Easter, but every day as we cling to the promise of Jesus’ offer of eternal life as He conquered death and rose again.