Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying… she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned to him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” John 20:10-18
This moment would become the very cornerstone of our faith.
Preached in millions of sermons, proclaimed in every nation and tongue, written about by every theologian and Christian thinker.
But before all that, it was just a woman and the Teacher, the Rabbi, the Son of God she worshiped and followed and knew like a brother.
Deeply grieving, Mary Magdalene wept at his empty tomb, thinking that she’d been robbed of her last opportunity to look upon him, and anoint him. There was a man; she thought, maybe, the gardener. Weeping and distraught, she asked him where the body was.
Although she was alone and but a woman, she speaks as though she would have gone to get it herself, and given it a proper burial. The spices she’d brought to prepare his body were heavy in her hands – a small anointing, a humble bit of reverence and honor for a body that had been so brutally dishonored.
All he said was, “Mary” … and she knew. Her Rabbi, burst forth from the grave in glorious day.
How wonderful that the resurrection, the very foundation of Christian faith, should be rooted in this simple, intimate moment of love and recognition.
A beloved Teacher and his disciple, a woman who stood weeping at his empty tomb, grieving for the loss of his dead body, despair against despair.
Yet in this still morning hour, this quiet garden moment, the Risen Lord was first known and heard and seen.
Jesus’ brief words to her in that moment of overflowing joy are not the words of the victor, nor the words of the slaughtered lamb of atonement. They are the words of family. “Go to my brothers,” he says. “Say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” He affirms in that moment that his resurrection has brought them all into the family of God the Father – his Father, and now theirs, also.
Out of this brief moment of recognition and joy, Mary Magdalene becomes the very first disciple to be sent out – commissioned – with news of the living, breathing, resurrected Son of God.
She is the first to ever preach the gospel of the risen Lord, and she does so without theological frameworks of the atonement, or impassioned calls to repentance. She has understood the good news in her heart – the moment of recognition, seeing with new eyes the Lord who has conquered the grave. And then, she simply tells what she has seen, and what the Lord has commanded her to say.
With what ecstatic, unearthly joy Mary must have run back to the disciples, hiding in their upper room!
She has no thought of shame or impropriety or any of the cultural restrictions of the time. The disciples might not have believed her – we cannot blame them for this, their grief and fear was still fresh – but it surely doesn’t matter, to Mary. She has to go, and tell. The message burns on her heart, because she’s transformed by that moment of recognition in the garden, by the sending words of the Teacher – the brother – that she loves.
We, also, come to know the Savior in small, intimate moments of love and grace and sudden understanding.
We feel the message of hope and joy, and the call to our eternal family of God, burning on our hearts with the same passion that Mary Magdalene does – and yet our words will still, thousands of years later, sometimes fall upon the deaf ears of disciples who have retreated to their upper rooms.
But for all of that, we still serve a God who chooses to be known in quiet garden moments and through the transformed hearts of the lowly; a God who meets us in the midst of our tears and grieving and sends us out into the world to tell of what we have seen.
What strikes you most about the encounter between Mary and Jesus? How is Mary a model of faith for us?
Image Credit: Sculpture of Mary Magdalene, artist unknown.