Mary’s experience as recorded in – John 20:11-18 ESV
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,b “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18 ESV
Mary was an emotional wreck at the death and burial of Jesus. Not only was Mary overwhelmed by grief at the Lord’s death, but she was doubly upset by the thought that His burial place had been victimized by grave robbers. Grave robbing was a terrible desecration then, and it still is. Mary did not yet realize how remarkable, how supernatural, her relationship with Jesus Christ really was.
She has a vision of two angels. They ask her why she is crying. But there is no answer. Before she answers them, she turns and Jesus is standing next to her (but she does not recognize Him), and he asks her the same question as the angels…why are you crying? To me, the Lord asking her that question has great poignancy. One senses in the question, God’s question for all of us for all time. Why are you sorrowing? Why are you upset? Why are you fearful? You have found favor with the Lord of the Universe, Creator of all that is seen and unseen. You are known to Him and are loved by Him. In Romans 10: 28-29, it is written, “28 And we know that for those who love God all things [includes death, absence of loved ones, political, economic, or health crises] work togetherfor good,[a]for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This profound communication is actually manifested and resonates in the Lord’s simple question, “Why are you crying?”
She thinks He is the gardener. God may use anyone to reach out to us and to help us in an hour or a moment of extreme pain or need. An 18-year sickly young man was being wheeled into the operating room at Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. His entire body was turning purple as he was facing life and death surgery. As he lay on a stretcher being wheeled to an operating room, the nurse bent over and whispered in his ear, “Trust and hope in Jesus Christ. He is our Lord and Savior.” He derived great comfort from those words, survived the surgery, and after regaining consciousness experienced a sense of being born again, of being a changed man in and through the presence and love of Christ Jesus. This writer heard this testimony while working in a hospital chaplaincy 30 years ago and has never forgotten it.
Mary asks a question assuming that the one speaking with her has removed Christ’s body from the tomb. There is nothing in the appearance or manner of the party she is speaking with that suggests to her that he is Messiah. All this talk about Christ’s ethnicity is offensive to this writer. Was He Semitic, dark-skinned, or more white is so beside the point. We are told in the Ten Commandments not to have any graven images. Portraying Christ as a white Anglo longhair hippie or in some other color or image is breaking the Second Commandment and is just beside the point if not downright sinful.
Then, He speaks her name. Only at that point does she recognize Him. We recall Jesus saying, “27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10: 27-28).
He tells her not to cling to him for he has not yet ascended to the Father. This seems to have a double meaning. On the one hand, it seems He is implying that if she clings to Him, it may in some way inhibit or negatively impact His going to the Father. And there is another sense in which she would be able to cling to Him AFTER He has ascended to the Father, just as spiritually we cling to Him in times of trial, emergency, and really in the exigencies of everyday life as we persevere and surmount obstacles that are both great and small.
He has called to her by name not only so she will recognize that it is He with whom she is speaking, but to give her an assignment. She is to be His messenger to the leaders of the church. She is to be a witness that He has risen from the dead. What an amazing thing to be revealed!! What a privilege to reveal it! I feel so humble and grateful to be preaching on Resurrection Sunday (Easter Sunday) – which, along with Christmas and Good Friday are the days that unite all Christian faiths – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant – in joyful recognition of Christ and the Trinitarian God.
He sends her back to the disciples to recount the meeting to them which she directly does. Her obedience follows immediately after the directive. Are we as obedient to the Lord? When the Lord directs us on a path that requires obedience, do we take up the directive immediately or do we say to ourselves, “Well I have to think it over.” I felt a strong calling from the Lord to return to my role as an educator, to go into high school teaching. But I resisted and resisted. I asked the advice of so many people. I even went on a retreat in New Jersey “seeking” the answer. I knew that the schools were in a state of chaos and even violent disorder. Students often had no solid home lives, and educational standards which had started going down the drain in the late 1950’s must now be abysmal.
Social promotion, I knew, was part of the self-esteem building philosophy of the new post-progressive progressive pathetic education agenda. Though I experienced a strong leading of the Spirit, I did not immediately cast in with the Lord and obey Him as Mary does in this passage. No. I hesitated and mulled it over. Is the Lord leading you to make a certain charitable Christian contribution, to reach out to someone by prayer or just to encourage? Do you feel embarrassed by a call to respond to someone’s need where that someone might think you are poking your nose inappropriately into their private business? Is the Lord even telling you to give someone a tract or a Bible? Or even leading you to read a certain book or passage in the Bible?
We need to be responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We learn from this passage that the Lord is with us always, that He loves us, that He wants us to know He is with us even at the very moment when we are wondering where He is, and He has assignments for us – sometimes large and more often small – by which we can express the faith that is in our minds and hearts. Scripture says, “He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27)