I cannot imagine what must have been on Mary Magdalene’ heart as she made her way toward the empty tomb. Scripture teaches us that she was a devoted follower of Jesus, referring her by name a dozen times across the gospels. Luke tells us that Mary was more than a bystander to Jesus’ miracles; her life was changed because of one of them. She was one that Jesus healed by casting seven demons out of her. Can you imagine the spiritual and emotional turmoil that had defined her life before Jesus healed her? Can you image what it must have been like for her to be freed; for her heart, her soul, and her mind to finally be at peace? No wonder she followed Jesus so faithfully. She understood his power to transform lives and to set people free. She did not have to be convinced that he was the Messiah. Her life story was a witness that in the face of Jesus we beheld the face of God.
Mary had been there with Jesus’ mother and the other women weeping only feet from the cross. Her heart must have been broken over and over again as she watched him die. Matthew and Mark tell us that she was there as Jesus was laid in the tomb. She had heard Jesus promise of resurrection, but it appears that an air of finality and death weighed on her. What was she thinking as she rose from her bed that morning? Was she still filled with grief? Did tears well up in her again as she thought back on what she had seen happen to Jesus? When she began to journey to the tomb, did she move slowly, one part of her needing to go, but another part of her hating to go – to that place where he lay?
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
In an instant, grief turns into confusion and frustration. Panic sets in for Mary and everyone around her. It appears that their response was shock spiced with doubt. Scripture tells us; So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
The old phrase that “seeing is believing” falls flat in this story. Like so many, they have come to the empty tomb and missed the story. While they may have come to the tomb like Olympic sprinters, when they saw the empty tomb and the strips of linen lying their where Jesus’ body was laid, they could not understand what their eyes were seeing. They saw and believed that Mary’s report was right, that the tomb was empty and that Jesus’ body was missing. But, our passage was clear that they still did not understand what had happened. They still could not understand and embrace Jesus’ promises of resurrection. They still saw only death – and in their eyes this story of death is made only harder because Jesus body was now missing. They must have thought that the religious elders and Roman leaders had taken the last thing they had of Jesus – the place where he body laid. Mary reached out to them for help, but instead, the men simply head back to where they had been staying.
But the story does not end here. The story does not end in our doubt or religious frustrations. Death is about to give way to life. Sin is about to give way to the realization of redemption. The story continues;
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 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.” Did you notice a shift in her language in her response to the angels? Earlier we listened as she had explained to the disciple that body of the Lord was missing. Now, with the angels her declaration becomes personal. She cries out that they have taken my Lord away. Jesus was not just a religious figure for her. He was not just the Lord, he was her Lord. She was there day after day when he taught and fed and healed and loved others in the Father’s name. She was there when he changed people’s lives – when Jesus changed her life – forever. Think about those that so fill your life that you cannot imagine not having them at the table, not hearing their voice, not walking and talking with them. For Mary, Jesus was all of that and so much more. He was her teacher, her friend, her Messiah, her Lord. For Easter to matter in our lives the story has to become equally personal for us. It is not about the Lord – it is about our Lord. It’s not about a Savior, it’s about my Savior.
Those two in white, those angels sent of God, tried to help Mary understand what had happened. Matthew’s gospel tell us that the angels told her: Even the voice of the angles and the testimony of the empty tomb is not enough. The Scripture continues; At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 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.”
It is a bizarre picture. Mary Magdalene - so consumed by grief and pain, confusion and frustration, chaos and conflict, her face covered in tears - does not even recognize Jesus. She is a woman on a mission and for a moment believes that she may have finally someone that can answer her question – what has happened to the body of Jesus? She confronts the one she presumes to be the gardener and demands information. She tells him that if he will tell her where the body is she will go and get it herself. This is a passionate strong willed focused woman on a task and nothing and no one was going to stand in her way.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” In a single word everything changes. He spoke her name as only Jesus could! There are people that never have to identify themselves on the phone. Their voice is so familiar, our relationship with them so significant, that we just know their voice. Mary knew the voice of Jesus. It was this voice that had summoned the demons from within her soul. This was the voice of her Lord. When he spoke her name it penetrated the grief and pain; the conflict and confusion. When he spoke her name it touched her heart and reached into her very sou. I cannot help but think of what we hear Jesus teach in John’s gospel. My sheep know my voice, and I know them. They follow me, 28 and I give them eternal life, so that they will never be lost. No one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28 CEV) Jesus knows our name. Jesus longs to speak into our pain and shame. The Easter story has to become personal. Like Mary in the Garden, we need to hear Jesus’ voice speak into our lives – to recognize his voice – and to choose to follow. If we let the Easter story become personal and let our cry become that Jesus is “my Lord” then we will find salvation, he will give us life now and life eternal and no one or nothing can snatch us out of His loving hand.
Jesus speaks her name and she responds. She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic,
“Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Mary’s search is over. There is no body to be found. He has risen, just as he said. She now see the Lord – her Lord face to face.
If we are going to move past the Jesus of the old church pictures where we see him in white flowing robes, a lily complexion, a pleasant smile and a hallow floating just behind his head and follow the Jesus of Scripture, then we must join Mary at the empty tomb and seek Jesus with abandon. If we want to get so close to Jesus that we can see the sweat on his brow and feel his breath on our flesh that we must come to the Garden and encounter Jesus face to face. It is not enough to know about Jesus or to be able to retell the Easter story. We have to come to know Jesus and let the Easter story become our story – our way of faith – our way of redemption – our way of hope – our way of salvation. When the Easter story becomes our story we join Mary in her pronouncement that “I have seen the Lord!”
May this be the Easter when this resurrection story becomes real and personal for you. May this be the Easter when we relish in the face that Jesus speaks our name in love. May this be the Easter when you move from a religious commitment to a living and loving relationship with God. May this be the Easter where we experience life triumph death and redemption triumph sin. May this be the Easter when we cry out that Jesus is the Lord – my Lord. Amen