What is it with these Marys and their devotion to Jesus? There is Mary, His mother, of course, who treasured the things concerning Him in her heart. There is Mary of Bethany who takes a jar of expensive perfume to anoint His feet with her hair and who sits at His feet when Martha is worried about serving. And now there is Mary of Magdalene.
Having experienced the same things as the disciples did, we find two very different responses. In verse 10, we find the disciples going away again to their own homes. But not Mary. Mary we find standing outside by the tomb weeping. It’s not over for Mary: it can’t be. Jesus is not there, and something or someone must have taken Him. But what else is there to do?
Mary’s weeping continues throughout the passage until the moment she recognizes her Lord. We do not know how long she wept, but this weeping of hers is the overwhelming response she has to the death of her Lord. It seems to be like the kind of weeping grief that Jesus Himself experienced when Lazarus had died.
What devotion this Mary has, to come to the creepy tomb early, while it was still dark. It almost feels like a horror movie. Seeing that the body of the Lord was gone, she immediately runs and gets Peter and John. After they have seen the empty tomb – and the burial clothes – the disciples go home.
But not Mary. She is still grieving, and nothing can cut through her great grief. Not even the presence of angels, before whom most people in the Bible bow down in worship as if they were actually God Himself, disturbs her grief. She talks to them as if she doesn’t really see them, as if where they are the Lord Himself can’t be far behind.
What grief! Look how she loved Him!
How long would she have stayed there, mourning? To her, it must have seemed as if her life, once restored to her, was now taken away from her again. To the one whose life of prostitution was made clean by Him, what could life possibly look like without Him? To the one who had had 7 demons cast out of her by the power of His voice, how could she go and live in that demon-filled world again without Him?
When He had cleansed her former life and vacuumed it so that all the demons and curses were gone, He filled that vacuum with Himself. But now He was gone.
Another one comes to her, asking why she weeps. It’s all so obvious to her, can’t any idiot see? It’s so obvious that she doesn’t even explain who, exactly, is gone. To the supposed gardener, she calls the Lord only “Him.” It’s all she can think about. Have you ever had the experience in which you are so deep in your own thoughts that when you try to speak to someone else about those thoughts you refer only generally to things: “That’s why he had to do that.” Why? Who? What? we may ask. But to one so close to the situation it’s obvious. Mary was one with the Lord in her grief, but the Lord Himself was absent.
Actually, it turns out He was with her. Why didn’t she see Him earlier? Maybe it was because she was so focused on her grief and she literally and figuratively couldn’t see anything through her grief, not even angels. Or maybe it was because she had set her face toward the grave and not toward the garden where the living Lord was to be found.
Mary is a picture of all who have received the grace of God in their lives. Our sins and the strength of Satan’s spell over us may not be as great as hers, but Mary Magdalene is a picture of us without the grace of God. But she is also a picture of us with the grace of God. Whatever our sins, whatever our former life, the One who is Life can give us life.
And our response should be her response, to devote the rest of our lives to sitting at His feet, worshiping Him and serving Him. Like Mary, however, Jesus withdraws His presence from us sometimes, and we fall into grief or blindness or even doubt. We are like Mary, trying to worship Jesus at the grave when He is telling us to seek Him in the garden. Instead of looking at the Lord Himself, we gaze intently at the circumstances of our lives and then wonder why we don’t see the Lord with us.
We allow ourselves to be distracted by the things of this world, as if the tomb and the clothes and the empty space are what are important, and not the Lord Himself. We allow ourselves to be weighed down by our daily lives, even when not grief causing, and we fail to see the Lord. Or, like the disciples, we see the Lord absent from our lives, and then go back to our daily lives without further seeking Him.
But if we seek Him with passion and persistence, as did Mary, He will show Himself to us once again. As with prayer, passion and persistence pay off in seeing the Lord.
If you’re like me, things might be a little anticlimactic, now that Easter has come and gone. Or maybe you never even saw Him at Easter at all. Now that Easter is over, we have a tendency to stuff Jesus back in the tomb until Pentecost – or maybe even Christmas. Or, because it seems like the thing to do, we try and see Jesus at Easter and have some success. But then, because it seems like the thing to do, we stop seeking Him with all the passion and joy and anticipation of Easter. The moment we stop these things, however, is the moment we will stop seeing Him.
Sometimes, even, our lives are out of sync with the church year. Good news may come to us during Lent, and we may be depressed or discouraged during Easter. But Easter is a reminder to turn from the grave to the garden. For some of us, that may take a little longer. That’s O.K.: Easter is a season, and not just a day.
This Easter, we need to seek the Lord where He may be found. We must, like Mary, be unyielding in our pursuit of our Lord. We must camp out where we know He is likely to be found, and we need to keep our ears and eyes open. If we do, then don’t be surprised if out of the blue, He calls your name once again.
Point for Meditation:
1. How persistent have you been in seeking the Lord? What things in your life may be preventing you from seeing the Lord?
2. What are the graves and what are the gardens of your life? Are there any ways you can turn from the grave to the garden?
Prayer: O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread; Open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold thee in all thy works; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way I can seek the Lord where He will be found today.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Noli me Tangere – Hans Holbein – Wikipedia entry on Mary Magdelene