In joining the global church in celebrating the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, I probed into the unique encounter that Mary Magdalene had with her risen Lord. Pastors, always on the hunt to express in new ways the old, old Story, find themselves in this season pouring over the “resurrection” texts. It has been some time since I reflected on John 20:1-18. Commenting on John 20:16 when Jesus says “Mary” and Mary responds, C. H. Dodd wrote, “It stands in any case alone. There is nothing quite like it in the gospels. Is there anything quite like it in all ancient literature?” (quoted by F. Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John, A Commentary, 1152).
Jesus is “the good pastor” according to his own declarations in John 10:11, 14. In John 10:3 Jesus says, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” In John 20:16, we hear Jesus simply calling one of his sheep by name, “Mary,” and leading the woman out of deep grief and bewildering confusion. The whole world became a startling new reality. Bruner points out that this is a once in a lifetime, once in eternity encounter. Mary Magdalene is the first human being to experience the personal presence of the Risen Christ. It is this Mary out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons. This whole encounter gives us a peek into the ways of heaven.
Sensitive compassion reigns in heaven. Both the two angels and the risen Christ ask Mary the same question, “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13, 15). Mary was grieving the loss of a loved companion. In her grief, she was confounded by the situation she found at Jesus’ tomb. The stone was rolled away and she concluded wrongly that someone stole Jesus’ body. She ran and told Peter and John so. The two disciples verified that the tomb was empty, yet in an unusual way: the thing with the grave clothes. They leave the tomb and Mary stays and looks inside for herself and sees two angels. She is crying and they ask her why. No scolding. No belittling her for the confusion. The angels are sensitive to her grief. She tells the angels that she can’t find Jesus’ body. She turns and sees, she thinks, a gardener. The gardener asks why she is crying. She replies, “Just tell me where you took him.” No words of correction from Jesus. No words of rebuke. He, too, is sensitive to her grief. Compassion is the ethic of heaven. Mercy is its morality.
Particular, targeted love reigns in heaven. Jesus utters one word: “Mary.” Eugene H. Peterson emphasizes that the most important part of speech in our language is the personal name (Run with the Horses, 75). Jesus knows each particular sheep by name. He leads them out. As in the movie Show Me the Money, I can imagine Mary embracing Jesus now in cries of sheer wonder and saying, “You had me at ‘Mary.’” My mother tells me that when I was growing up, my father never called me by name. He just called me “the boy,” as in “Where’s the boy?” and “Get over here, boy.” I have no memory of my father calling me by name. What an amazing breakthrough when the Spirit carved John 10:3 into my soul. Jesus knows me by name. The Father knows me by name! Heaven’s love is revolutionary in its particularity. I agree with Dodd, there’s no text in all the Scriptures like John 20: 10-18. May we all revel in the compassionate, targeted love of the Risen Christ!