So, Mary has come to the tomb and has told Peter and John that someone has taken Jesus’ body. Her Lord has been falsely accused, tried, and brutally executed. And now, even after Jesus’ body has been buried and prepared for the resurrection of the dead on the last day, it seems that they’ve taken his body away. Mary comes to her own conclusion about what must’ve happened, and she reports that false assertion to others. She’s confused and scared, completely defeated. After Peter and John respond to her message by coming to see what’s happened for themselves, though John trusts in God, they’re also confused by what’s happened.
While they go back home, Mary stays there at the tomb. John writes that she stood there weeping. She’s told the other disciples. What else is there left for her to do but weep? She’s powerless. Isn’t this also what happens at the death of Lazarus back in John 11? As Jesus himself sees all of the mourners in Bethany, as he watched Martha and Mary weeping along with the crowds as they follow Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus. Even Jesus, knowing very well that he is going to raise Lazarus, even he, as he sees the sorrow around him, is still moved inside and breaks down crying. Now, after Jesus himself is dead and his body is missing, Mary just wants Jesus back. She doesn’t know what’s going on. So, she weeps.
BUT as Mary is crying, she stoops down to look into the tomb just like Peter and John had done. And this time it’s different. It’s no longer empty. She sees two angels dressed in white sitting at the place where Jesus’ head and feet once rested. Unlike Jesus, they don’t cry with her. They just ask, “why are you weeping?” So, just as she told the disciples her false report, her false assertion, she now tells these angels that someone has taken Jesus’ body and now she has no idea where they’ve put him. It’s not true, but as she’s focused on the ones who have hurt her it’s the best explanation she can come up with at the time.
Then she turns around, and there’s someone else there, and he also asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who is it that you’re looking for?” Of course, she thinks it’s the gardener, the person who must have taken Jesus’ body in the first place—the person who has deprived her of this visit, who has caused her this pain upon pain, who has brought this uncertainty to such a tumultuous and sad time. Certainly, he’s the one who has given the body of Jesus back to those who still want to shame him! She says, “Sir, if you’ve taken him, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will take him away.” Please, relieve me of this stress. Relieve me of this inner turmoil. She’s basically saying, I will prepare his body again, so that he will be ready for the resurrection on the last day and at least we can commend him to God.
The man then addresses her by name. He says, “Mary.” She doesn’t recognize him at first, but hearing him say her name is all it takes. And now she knows why the tomb is empty. Now she knows why there are angels sitting at the place where Jesus’ dead body was resting only hours ago. Now she knows the purpose of her sorrow. Now she sees that she completely misunderstood the situation. And she turns and addresses him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher)—the last conversation she ever expected to have when she left for the tomb that morning.
Jesus’ next words are often translated, “Don’t cling to me.” In Greek, it’s probably even better translated as “Don’t keep clinging to me,” he says, “because I haven’t ascended to the Father yet.” Not only is Jesus back from the dead, he’s going to ascend on high and sit at the right hand of God almighty, to rule over his Heavenly Father’s creation. This is something way beyond anything Mary ever could have imagined! And even more, there will come a time when God’s people clinging to Jesus will mean that they too are in the Father’s presence.
He gives her special instructions—he sends her to deliver a special message. This whole conversation is an echo of an exchange between Ruth and Naomi at the very beginning of the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament. Remember that Ruth is Naomi’s daughter-in-law, and after their husbands die, Naomi, an Israelite is going to go back to her own land and encourages Ruth the Moabitess and her other daughter-in-law to do the same. But Ruth tells Naomi, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.”
Here, Jesus tells Mary, “Go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father.” (That’s a plural “your.”) He continues, “To my God and your God.” He’s basically saying, Mary, go tell my brothers—my siblings—that now we are one, that where I go, they too will go, and I am going to prepare a place for you all just as I promised you. Jesus has bound himself to his disciples. Where he dies, we die. Where he is buried, there we too are buried. And even further, where he has life, we also have life and we have it abundantly. And even beyond that, unity with our Creator.
Mary does exactly as he says. Mary has a message to deliver again, but this time it’s different. This time Mary knows what’s really happened. She knows why the tomb is empty. She’s seen Jesus himself. Her message is true and faithful as her focus is no longer on those who have hurt her but is now fully on the risen Jesus, her Lord. This time she proclaims the message of the empty tomb knowing that Jesus stands victorious over the grave. It’s a message of triumph, a message of hope.
She goes to the disciples, tells them that she’s seen Jesus and relays his message. Now they knew that Jesus was indeed finishing what he started, that he would ascend on high over all things, and that through him, they would have a special relationship with God himself, the Creator of heaven and earth as he was going to prepare a place for them. They were bound to him. This is how Jesus brings us into the presence of God.
When we get lost, when we stumble in this life, sometimes it’s difficult to find our bearings. Sometimes we lose sight of any direction in our lives. We sin. We fall short. We believe things that aren’t true. We say things that aren’t true. We don’t deserve to be redirected. We don’t deserve to be forgiven. We don’t deserve to stand in God’s presence. But Jesus, in all of his power, in all of his might, he brings us there, to stand pure and blameless before our God. When you don’t know where to look, when you don’t know where to turn, turn to Jesus. Cling to Jesus now that he’s at the right hand of God. He loves you. Where he goes, we go. Where he lodges, we lodge. We are his people, and he is our God. He is with us in death; he is with us in burial, and he brings us into the presence of our Creator unto life everlasting. Rest in him. Amen.
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