Scripture from John 20:14-16
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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
“The phone rang in the middle of the night. She squinted in the direction of the alarm clock as Gene reached for the receiver. It was 12:35 a.m. Who would be calling at this hour? Listening to her husband, she instantly knew he was receiving dreadful news. He pulled the receiver back and haltingly choked out the words. ‘J.P. has been arrested.’ She was dumbfounded. What illegal act could her son possibly have done that would have resulted in an arrest? Her husband continued speaking with tears spilling down his cheeks. ‘He’s been arrested for the first-degree murder of Douglas Miller Jr.’ Her feet hit the floor as she tried to get out of bed, but her legs were incapable of holding her weight. She slumped to all fours. Nausea swept over her. She began crawling toward the bathroom where she could throw up, but everything was in slow motion. She had never before experienced shock. No strength. Wave after wave of nausea. Dizziness. She had to remind herself to breathe.”1
Shock. No strength. Nausea. These same words are probably pretty good descriptors for Mary Magdalene on the morning she arrived at the tomb. The past week had been a whirlwind of watching Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, being arrested, placed on trial, beaten, and hung on a cross to die. And now…as if she needed one more thing to have to deal with…she comes to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices…and Jesus isn’t there. What a roller coaster of emotions. Then on her second trip to the tomb, Mary sees Jesus.
But why doesn’t Mary recognize him? I mean, for crying out loud, he IS STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER!!! And, she had just spent years by his side every moment around the clock as they travelled and ministered to the people. How in the world does she not realize it was him? Even after he asks her why she is crying, she still doesn’t get it.
Maybe it was the tears…her eyes are probably all blurred, swollen and puffy as she has been crying and running quite a bit.Maybe Jesus had changed his appearance. After all, she did think at first that he was the gardener. Or maybe Mary didn’t even look up to see his face and just assumed it was the gardener. She was in a garden and she was pretty distraught, so maybe she just turned with her head bowed to help hide the misery that would be so evident in her face and only saw a pair of feet there before her. She looked at him, but she didn’t SEE him.
Maybe it was because she kept facing the wrong direction. As we said, she looked at him, but she didn’t SEE him. Her focus was on the empty tomb, not the man standing before her. Verse 16 tells us that it wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that “she turned toward him.” Her focus was on everything EXCEPT Jesus.
As Liz Curtis Higgs puts it…”Precisely what our girl Mary Magdalene needed was eyes to see who was standing right before her.”2 Instead all Mary can see is her discouragement which is destroying any shred of hope she had left. Her focus was all wrong…she had been searching for a body, not a risen Christ…for SOMETHING, not SOMEONE.
Today, it’s easy for us to criticize Mary for not recognizing Jesus because we can sit back in our living rooms and read the story…page by page…the prophecy…the foreshadowing…the events that led to that day…the events of that day…and even what happened in the days after. We have the cheat code. In that case, we should have this “seeing Jesus” thing down to a science. We can recognize Jesus at any point in our life day or night because we have learned from Mary’s bumbles. Yeah…Right!
Most days we are just as blind as Mary was that morning at the tomb. Mary wasn’t perfect, and neither are we. When we face difficult times or situations that we just don’t understand, seeing Jesus in that moment is often the last thing we look for.
The son who had committed first-degree murder is Jason Kent, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and was a rising naval officer with tremendous devotion to his country and an even greater devotion to God.3 His mother Carol Kent, who was already an international speaker before this happened, shares their family’s story as she writes and speaks around the world.4
When they received the news that Jason had committed murder that morning the walls came crashing down around them. They were left with more questions than answers. While it wasn’t a question of “Where have you taken him,” they did ask “how could this be?” As Carol explains, “There are some tragedies that are too big for a heart to hold, and they defy any description that makes sense.”5 Mary could not make sense of Jesus’ missing body. Carol could not make sense of her son’s murder. But there was one thing she and her husband did have “in abundance, and that was tears.”6 Carol says she had “a whole new understanding of what it feels like to weep copiously with sorrowful, heart rending, unstoppable, and uncontrollable tears.”7 Tears were shed over all that was now lost…for the future that could no longer be found…for not being able to fix the situation…for what they felt was the absence of God. They found themselves asking where God was…why God had not done something to stop Jason from killing his wife’s ex-husband.
Whether it was the swollen, blurred eyes from all the tears or what seemed to be a change in their son or the fact that all they could see was an empty hole that now existed in their lives, the Kents could not see Jesus. They were looking for answers, they were grieving…they were looking for SOMETHING, not SOMEONE…not Christ.
In verse 16, we are told that Mary “turned” toward Jesus. The meaning for the original Greek verb used in this verse for turning literally means Mary “changed her course of action” not merely the direction she was facing. She didn’t just see Jesus…she SAW Jesus. Clue after clue had been placed before Mary. Jesus had told her and the disciples before he was crucified what would come to be. The angels tried to tell Mary at the tomb that morning. And Jesus himself was trying to get her attention by asking why she was crying. Finally, Mary got the message.
But why, oh why, did Jesus wait so long that morning to fill her in. Was Jesus being cruel making her wait for his appearance? Not at all! He could have told her the minute she arrived at the tomb that morning before she even saw the stone rolled away. For that matter, he could have appeared to her before she even left home to head to the tomb. But Jesus waited. His reason…he wanted Mary to grow in her faith and he knew this would happen only once she had reached the end of herself. Mary wanted to “fix” the situation. “Tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Mary was relying on Mary. Jesus wanted Mary to rely on Jesus. And once she had reached the end of her rope with each word dripping with despair, Jesus called her by name.
“Mary.” How wonderful it must have been to hear this word. This name. Her name. Said in the way only Jesus could say it. And she knew immediately it was him. Her eyes had been opened. She changed her course of action. She no longer was focused on finding a body, but was fully focused on the risen Christ.8 Christ had been resurrected and Mary’s heart was filled with joy!
And yeah, maybe it wasn’t exactly as Mary would have liked it. Jesus wasn’t going to be with them physically walking on earth each day, but Mary was okay with that because she knew hewould be with them spiritually the remainder of their days, regardless of how hard things were because he was ALIVE! He had been resurrected!
Resurrection is rising from the dead, but it is SO much more just an event that took place during Holy Week. Resurrection is the exaltation to God’s glory! For us, Mary’s response brings to the forefront the mystery of our faith. The resurrection of Jesus did not lead to Mary having perfect faith, neither do we. Resurrection faith does not stem from physically seeing the evidence of the resurrection, if it did the chief priests and soldiers would have become believers. Instead our faith in the resurrection is a matter of worship. Worship of THE Christ in all we say and do. And not just worshipping but demonstrating GREAT JOY when we do.
Sometimes it seems that we have to wait entirely too long for Jesus to step in, yet, just as in Mary’s case…Jesus wants us to grow in faith and knows that we grow only when we come to the end of ourselves. That point where proof gives way and hope kicks in…where we can do nothing but wait upon God even when we cannot see, touch, taste, smell, or hear God’s presence.
Three weeks after their son Jason was arrested, Carol and Gene had to make a decision. Carol had been scheduled to be the keynote speaker for more than a year at the annual conference for military wives and active duty women in Frankfurt, Germany.9 It was a five day conference, and including travel, would mean that they would be out of the country for eight days. After much deliberation and an assurance from Jason’s attorney they could do nothing here to prepare for the trial, they headed to Frankfurt. As they flew, Carol cried thinking about speaking to these women whose husbands were serving the country as her son would no longer be able to do.
The conference got underway as Carol began speaking and fulfilling her obligations, one of which was to lead a workshop called “I Have a Story to Tell.”10 This workshop was designed to teach those in attendance how to share their faith with others. As the workshop got going, Carol could hear God whispering “I can work much more effectively through your broken spirit than I could through your former professionalism and self-confidence. Trust Me.”11
When Carol reached the part in her instruction about including the prayer for when someone wants to become a Christian, she realized from the blank stares that some of those very women “had never made their own personal choice to follow Jesus.”12 She then made the offer for these women to say that prayer that day. When all was said and done, seven young military wives had invited Jesus into their lives and they began sharing their decision with women from their own military bases.Carol’s heart was hurting, and her eyes were swollen from crying, but she was being resurrected. After that Carol says, “It was a strange paradox to feel the grave sadness for our son’s circumstances, while at the same time celebrating the moving of God’s Spirit at this conference.”13
Carol had changed her course of action. She was no longer looking for SOMETHING but was focused on the risen Christ. And as with Mary, things may not have been exactly as Carol would have liked it, but she knew that Jesus was going to be with them the remainder of their days.
Shock. No strength. Nausea. These same words that were used to describe Carol’s situation as well as Mary Magdalene’s are probably pretty good descriptors for how many of us have felt recently. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of watching the news, listening to updates on the virus, and learning how much longer we will be sheltering-in-home. We have still had the normal pressures of living to deal with as well. It’s not like the bills stopped piling up when the virus began.
And whether it has been from swollen, blurred eyes from all the tears we may have cried or the change in all the world or the fact that all we have been able to see has been an empty hole that now exists in our lives, we have not been able to see Jesus. We have been looking for answers, we have been grieving…we have been looking for SOMETHING, not SOMEONE.
But what we may have missed is… ”when God seems the most absent, God is the most present. God is in the middle of your circumstances whether or not you have recognized it.”14 “The brokenness will challenge you to new levels of personal compassion. It will melt your pride, diminish the importance of your carefully designed agenda, and it has the potential to develop an unshakable faith that defies rationality.”15 Resurrection is rising from the dead, but more importantly it is THE EXALTATION TO GOD’S GLORY!
This Easter, while we are celebrating differently, while we are safe at home, may we really see Jesus. May we experience the resurrection of Christ in a new way. May we truly experience God’s Glory like we never have before!
- Kent, Carol. When I Lay My Isaac Down. 15.
- Higgs, Liz Curtis. Mad Mary: A Bad Girl from Magdala, Transformed at His Appearing. 240.
- Kent, 22.
- Ibid, 12.
- Kent, 64-65.
- Ibid., 66.
- Ibid., 67.
- Kent, 67.
- Ibid., 13.
- Kent, 12.