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.” 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”)…
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”
Christ is risen indeed!
Of all the New Testament’s resurrection appearances, this encounter might be the most cherished. This is the story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
What do we know about Mary? Her name indicates that she was from Magdala, a town located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Magdala was a town with a reputation. Think of it as the “wrong side of the tracks” or “the docks” in ancient Galilee.
Mary herself had something of a reputation. Luke 8:2 notes that her relationship with Jesus began when he drove seven demons out from her. Seven, remember, is the biblical number of fullness. Read: The demons had come in and this woman had completely lost control of her life.
From other accounts of demon-possession in the New Testament, we know that such spirits tried to throw people into campfires to burn them or into lakes to drown them. They caused people to foam at the mouth and to run around in caves. They were too strong to be held down. In other cases, people possessed by demons were manipulated by slaveholders as money-making curiosities.
Which of these miseries impacted Mary Magdalene we don’t know. But one thing was clear – her life changed when she met Jesus.
Jesus reached out to her when nobody else would. When everyone else judged her, he reached out to her. One person saw past the tatters. When everybody else scurried away because of what she was saying and how she was acting, Jesus moved toward her, and in a miracle, revealed the beautiful person that was inside.
Whenever I think of Mary’s story, I’m reminded of this moment – Simon Cowell at his finest! – from the show Britain’s Got Talent:
You just can’t judge by first impressions, can you? Jesus saw a sin-scarred woman from a down-and-out village, and in his love, he drove out the demons, knocked the scales from the judges’ eyes, and showed everyone that Mary had value. She was changed. She was whole. She mattered.
Jesus does this kind of thing all the time. He sees what others don’t want to see – he sees what others can’t see – and he loves completely. In a sermon I once heard him preach, John Ortberg said “We can only be loved to the extent that we are known.” If we are not fully known, we cannot be fully loved.
If that’s the standard, how many people can really say that they love you completely? Almost all of us hold things back. There are stories we won’t share, thoughts we keep hidden. Why? Because we believe that to share them would cost us love. Ortberg says that if that’s the case, people may love an artificial version of you, a body double, but they don’t really love you.
Later in that message, Ortberg said that once he recognized this in himself, he called another pastor and started peeling back all the layers. When he confessed a sin, the friend said, “I still love you”. He confessed another, and the friend said, “I love you even more.” Ortberg said that he began to feel so loved in that experience that he actually wanted to make up things that he hadn’t done and confess them too!
Mary had in Jesus someone who truly, truly loved her, because he truly, truly, knew her. And isn’t that what we all want?
Deep down, you want somebody to know how hard you’ve had to work to get here. You want more than flattery. You want somebody to really recognize how special your gifts are. You long for someone else – just one more person! – to truly know how those words stung you, or how much you’ve had to overcome, or how tired you are. Who is there who can assure you that you aren’t crazy to feel scared or that you’re not paranoid when you have a different opinion? You want that, you need that. Someone who really truly knows.
Mary had that in Jesus. He saw all the demons in her past. He was no stranger to the skeletons in her closet. All that was unresolved in her heart was known to Jesus. She had in him exactly what everybody wants: that one true friend who fully loved because he fully knew.
And then, at Calvary, she watched him die. She saw the horrors that were inflicted on him at the cross. They took him away from her.
All night on Friday, she wretched with shock. All day Saturday, she was immobilized by grief. Her heart was wrung out.
And on Sunday morning, when she was finally able to pay her last respects, she arrived at the tomb to believe that something still worse has happened: My friend is gone. Somebody’s taken the body. What is wrong with this world? Mary Magdalene unravels.
Mary stood outside the tomb, streams of tears running down her face. Her world was over. She was so distraught, so emptied, John says, that she looked right at Jesus and saw only a gardener. Another apathetic actor in her personal tragedy.
And then Jesus spoke her name. Mary.
There are four, maybe five other Marys involved in Jesus’ ministry and the New Testament church. But Jesus employs no qualifier. Mary.
And she knows. It’s him.
Mary. There’s a whole sentence inside that one word. Or maybe more. Maybe it’s a paragraph, or a story, or a library. Maybe in that one word, there is a universe of meaning. Mary. She hears, and then she can see.
Can you hear it today? Into the ruins of your heart, Jesus whispers, “Mary…Dave…Carol…Monica. This thing’s not over. It’s hardly just begun. I’m still here. Jennifer, Ryan, Harold…I haven’t left you, and I never, ever will.” He knows your name, and everything inside of it. Mary.
And then, I’m telling you, there is not an EKG monitor on this planet that could have measured the rush of joy and rapture that raced into her heart at that moment.
She says “Rabboni” – not just “Rabbi”. Rabbi means teacher. Rabboni means “my teacher.” Mine!
Look at this! When you feel the power of the return of your Master, your love for Jesus becomes so strong that you start to feel like he’s yours alone. I am his and he is mine! There is an intimacy with Jesus so precious that nobody else can understand. It’s a love that puts all other loves to pale. They’re just Walmart Valentines compared to what you have in Christ. Your life courses fresh with hope and meaning!
And that’s just the beginning, just the start. Because the scriptures say that one day, at the end of time, our confusion, our regret, our sadness will completely fall away. It will all make perfect sense. Why? Because 1 Corinthians 13:12 says that in the final moment, we will know Jesus as fully and intimately as he knows us now.
This should blow you away. As intimately as Jesus knows you, you will know him.
No more tears, no more mistaking him for gardeners, no more ambiguity – we shall see face to face.
Several years ago, I discovered this video clip from the life of Sir Nicholas Winton. In 1938, when he was still a young man, Winton risked his life and his wealth to save hundreds of young Jewish children from the Holocaust. Working channels in both the Dutch and English governments, Winton arranged for safe passage for nearly 700 kids who almost certainly would have died in the Nazi fury.
On the day that this scene was taped, a television host begins by opening his old documents to a list of names of those children he had saved. But the joy races higher from there:
If you were as moved by that clip as I was, maybe it’s because within us all there is a longing for union and intimacy with the one who redeemed us from death. Listen closely, friends: It’s. Gonna. Happen.
Easter shows us that the wheels are already in motion. Someday you will have an experience like, but a million times more beautiful, than Mary’s moment.
Because the Bible says that your name – the single name by which Jesus knows you perfectly, completely, and intimately – is written in heaven in a Book of Life. And that someday, when we gather in that city, each name will be read. Thomas, Caleb, Emily, Jane. Jesus will sing for joy as you come forward to greet him!
Each name will match up with a soul, a face, of one that he saved in his death on the cross. And he will look at his children, and he will say “it was all worth it!” Every scourge, every curse, every nail…to save them – I would have done it for any one of them alone – but look now at my people! Look, Father, Look, Spirit! These are mine!
Easter, the celebration of life after death, started 2000 years ago. And it will never end. Mary Magdalene and everybody else whose name is in that book will stand again to hear their names called. The demons will be cast out. Sins will be forgotten. And with the Master, we’ll rise to worlds unknown.