The pastor of my church who gave the sermon this Easter morning, chose the account from John 20:1-18. The accounts in all four Gospels are wonderful, but this one gives more detail about Mary Magdalene’s activity during that Resurrection morning, including her encounter with Jesus.
I read these verses a few weeks earlier as part of my personal Bible study. It moved me in a way it never had before.
First Mary sees that the tomb is empty. She runs to tell Peter and John about it. They run to the tomb and she returns there as well. Peter and John also see that the tomb is empty. Still trying to sort it out, the men return home. But Mary stays behind at the tomb. That is where we find her when we get to verse 11.
But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her. – John 20:11-18
When I read these words a few weeks ago, I started crying along with Mary. In a way that had never been so clear before, I understood how painful it was for her when she could not find Jesus. Jesus meant the world to her. And He means the world to me. He has for close to 25 years.
But for the first time since I was saved, I could relate to the idea of losing Jesus. While I knew from Scripture that God would never fail or forsake me, what if I could no longer see Him because sin was blinding me to Him. Some of the Christians I had told about my transition had claimed that this had happened. What if they were right? And in the months leading up to my decision to explore transition, I was being pulled in sinful directions like never before. There were many days I was so ashamed that I wanted to hide from God.
I am at peace about these things now. But the memory is still fresh. So as Mary wept while she searched for her Deliverer in vain, I wept right along with her. Perhaps during those moments when she shed those precious tears, she was thinking about how horrible her life would still be if she had never met Jesus and He hadn’t had mercy on her and changed her life for all eternity. It was part of my thoughts as I wept with her.
First the angels ask her why she is weeping. As soon as she answers, she turns around and sees a man who asks her the same question. But then he asks a second question: Who are you seeking?
At first, she doesn’t recognize Jesus. How often in life do we look for something and don’t recognize it when it is right in front of us? Perhaps she was only looking for a body, not a live person. One reason we miss out on what we are seeking is that it didn’t come in the way or form we wanted or were expecting.
In that case, she would not have been focusing on this man. Her eyes might have been darting around looking here and there for clues as the morning light grew brighter. Was there a place where a body had been dragged along the ground or some grass disturbed? Perhaps the grave robbers became frightened and dropped the body nearby?
But then Jesus, having compassion on this woman who had become such a faithful and devoted follower as soon as He saved her, brings her consternation to an end. All He needs to do is say one word: Mary. Her name.
The text says that immediately she “turned herself” in response. I interpret this to mean that up to that point, she was not totally engaged with this person. But upon hearing her own name spoken by the Master as no one else ever did, she gives Him her full attention. And immediately she recognizes Him.
Dear reader, if you are saved, you can relate to this. At some point in your life, Jesus called you by name, your spiritual eyes were opened and you recognized Him as your Lord and Savior.
When I reached this point in the text, I really started bawling. Because at that moment, the last remaining spiritual question I had about my transition had been answered. My new name symbolizes my transition. At some point during my transition, I had prayed that God would tell me by what name He knows me: my birth name or the name I chose for myself. Until a few weeks ago, I still didn’t have an answer.
When I read that verse, the reaction in my spirit told me the answer. It was the reason I went from weeping to bawling. My joy was too great for words. God, my loving Abba Father, called me by name … LOIS: I am His daughter, Lois. He still loves me as I am with His abiding love. And I love Him more than ever.
God bless you with the understanding that an empty tomb is the reason you can still find Jesus,