Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 26, 35-36; John, chapter 20
Scripture: John 20:11-18 (NRSV) – But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have taken him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Observations: Two things stand out to me today as I read these verses. First, when Peter and John went into the tomb, there were no angels there; but when Mary Magdalene looked in, they were there. She had come to the tomb first, saw that the stone was rolled back, and assumed that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. (Verse 1 does not say that she looked into the tomb at that time.) Peter and John came, looked into the tomb, and saw that Jesus’ body was gone – but they didn’t see any angels. They went back to their homes, but Mary stayed there outside the tomb, weeping. Perhaps God sent the angels to comfort her, since she was weeping. The disciples were apparently more motivated by fear than sorrow; they didn’t stay there at the tomb, and later, when they were meeting together, “the doors of the house were locked for fear of the Jews” (verse 19).
But at second glance, the angels didn’t really comfort her; all they did was ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Did she even notice that they were angels? As she answered them, she turned away; I think I would have been staring at them! As she turned, she saw Jesus – but didn’t even know that it was him. Why? Had she been weeping so much that she couldn’t see clearly? I picture her turning, catching a glimpse of someone out of the corner of her eye, and never even lifting her eyes as he speaks to her. She was so bound up in sorrow that even the very presence of Jesus escaped her notice. But then he speaks to her – calls her by name– and in that moment, she realizes who he is, and begins to rejoice. And so maybe the question, “Why are you weeping?” – which both Jesus and the angels asked her – was comfort, because it helped her to turn her focus away from her sorrow and toward the hope that only God can give. It may not have been the sort of “warm and fuzzy” comfort that we often think of, but it was the best kind of comfort – the kind that pointed her toward joy.
The other thing that stands out is the fact that when Jesus appeared to Mary, he said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” I had always just thought that when he said that he had not yet ascended, he was referring to the fact that the Ascension – which would be 40 days later – was still in the future. But clearly he’s referring to something else, because he tells Mary to go and tell the disciples this – and he would see the disciples later that evening. So the “ascending” that he’s talking about must be something that happened that day, after his appearance to Mary, but before his appearance to the disciples. What did that entail? Scripture gives us no clear answer. As I think about it, I imagine a reunion with the Father, where Jesus the Son actually returns to see God face to face for the first time since “the Word became flesh.” All during his earthly life, Jesus had experienced God’s presence in prayer, in worship, and occasionally by hearing his audible voice – but now he would get to see God face to face. What joy that would be!
Applications: I’m just reflecting today on the absolute joy of Jesus’ reunion with the Father – the same kind of joy that Mary had when she realized that Jesus was there in front of her. Why was Mary rejoicing? Because she loved Jesus; she had spent so much time with him before his crucifixion, and then she had thought that she would never see him again. When she realized that he was alive, standing there in front of her, of course she rejoiced! And I imagine that Jesus experienced the same kind of joy at the thought of his reunion with the Father. God is reminding me that we can have the joy of experiencing his presence each day, as we spend time in prayer, in reading the Word, in worship, and in being the hands and feet of Jesus by serving others. If we can learn to experience the joy in those things, think of how great our joy will be when we get to see Jesus face to face!
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me today of the joy that you want your people to experience in their daily communion with you. Thank you, also, for the promise that this joy will pale in comparison to the joy that we will have when your Kingdom comes in its fullness. Help me today to live in ways that lift Jesus up, so others will be drawn to him. Help me to demonstrate the joy of knowing you. Amen.