A series of reflections on Jesus’ resurrection appearances, contributed by past and present Pepperdiners. Today’s is from alumna L.E. Stokes.
John 20:1-2, 11-18 Jesus appears to Mary in the garden
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
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”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
I’m a proud victim of pop culture. A true and loyal child of the 20th century. I think in movie quotes and metaphors. When I read this story, I thought of The Princess Bride. Particularly, I thought of the scene where Fezzik (Andre the Giant), as part of the Brute squad, finds Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) drunk in the village. Everything had gone wrong. So Inigo did what Vizzinni told him to do. He went back to the beginning. The place where he had been found. Mary Magdalene wasn’t drunk. And Jesus wasn’t a Sicilian. But the basic principle isn’t too off track.
I’ve spent some time with this scripture. Had some conversations. Read the book a few times. I am convinced that this is not an easy passage. In fact, it is not an easy book. Pretty sure that I could spend years reading and studying and still be asking, “What in the world are you talking about?” The authors of John write in broad strokes. The birth scene of Jesus is “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” No angels, no manger, no babies jumping in the womb. The book is parable light, miracles of healing short, and heavy on the assertion that Jesus is the Son of God and that salvation is found through and only through belief in Him. The majority of the book is dedicated to the Passion of Christ. And that is all well and good, but how that point is made is a little detail short for my taste. I often feel like my crackerjack box didn’t come with a decoder ring.
Mary Magdalene isn’t a known character in the book of John. She shows up at the crucifixion. What we lack in story in the beginning of the book, we get a pretty clear picture of at the end. She loved Jesus. So much, that dead or alive, she wants to be near him. Maybe she had nowhere else to go. Maybe she was the outcast of the outcasts. Maybe she didn’t want to be anywhere else. Or maybe she went back to the last place that she had seen him.
The text tells us that Peter and John saw the empty tomb and believed. But it also tells us that they left and went back into hiding. Mary stayed. Why? Did she not understand? Did she not believe? Did the boys not clue her in? Was she not part of the inner circle that heard him talk about his death and resurrection? Why did she stay? That decoder ring would come in handy right about now. The text doesn’t tell us. Was she stupid? Was she grief stricken? Was she obstinate? I’m not sure it matters why she stayed. She stayed. And he didn’t leave her there weeping. He showed up.
When she realized who Jesus was, she ran to embrace him and called him Teacher. To her eyes, he was who he had always been. He told her not to hold onto him. Not to hold onto the man, the body, the preamble to our salvation. Was there some cosmic ramification of her embrace that would undermine the glory of the resurrection? Probably not. Maybe he couldn’t leave her in grief wondering what had become of him. Maybe he was helping her to understand that he would never be the Jesus she had known again. Or maybe he was honoring the one who stayed.
So without years of study, or even weeks of study, here is my brilliant conclusion from the resurrection story in John. When all else fails, go back to the beginning. Go back to where you last saw him. Go back to where you were found. Stay there. Stay there and mourn for what you have lost. Stay there in confusion. Stay there in belief. Stay there out of stubbornness and humility. Just stay. He will not leave you weeping. He will not just send angels. He will show up.
L.E. (Seaver, 2000) studied music at Pepperdine, and worked with Housing and Residence Life before a move to Nashville. She blogs (now and then) with boldness, insight and humor at Padews Away. And she makes songs.