“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one 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 laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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 Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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 that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11-18 ESV)
I grew up in West Tulsa. In fact, I spent much of my early childhood living next to US Route 66 as it made its way down Southwest Boulevard (Google maps). One of the things I loved about living there was when the Barnum & Bailey Circus would come to town. The circus would arrive via train and then parade down Southwest Boulevard and across the 11th Street bridge to the downtown arena for their performances. The sites, sounds and smells are embedded into my memory and still a joy to remember. I wanted to be a circus performer and work with the exotic animals, especially the elephants. One year, before child labor laws, I even worked at the circus selling souvenirs. I even got to go back and see the animals and meet the famous, Gunther Gebel Williams. It was one of those “pinch me” moments because it was so surreal.
When Mary arrived at the tomb that first Easter morning, she too had several surreal moments. At first, it was because the tomb was empty and Jesus body was gone. As you’ll recall from last week, she ran to tell Peter and John and they ran to the tomb for confirmation. He was gone and they weren’t sure where or why. As Peter and John returned home, Mary stayed behind mourning. She was overwhelmed by Jesus’ death and now she’s distraught over the missing body. It was all just too much to take…
As she wept, she “stooped down into” the tomb. A literal rendering of the Greek text doesn’t say she looked into the tomb, but “stooped down into” the tomb. It appears that she stood outside weeping while Peter and John were inside, but I believe she timidly stepped inside after they left. She needed to see for herself. There she encountered two angels in white luminescent clothing, one at the head and the other at the foot of where Jesus had lain. They asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” The impression from their question is that her weeping was unnecessary and, perhaps, a bit foolish.
I suspect your initial reaction is to disagree with my observation, but hear me out. Jesus has been telling the disciples, both men and women, of His anticipated resurrection. Even the Jewish leaders picked up on it and posted a guard to prevent the disciples from “faking” a resurrection scene (see Matt. 27:62-66). But here’s the interesting part, Mary responded by telling them that she was weeping because Jesus body was gone and she didn’t know where they’d taken Him. Ok, maybe you didn’t pick up on the irony in that statement. Two ANGELS in bright, luminescent clothing are sitting in the tomb when she “stooped into” it and they ask why she’s weeping and her only reaction is to say, “they’ve taken Him away and I don’t know where.” What?! Woman, pay attention! Let these things your experiencing penetrate your grief and transform it into JOY! But, for the moment, she completely misses the point of who they are and why they’re there. Her grief is defining her beliefs and her expectations.
So, what’s my point in all this? We do the same thing each day of our lives. We’re to be transformed by our faith and the living Word of God. We are to live in the expectation of God fulfilling His promises and staying true to His Word. Mary was weeping and grieving because she expected the cross to be triumphant and not Jesus. We struggle with similar circumstances every day. Jesus says, “trust me when I tell you these things” and our response is tears of grief or fears of disbelief. But…
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV)
Let’s look at the last section of this passage because it gives us insight as to how to let this truth permeate our hearts.
Unfortunately, Mary turns away from these heavenly messengers unmoved by their presence or their words. As she does, she encounters a man standing outside the tomb. We’re unsure whether the sunrise or her tears are clouding her vision, but she thinks it must be the gardener or caretaker. He says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She responds based on her assumption that he’s the garden caretaker and that Jesus is truly dead, “just tell me where you’ve placed him and I’ll go get him and get out of your way and take care of his body.”
But, these questions are tied together on purpose. Why do you weep? Whom do you seek? Her weeping, her fear-filled response to his death and, ultimately, to life without Him is because of her limited understanding (or doubts/disbelief) of who He is. Whom do you seek? Do you seek the man, Jesus, or do you seek the Son of God? That’s the question at the very heart of this passage. Whom do you seek?
If life leaves us in tears or filled with fears then we have sought the wrong Jesus. You see, there are those who simply seek a good, moral teacher named Jesus. He gives them inspiration and encouragement. But, He’s not the very Son of God just a good man with good words. That kind of Jesus leaves us weeping at the tomb because death conquers and consumes us. It leaves no hope of eternal life. It gives no assurance of forgiveness and salvation. It might be inspiring but it isn’t transforming. It makes us feel good for a while, but it leaves us empty and hopeless in the end. It’s a false gospel and one that too many are believing in our modern culture. Jesus can’t be divine and the resurrection can’t be real because science says miracles can’t happen. He’s a good man, but he’s not God.
But, listen carefully to how this story ends… it wasn’t the garden caretaker. It was a living, breathing Jesus and He speaks and simply says, “Mary.” Suddenly, everything changed. She turns and shouts, “Teacher!” She had come to the garden seeking a dead man, but she encountered God! How can I be so certain He’s God, you don’t worship a dead Jewish carpenter but you do worship one who died and proves He’s God by conquering death and coming back to life.
Mary’s reaction is not directly recorded, but Jesus response tells us what she did. He says, don’t cling to me for I haven’t ascended to the Father, yet. This word “cling” can mean several things. One meaning is to feel something in such a way as to validate its reality. In other words, she kept touching Him to verify she wasn’t seeing a ghost or spirit. Another meaning is to grab onto something or someone with the intentions of never letting go. In other words, she grabbed onto Him and then she wasn’t going to turn loose. It seems to me that both of these meanings are implied in the passage. She touched and verified the truth of what she saw and then she held on with no intentions of letting go.
So, let’s wrap up this week with some closing thoughts. Jesus appeared to Mary to drive away her tears and fears. He allowed her to touch, to feel the truth and to, thus, drive away her doubts and dismay. But, He did this by driving her fear out with His overwhelming and never ending love. Her fear was driven away with love as she realized that everything He had said was true. He IS God! He had done precisely what He said He would do, rise again on the third day. She had arrived at the tomb weeping because she was seeking a dead man. She left rejoicing because she found God, instead. But, whom do you seek?
The answer to that question will determine how you deal with death and whether your fear is driven away by love or whether it consumes you. It might seem a bit surreal, at first, but try it. Touch Him. See if what He says rings true in your heart. Read the Gospel story. Let the Words penetrate your soul and transform your heart. I promise, the results will leave you standing in awe of God’s power and humbled by His grace and mercy.
Whom do you seek? If all you seek is someone who can help you feel a little better about yourself or be a little nicer or more kind to strangers then the man Jesus, the Carpenter from Nazareth, is probably sufficient. He’s inspiring and encouraging. But, if you’re looking for someone who can take your dead life and make it alive then you need the Son of God. He’s the only one capable of such a miracle.
Dead life? Why on earth would I suggest your life is dead? Folks in our modern culture are reluctant to admit the truth regarding their lives. We think we just need a little help, not an entirely new heart. We think we aren’t truly bad but just a little bit bad, and only on occasion. But scripture is clear on this issue. We aren’t just a little bit bad, we are completely and utterly broken. We look around and wonder what’s wrong with our world, but we’re reluctant to admit our own guilt in the situation. We want to place blame anywhere and everywhere except on ourselves. We see ourselves as victims instead of part of the problem.
A London paper once posed the question, “What’s wrong with our world?” Renowned author, G.K. Chesterton wrote a letter in response that stated, “Dear Sirs, I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”
My love of the circus wasn’t diminished by my time working there, but my view of it certainly was. My job selling souvenirs gave me the chance to get behind the curtains. We view the circus as shiny costumes, amazing stunts, exotic animals and lots of glitter and glamour. We overlook the hard work, dirt, and the stench. We tend to see life much the same way. We see the glitz and glamour and overlook the hard work, dirt and the stench. At least, we see the glitz and glamour and overlook the dirt and stench of our own lives. We think that what’s wrong with the world is everyone and everything but ourselves.