As you read, imagine the scene below as part of a larger drama unfolding. Think of the setting (Ancient Israel; very early in the morning at sunrise; Springtime, chill still in the air), the plot (Mary finds tomb empty; brings Peter and John to investigate; they find it as she reported; the body of Jesus is missing), the characters (Mary Magdalene, angels, Jesus) and the dialogue (try to hear it as you read).
Mary was standing outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.
“Dear woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him.
“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener she said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” which means “Teacher”.
John 20:11-16, NLT
Now, let’s understand the implications of this drama:
Jesus appeared first to a woman. In a world, time and culture dominated by men, a woman. Not Peter, the Rock upon which the future church would be built. Not John, the disciple Jesus loved. But Mary Magdalene, a woman he had healed, rescuing her from a slew of demons that had held her hostage until Jesus touched her and set her free.
And now here she stands and weeps. All the others who came with her left, but she stayed and mourned outside the empty tomb. And because she waited, she saw him first. Of course, her grief has left her in such a state of distress that she is blinded. Never mind that she has just seen two angels sitting where Jesus once lay! She is still blind to the miracle that has taken place—blinded until he calls her name! And in that simple word “Mary” her eyes are opened—opened to the Miracle of ALL Miracles!
See Mary expected one thing and got another. She expected a Messiah to rescue Israel from Roman rule and got a man who submitted to a cruel Roman death. She just wanted God to restore her nation and her people as he promised. Instead, she watched him die there on the cross. Things were not as she expected.
She also expected to come to the tomb and bury Jesus properly. The man who had healed her, taught her, loved her deserved at least that—a proper burial. She just wanted to see him, worship him, one last time before he was laid to rest. She arrives and things are not as she expected. In fact, so much so that she doesn’t even acknowledge the angels there in Christ’s place. She cannot see through her tears. She cannot see through her grief and sorrow.
And she thinks he’s the gardener. I always thought that was funny. There he is, right in front of her eyes, and she thinks he’s the gardener. And not only that, but she thinks the gardener has stolen Jesus’ body! Why would a gardener steal a body? I suppose all my questions and quirky thoughts will be answered in heaven. For now I can only imagine and roll the scene like a drama from a play I’d love to see—live and in person. Can’t wait to meet Mary and ask her about that event in her life, what it was like to see him there, to hear him call her name.
There’s an aspect of theater called dramatic irony. This is when the audience knows something the characters do not. We see what’s going on but the characters have to wait for the drama to unfold to know what we as the audience already do. As the drama above unfolds we know that Christ is alive! This is no gardener! This is the Master Gardener—the Creator of every plant and flower and tree! And his body hasn’t been stolen—He is risen! He is risen indeed!
But Mary has yet to understand, to understand the irony of thinking him a gardener or a grave robber. Her grief and sorrow has blinded her and keeps her from seeing the Greater Picture. And yet…
How often does our own grief cloud our vision?
How often has our own distress left us blind to the miracles all around us?
I fear it is often.
For it is hard to see
the resurrection power
of Sunday morning
when all you know
is the blinding sorrow
of Friday’s crucifixion.
Who is it you are looking for?
What did you expect to see, to happen?
Why are you crying?
But then He calls her name! “Mary!”
And that is the power of hearing your name.
Imagine someone you love calling your name. Not in a “time-for-dinner” kind of way but in a “so-glad-you-waited” and “I-love-you” and “I’m-so-glad-to-see-you” kind of way! Stop for a moment and hear him call your name—as you wait outside your own empty tomb, in grief, sorrow and pain—hear Christ call your name.
Isaiah 49 says he has graven our name on the palm of his hand. He will never forget us. Our name is always there to remind him—not that he really needs reminding. But imagine your name there, tattooed on the palm of His Great Hand.
When all seems lost, when you are blinded by sorrow, when things haven’t turned out the way you planned, hear him call your name, see your name graven there on his palm. When it seems as if your crucifixion Friday will never end, remember: Resurrection Sunday is right around the corner.
There’s another aspect of theater called the denouement—the resolution. When the questions are answered and the conflict resolved.
See, it’s Friday and let me tell you something,
Lord Jesus, our Lord and Savior, when we are blinded with sorrow, help us see. When things are not turning out as we had expected, help us wait. When we are confused and think our dreams have been stolen, help us hear you call our name. When we feel forgotten, help us see our name graven on the palm of your hand. When we are lost in our own crucifixion Friday, help us know that Resurrection Sunday is coming! Thank you for your offering on the cross and help us to live in the absolute power of your resurrection! In Your Most Powerful Name Jesus, Amen.
Jody Thomae is the author of God’s Creative Gift–Unleashing the Artist in You: Bible Studies to Nurture the Creative Spirit Within. For more Bible studies like this, you can purchase a copy of her book at: Wipf & Stock Publishers; Amazon and Barnes &Noble. It is also available in Kindle Format.