In the Garden with Jesus
I probably should have posted this yesterday, Easter Sunday, but I always find myself too emotional on Easter to do any serious writing. I’ve been thinking about the events of resurrection morning and reading the different accounts in the Gospels. As always, they leave me a little frustrated, a little amused, and a little puzzled.
Luke frustrates me because twice, not once but twice, he records in his account that Jesus took time to do a complete Old Testament Bible study on how the Scriptures spoke of him. The first was to the disciples going to Emmaus and the second with the apostles. It really would have been great if Luke had seen fit to, I don’t know, actually write down what was said. But no, all we get is the fact that he did the study, leaving us gasping for details.
John on the other hand, makes me smile. He records that both he and Peter ran to the empty tomb (John 20:4). Yet he managed to slip into the sacred text, to be recorded for all time, that he could run faster than Peter. “Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” How is that for a piece of inerrant Scripture?
But the real puzzle of John 20 lies in the order of events at the tomb. It looks like this:
- Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds it empty. From the other Gospels we know there were other women with her.
- She alerts the disciples that the body of Jesus is gone and Peter and John make their follow-up visit. It is clear that Mary went back too because of the next step.
- Third we see Mary standing at the tomb weeping after Peter and John left. She sees two angels “sitting where the body of Jesus had lain” who ask her why she is crying, a question that on the surface, based on what Mary knows, deserves to be answered “Duh?” I assume that the angels were not there when Peter and John stopped by because it is hard to imagine them calmly walking away from angels.
- Last, Jesus himself appears to her and repeats the angel’s question, adding the more logical and compassionate “Whom are you seeking?”
So here is what puzzles me. Why did Jesus not appear to Mary on her first visit and, more importantly, why did he not appear to Peter and John? If his goal was to get the word out it would seem that he’d have been better served by making his first post-resurrection appearance to the two disciples. In that culture, men would make better witnesses; the word of a woman carried little weight. He eventually did appear to the disciples and it is clear, while they were pondering the words of the women, no action was going to take place till the guys had seen for themselves.
A lot has been said that the whole deal of letting women announce the resurrection was some sort of lesson that, unlike the Pharisees, Jesus saw women as spiritually equal with men. There is probably some truth to that. But it also leaves unsolved the mystery as to why he didn’t appear to Mary the first time she came. It would seem that, at the very least, it might save her from a second trip to the tomb.
The encounter of Jesus and Mary is one of the most emotionally charged stories in the Bible. She is sobbing and goes right on sobbing after seeing two angels. The depth of her misery is so great that an angel visit can’t shake it. Usually when angels show up the reaction is terror. Here her grief is so deep that she can’t seem to work up a good fear.
When Jesus comes and she recognizes him the words barely can contain the emotions. She calls him “teacher” and you can tell it is no casual address. It is the astonishment of a desolated woman suddenly, against all hope, seeing the Lord she loved. I liken the emotion to having one of the passengers on Malaysian flight 370 walk back through their front door at home.
Jesus responds by saying “Do not cling to me”, a much more accurate term to describe what actually happened than some older translations. The KJV translates that “touch me not” which implies she just reached out to see if he was real. Clinging implies that she was wrapped around him in some way and holding on for dear life. Exactly the reaction you would have seen when desolation turns to unexpected hope.
I’m not convinced that his not wanting her to cling to him has some sort of mystical significance about his not-yet-ascended body as some say. It is rather his need to get on with what he was doing and her need to carry on the task he had for her. But I do think that his appearing to her, and not the men, and on her second visit and not the first, is significant. It tells us something very important.
The resurrected Jesus cares, and cares deeply, about Mary – and us – when we weep in desolation.
Mary didn’t fully grasp what was to happen next or where this whole resurrection thing was going. But Jesus, the creator of all things, the author and finisher of our faith, took time on that morning to comfort the afflicted. His caring was not only to ease her sorrows but to assure her that her life was not over; that she still had work and ministry before her.
The most natural reaction of extreme grief and desolation is to want to sit down and cry; to just give up. On that morning Jesus assured Mary that hope goes on. That assurance is just as real for us when we are in her shoes.