The Easter Gardener Apr. 12, 2020
In the gospel for Easter Sunday, (John 20:1-18) Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. So she ran … to Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Mary had been at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and Mary the wife of Clopas and saw him die. (John 19:25) She KNEW that Jesus was dead. The only conceivable explanation for the fact that the stone had been pushed back from the tomb is that someone had taken the body of the Lord. In her alarm she ran to find Jesus’ disciples Simon Peter and the other disciple, (presumably John). ** Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running… One wonders what was going through Peter’s mind as he raced to the tomb. He had denied Jesus three times, doubtless to his great remorse. He had likely replayed the different denials incessantly since and wished to return to the moments and say something different. Maybe he told the others when they gathered again after the crucifixion and they consoled him with their own admissions of guilt. Had he eaten or slept? Was he working on nervous energy…and confusion? We don’t know, but these would be natural responses to what had happened. ** When Peter and the other disciple came they looked into the empty tomb and saw the linen wrappings lying there and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Unlike Lazarus, who came from his tomb bound in funeral wrappings and who needed to be unwrapped, (John 11:44) Jesus either needed no such assistance, or it was perhaps provided by the angels, who also appear in this gospel, but the evangelist saw this as a significant enough detail that he recorded it. ** After viewing the empty tomb, the disciples presumably stood outside with Mary Magdalene and tried to figure out what had happened for a period of time. Perhaps they looked around to see if there were other clues. Then the gospel tells us the disciples returned to their homes. With nothing else to see they left. Strangely, they left Mary behind or maybe she refused to leave. Perhaps she wanted to puzzle over the empty tomb some more and declined their invitation to go with them.
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 laid him.”
Mary focused her attention on the missing body of Jesus, not on who these people were or whether they had been there when Peter and the other disciple had looked in. She also stuck with her initial interpretation of what had happened: the missing body had been taken away. **
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.”
Not recognizing someone we know is an experience we’ve all had. Perhaps the person has shaved off a beard or done her hair dramatically differently. Maybe the person who always wore glasses had laser eye surgery or now wears contact lenses. It could be that she was wearing a coat that you had never seen before. Possibly, you thought that the person was in Mexico and your mind “refused” to see them. Or, since Mary was weeping, perhaps the tears clouded her sight.
In a way, Mary was correct in thinking Jesus was a gardener. Gardeners tend to the new life that seems to spring spontaneously from the earth at this time of year. With the resurrection, Jesus was both the new life, seemingly from the dead, but also the one who would encourage and tend to this new life in others.
Whatever the explanation for the misidentification, she next said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Mary offered to take the body away, as though someone, like this gardener, would find it inconvenient to have a dead body lying around. ** Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Apparently, Jesus’ voice was so distinctive that it identified him to Mary. Mary’s spontaneous response was to call him by the name by which she thought of him. **
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.’”
Three things strike us about this verse. When he said Do not hold onto me, scholars believe that he was saying that the days of the historical Jesus were over. The relationship she had once had with him had ended.
Second, he said, go to my brothers… no longer did he call them his disciples, but now his brothers. Third and most significantly he added and your Father to the previous phrase, to my Father. In the gospel of John he had never previously referred to his Father as being also the father of his followers. (See John 8:54 , 14:23, 14:31) Jesus’ words to Mary indicate that this has changed. Because of the new relationship that Jesus has with the Father by passing through this hour, which included both his death as well as his resurrection, all human relationships are transformed. **
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. She may have been torn between wanting to stay with Jesus and rejoice in his presence but also that she wanted to do as he had asked so she ran as fast as she could and that she burst excitedly into the room where the disciples were. Her opening words included her basic experience, I have seen the Lord. Then she repeated to them all that Jesus had said probably including her exchange with the angels and her misidentification of Jesus as the gardener. ** • How do you imagine that the disciples reacted to Mary’s initial news that the stone had gone from the tomb and the subsequent news that Peter and the other disciple had found the burial clothes folded up? Were they upset? Incredulous? Confused? Suspicious of the high priests? • What do you make of the fact that the first person that Jesus met after his resurrection was Mary Magdalene? After all, women were not considered to be equal to men in Jesus’ day. Was it coincidence that she was the first to come to the tomb? Did he intend something by having met her first after his resurrection? • How do you imagine that the disciples responded to the news that Mary had seen and spoken to Jesus? Did they laugh and look around and feel a rush of joy? Had she told them something they wanted to believe but could not? Did they want to go to the tomb and find him themselves? What would Peter have felt? Would he be glad, or dreading his encounter?