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At the Garden Tomb

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!” (John 20:1-2 NIV)

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”). (John 20:11-16 NIV)

Mary Magdalene was the first on the scene on resurrection morning. Mark tells us that she was accompanied by Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, and that they brought spices to properly care for Jesus' dead body, since He had been buried on Friday without proper preparation. On the way to the tomb, they must have wondered how they would gain access to Jesus, since a large stone had been rolled across the entrance and a Roman detachment of soldiers was guarding the tomb.

They arrived and found the stone had already been rolled away. Mary's reaction was to run and tell Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”

Peter and John raced each other to the tomb. John arrived first, looked inside and saw things were just as Mary had told them. Then Peter arrived and went into the tomb to confirm that Jesus' body was not there. Peter and John then went back to where they had been staying, but Mary lingered at the tomb in grief and shock.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus deeply. He had cast seven demons from her and set her free. She, along with others of the women, had supported Jesus in His ministry. She had been there and watched Him die on the Cross, and she had seen Him be placed in this very tomb. Now it was all worse. Not only had her Lord died, but someone had taken His body, desecrating His tomb.

She looked into the tomb once more, and was startled to see two angels, sitting where Jesus' body had been. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

Mary is still focused on the grave robbery. “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” Put yourself in Mary's place and feel her despair and grief. This last indignity only adds to the deep pain she is feeling.

Mary turns around and there stands Jesus, but she doesn't recognize Him. Perhaps it was the sheer impossibility that He could be standing there, since she had seen Him die a brutal death. Perhaps her grief blinded her from really looking at His face to see Him. More likely, Jesus' body had been glorified in His resurrection, and all the scars and wounds had been healed, except the wounds in His hands and feet, which He later showed to Thomas to overcome his doubts. His resurrected body must have been very different from the picture of the one hanging on the cross Mary had burned into her memory.

Jesus repeated the angels' question: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. She said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”

Then Jesus spoke her name: "Mary."

It appears Mary had been staring off into the distance, processing all that had taken place. At the sound of her name, she turned toward Jesus, and perhaps looked into His eyes for the first time. Wait. It's Him. It's Jesus. She recognized Him when He spoke her name. She said just one word, "Rabbi." Her teacher, her master stood there with her, alive!

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. (John 20:17-18 NIV)

And so Mary was dispatched as the first teller of Good News - the first evangelist. Jesus told her to go to the disciples and tell them He was very much alive and would ascend to the Father.

It is an easily overlooked nuance that Jesus tells Mary to tell the disciples He is going to ascend to the Father. His ascension sets the stage for the sending of His Spirit to indwell believers' lives on the day of Pentecost and beyond. It's not just that Jesus is raised from the dead, it's that His plan is to send His Spirit to live in our hearts and change everything. Life-changing Christianity is not just believing Jesus was raised from the dead. It is living with His life-giving Spirit directing our lives and transforming us from the inside out to be more and more Christlike.

Mary did what all of us who have met the Risen Christ are commissioned to do ever since: she told the simple truth, "I have seen the Lord!"

In some way or another, every follower of Jesus Christ has been in Mary's place. Jesus, the Risen One, has made Himself known in our lives. And knowing He has conquered the grave gives us hope we never had before.

Life may be filled with injustice and pain and illness and grief, but Jesus lives. The cross is not the end of the story, the empty tomb is. Death has been defeated. Sin's chains are broken. Jesus is not just a martyred teacher who laid out some great moral principles to follow. He is the risen Lord who has made the perfect sacrifice for our sins and has risen from the dead. The grave could not hold Him. Death could not defeat Him. Nothing can and nothing will. And if He lives in our hearts, then ultimately, nothing can defeat us.

On this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, I hope you will join me in holding on to the hope only our resurrected Savior can give.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

And that changes everything.


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