Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb (john 20:1).
Firsts are notable. Ferdinand Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Babe Ruth was the first baseball player to hit over seven hundred home runs. Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Academy Award. Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the moon. Tiger Woods was the first professional golfer to hold all four major titles—the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, the PGA Championship—at the same time. Dr. Sally Ride was the first American woman to orbit the earth. There is something remarkably satisfying about being first—about boldly going where no one else has ever gone before.
However, Mary Magdalene is, arguably, the most significant “first” in human history! After the days of darkness, marked by the knowledge that the Lord of life was buried in a tomb, she is the first at the gravesite, and she will be the first to see the risen Savior—and we are not surprised! She comes brokenhearted, but she comes with a devotion that surpasses even the apparent certainty of death. It’s important that we see that Mary had not come believing, but hurting. She had not come with a sense of anticipation, but with brokenness and grief.Yet what she lacked in understanding she made up for with love and faithfulness. And on that first resurrection morning, she would learn in a wonderful new way the truths of two Old Testament Scriptures:
• Proverbs 8:17: “I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me.”
• Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
Mary arrived at the tomb and found it empty. Fearing grave robbers, she ran to tell the disciples what she found. Then, following Peter and John, she returned to the tomb to mourn. The death she had witnessed had been disturbing; the disappearance of the body was even more distressing. Peter and John left to return to the rest of the disciples, but Mary sat at the tomb and mourned the loss of the body of Jesus—and the loss of what must have seemed like her last opportunity to serve the Savior. As she mourned, she encountered the risen Lord!
The Sound of Her Name
But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and 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!” (john 20:11–16).
It is highly significant that the risen Christ first appeared to a woman. In first-century Israel, women were generally viewed as being of low value and considered of little or no importance—but not to Christ! He valued women and treated them with a dignity and honor the world of that day would have found shocking.
Mary, brokenhearted by her loss, wept at the side of the tomb—at first oblivious to the presence of two angels! As she looked into the tomb where the body had laid, she, through her tears, saw them! Their appearance was fascinating, for they were seated at either end of the burial slab—looking very reminiscent of the ark of the covenant of old, where angels guarded the mercy seat! They responded to her weeping, and her only thought was that they might know where Christ had been taken. The depth of her love, measured by the depth of her grief, saw only the sorrow and loss—not the amazing reality of the angelic beings before her.
But there is more. When she turned away from them, there before her was Christ Himself! Perhaps it was her grief that blinded her eyes to His identity or perhaps, in the resurrection, Christ had the ability (as with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24) to mask His appearance. In any case, she assumed he was the caretaker of the burial garden and pleaded for information about the location of the body. Perhaps there was yet to be that one final opportunity to care for the One who had saved her. Little did she know.
In that most tender of moments, Jesus called her name, and she immediately recognized Him. She was shocked with joy! As Christ had taught in John 10, the Shepherd calls His sheep by name, and they know His voice. This is the Shepherd calling His sheep by name—tenderly, but with the authority of One who has conquered death. Powerfully, lovingly, gently, He says her name as it has never been spoken before: “Mary!”
The Sight of Her Lord
She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher) (john 20:16).
She faced Him, and as she saw Him, she turned from death to life; from grief to joy; from despair to belief.
She responded, “Rabboni”—teacher, master, the equivalent of “my dear Lord,” the title only a believer can utter about the Christ. Her emotional roller coaster had settled in peaceful calm. She had seen Jesus alive. Mary of Magdala, once demon-possessed but now set free, once grieving but now joyful, was the first person to see the risen Christ! For the first time in days, darkness had been overwhelmed by light. Death had been killed dead by the resurrection of Christ.
Study: Names are important. Look through the Gospels and see how many times Jesus called someone by name. In what context did He do so? In each case, was it positive or negative?
Reflect: Sales experts say that one of the key elements in closing a deal is learning the customer’s name and using it frequently. Why are we so enamored by the sound of our names? Why is it important that we feel “known”?
Apply: The reality of the resurrection turned Mary’s pain-filled grief into shocked belief. Why is the resurrection of Jesus so foundational to our faith? To our living? To our dying?