Though fully “present” to [Mary Magdalene] in his transfigured corporeality, the risen Christ appears in the mode of “absence,” in a way that at once communicates his identity and person while overwhelming her wildest expectations and capacities for comprehension. — Robinette, Brian D.. Grammars of Resurrection: A Christian Theology of Presence and Absence (Herder & Herder Books) (p. 4). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.
When Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb, she wasn’t expecting what happened. She found the tomb empty; the body missing. It sounds like the beginning of an Agatha Christie mystery, but there’s a plot twist that even Agatha would not have written.
The body was missing because Jesus had been raised from the grave.
Mary wasn’t expecting that to happen, but we shouldn’t criticise her for that. When my father died over 27 years ago, I wanted to spend some quiet time at his grave the day after the funeral. On my way there, I wondered what I’d think if his grave was empty. I’d react just as Mary did, I’d think someone had taken the body. I wouldn’t think my dad had risen from the dead; I’d have called the police.
Back to Mary. Later, she is weeping outside the tomb. Mary has not only lost Jesus her teacher, but now she cannot make sure he is laid to rest. People need that; we need to have a body to reverently lay to rest. Those who lose someone and can’t find the body experience a double loss. This was Mary’s sad reality, but it was about to change.
Things are starting to happen; now, there are two angels in the tomb. Then Mary realises there is someone else, you know how you sometimes just know someone is looking at you? She turns, and sees … the gardener. After all, they’re in a garden.
We know it’s Jesus; she doesn’t. What keeps him from Mary’s eyes? We don’t know, but we can guess. We can guess that the risen One is more than he was before, much more. Mary cannot take it in, she is overwhelmed by a resurrected Person standing in front of her. Mary doesn’t quite grasp who he is. But you know, neither do we, today.
Mary sees nothing—until Jesus says one word: Mary. He calls her by her name. I imagine she knew the tone of his voice, the familiar way Jesus said her name. There is no hesitation now. She knows who it is. Her grief is gone.
Notice this well: Mary never discovers for herself that the one she thinks is the gardener is in fact the risen One. She only realises it when Jesus calls her by her name.
Jesus once said that the ‘the sheep hear [the Good Shepherd‘s] voice as he calls his own sheep by name.’ (John 10.3)
Mary hears the Good Shepherd, calling her by name.
Many of us will say that we are convinced of the Resurrection because somewhere deep in our spirit we have been called by name, called in our deepest selves by One who knows us through and through and who loves us with an everlasting love.
And that’s all we need to know that Jesus lives.
And now, to the next confusing thing that happens in the garden of the Resurrection. Jesus is there, so Mary does the most natural thing. She hugs him—only to hear Jesus say, ‘Do not hold on to me.’
That sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it, almost a bit mean. Don’t hold on to me?
But Resurrection changes everything.
Jesus hasn’t come ‘back to life’.
Jesus has died, Jesus has gone through death, and Jesus has defeated death. He will never again die.
Jesus has entered into Resurrection Life, life beyond the power of death. That is how and why he calls us by name.
We relate to him now in a very different way than his companions did on the way to the cross. He is now with the Father, for all who have the eyes of faith to see. He has sent his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to bring us to life with him.
We know Jesus because the scriptures bear witness to him.
We know Jesus because we meet him in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
We meet Jesus in the love of his people.
We meet Jesus in the poor, the hungry, the refugee; Jesus calls them his sisters and brothers.
Friends, Christ is risen. Risen in the church, in the world, and within us!