Empty tomb resizedNow Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 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.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 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.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 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.’”

18 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 20:11-18).

Last at the cross, first at the grave

It’s amazing how the first person to see Jesus alive is Mary Magdalene, a woman with no legal or social standing in Jewish culture, and a dubious past. But Jesus had freed her from seven demons and she owed him everything (Luke 8:2). Her devotion to Jesus was so irrepressible that she had left her home in Magdala to follow and support His mission. She never left his side on the way to Jerusalem. Even when his close friends deserted Jesus, Mary stayed, witnessing his trial and sentencing by Pilate. She watched her Saviour die on the cross and helped prepare his body for burial. On the first day after the Jewish Sabbath, it was Mary who was at the tomb earliest in the morning to witness the greatest event in world history.

Imagine her grief as she stood outside the tomb (John 20:11). Imagine her confusion as she saw the ‘gardener’ and asked where he had put the body. Imagine her excitement when she finally saw Jesus for who He was: Her “Rabboni”! And imagine her astonishment when she heard him calling her to be the first messenger of the good news!

An unlikely missionary

In spite of her history and her gender, Jesus called Mary Magdalene to be his first ambassador after his resurrection. It was a scandalous honour in their patriarchal society, but after her personal encounter with the living Jesus, Mary needed no further convincing. She believed Jesus when he said, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17). Those were radical, reassuring words to hear from the King of kings.

Mary was bubbling over with joy as rushed to obey Jesus’s first mandate to go and tell her brothers the good news. She may not have been a leader or one of the twelve, but she was a woman with a mission! And she had just heard that she was God’s own daughter, as surely as Jesus was God’s own Son!

She heard Him call her name

At first, Mary is confused about who Jesus is, but Jesus points her in the right direction with his questions, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Jesus’s questions are full of tenderness and patience. They are personal and probing questions designed to help her discover the truth. That is exactly how Jesus deals with us as we grapple with the truth of who He is. He does not try to confound or hide from us.

Then Jesus comes to her and tenderly calls her name, “Mary.” That’s when Mary recognizes him. Her doubt and confusion give way to jubilation and affection for her Saviour. Just as Jesus had said, “His sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

Is this your experience this Easter? Are you fully convinced that Jesus is alive today? Do you know Christ in a personal relationship, as Mary did? Do you know that He has spoken to you in the Bible, and are you eager to go and tell others the good news found in its pages?

Beyond evidence

I could give you all the arguments why the resurrection actually happened. I could spend many pages writing about the missing body, the secure stone weighing 2 tons and the Roman guards outside the empty tomb. I could tell you about the eleven separate occasions when Jesus was seen alive (including 500 people at the same time), and throw in the evidence of the cowardly disciples who became brave evangelists, willing to die for their belief in the risen Jesus. I could tell you about Jesus’ skeptical brother James, and Paul the stubborn persecutor of Christianity, who both became grace-filled preachers who suffered and died for the truth of the resurrection. As an erstwhile lawyer, I love hard evidence!

But instead, I’ll leave with you this simple story of a weeping woman, who heard Jesus call her name. Don’t let this season pass you by without grasping hold of the person at the centre of Easter. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus as her own Christ, her risen Lamb of God, her Saviour, her Lord and King. This same risen, reigning Jesus calls you by name and has made himself known to you. He asks you the most important question you can hear this Easter, “Who is it you are looking for?”

Can you say, with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!”

P.S Happy Resurrection Sunday!

Here’s a read-aloud poem to lighten your hearts during this sombre season:

How the Virus Stole Easter
By Kristi Bothur
(With a nod to Dr. Seuss)

Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began
Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.
People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.

As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.
People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.

April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed.
“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”

Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.
“Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.
The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.

“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.
“They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.

“That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.

And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.
But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!

It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!
The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!

Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!
It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine
Stood puzzling and puzzling.
“Just how can it be?”
“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”

Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

And what happened then?
Well….the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share the source of your life in this fight?

The churches are empty – but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom.
So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.

May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that –
Let it start a revival.

Amen!

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