John chapter 20 begins with this: “Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark…”
That simple phrase tells the reader that something transitional has happened. The plot has moved from the last day of the week to the first, and darkness is preparing to give way to dawn.
Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark Mary went to the tomb and saw the stone had been rolled away. There she made an assumption: someone had taken the body of the Lord. In a culture where grave robbing had become common enough to earn capital punishment, Mary assumed something was wrong. So she ran to tell the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb and looked in and went home. For the first time in three years Peter was speechless.
Even though the men left Mary lingered. She stayed and decided to take a look for herself. Surely her mind was preoccupied with her last memories—stuck in the yesterday of death and loss. She was hitched to history, so to speak. John reports that she was crying. Literally “wailing” as she looked into the tomb. She wept alone. Jewish culture valued community mourning so much that it was not uncommon for families to hire professional mourners to come along side them in times of grief. But in this instance, Mary wept by herself.
When your eyes are clouded with tears, your vision is distorted.
As the story unfolds we read that there were two angels in the tomb. The text is unclear as to whether or not Mary recognized them as such. It would appear that Mary stood in the midst of the supernatural and miraculous and didn’t even know it. As she turned to leave she saw Jesus. Again, she didn’t recognize him. She thought he was the gardener who had come to tend to the work of the day. Her tears kept her from seeing the reality of the present and the possibility of the future.
In that moment, Jesus asked her two questions. “Why are you crying?” and “Who are you looking for?” She offered no answer but we know that Mary was crying over something that wasn’t real and that she was looking for someone that wasn’t there. It occurred to me that most of our tears are Friday tears: tears of pain, loss, guilt, regret, failure, and sin. Tears tied to last week, last month, or last year. Many times we are like Mary, guilty of looking for something that doesn’t exist to bring comfort to our broken hearts. But things are different. It’s daybreak of the first day of the week.
It all turned when Jesus called her name. “Mary!” Upon hearing her name, Mary utters a new cry, “Teacher!” and clung to him. Jesus didn’t scold her for clinging to him. He simply wanted her to understand that with the resurrection a chapter had closed and a new one had begun. Things were different. Jesus wasn’t going back to his past three years of ministry. He was going forward. He would ascend, the Spirit would descend, and the Church would be birthed.
Because of that Mary was given a special job. She was called upon to carry the first gospel message to the disciples. Friday is over. Sunday has come. It’s a new day and there’s a new life to live.