Some sounds are just happy sounds. The ping of the oven to let you know that cake you’ve poured love into is all done baking; the sound of a baby giggling; the sound of the school bell on the last day before summer (I’m a teacher, what can I say!); the sound of your friend’s voice on the phone when you haven’t seen them in too long; the sound of feet crunching on fresh snow; the sound of insects and birds on a summer’s walk. Some sounds are just happy sounds. One of the happiest sounds I can think of is the tuneful sound of a gospel choir singing ‘Happy Day’. Is there anyone who doesn’t smile at that?!
But there is one sound that is happier, and it is in my most favorite exchange in the Bible.
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 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
Is there any reaction to Jesus death and resurrection that is more beautiful and heartbreaking and real than that of Mary Magdalene?
First, see verse 11. Mary is the picture of grief. She feels the loss of Jesus so much that she sits outside his tomb weeping. She is weeping. Not feeling sad, or crying just a little, not bowing her head with mere wet eyes, she is full out weeping. You don’t weep for someone who is an impersonal leader, a wise speaker or just a kind man. You weep for someone you love with your whole heart. Mary loved Jesus with her whole heart. The grief she felt was so great that she went there, to his tomb, to weep for him.
Then, verse 13. When Mary is asked by the angels why she is crying, she answers honestly, and her words make me cry every time. ‘They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him’. Can you hear the pain in those words? Friday has happened. She, along with more of Jesus’ friends and even his mother, have watched their Lord crucified. They have witnessed his unbearable pain. They have watched him die. They cried then. Mary has already cried for Jesus’ death, and now, there at his tomb she sits, there she weeps. In her heartbrokenness she simply wants to be where he is, even if it is at a tomb. But she cannot even have that – they have taken him away. Can you hear her pain? They have taken him away. I don’t know where he is. As if she was not heartbroken enough, now they’ve taken Jesus’ body.
Mary’s grief is so great she does not recognize Jesus at first. Is this unbelief? I don’t think so. I think this is pain. She is so distraught she cannot see straight. Through her raw tears, everything is blurred, even the man standing before her. Sometimes pain is like that: it blinds you.
If you’ve taken him away, tell me where you’ve put him and I’ll go get him, Mary says to the man she thinks is a gardener. There is commitment. There is dedication to her Lord. She will find him. She will go to him, she will carry his body back. Think about that: she will find his body, dead since Friday, and carry him back. Not a pleasant task, but in her love she will do it.
It is not a blinding light that makes Mary see Jesus resurrected. She does not need to see his wounds like others did. She does not need proof or revelational word of power. Actually, a word of power is exactly what she receives. Because there is a word of power in verse 16, a word powerful enough to bring the joy of her Lord risen from the dead. What is the word? Just one: her name.
Jesus simply says her name and there it is, there he is, her Lord and Master and Savior. Alive. She knows him then, because he calls her by name.
The response from Mary is a joyous exclamation. Teacher! she cries. What happier sound is there than this, Mary responding to her Lord in the simple way he responded to her, with just one word. Teacher! Can you hear the joy in that one word? It’s you! You’re alive! You’re here! You didn’t leave me!
Where moments ago Mary’s pain was so great, now her joy is even greater. How great? Verse 17 paints the picture. Don’t cling to me, Jesus says to Mary. How powerful a word can be. She clung to him in joy. You’re here, Lord, she says in her reaching, grasping hands, and I won’t ever let you go again.
From heartbroken weeping, to joyous exclamations, Mary sees her Lord is risen.
Here is the power of the cross, of Easter Sunday, in this one beautiful exchange. However great the pain, however heartbroken we feel, whatever holds death over us, Jesus takes those cries – that distraught, grief-full weeping, blinding pain – and turns them into into shouts of joy. Because he is here, he is risen, he is alive.
And, the best part? He calls us by name.