rembrandt_jesusappearstomary.jpg The week following Easter weekend is a good time to think about some of the post-resurrection appearance of Christ. The painting here is by Rembrandt, featuring his conception of Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene. The first part of John 20 tells the story. Mary discovers the stone rolled away from the tomb and immediately tells the disciples. Peter and John enter the tomb to find it empty, then go back home, dumbfounded. Mary hangs back and looks into the tomb for herself, seeing two angels who ask why she is crying. After she responds she sees Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him. He too asks why she is crying, but she still doesn’t recognize him — not until he speaks her name, at which point her recognition is instant.

There are a good many questions that arise from this little encounter, like why she doesn’t recognize him by sight, whether she is too distraught or whether it is because he has a new resurrected body or because the sight of him alive was just so unexpected. Then there’s the puzzle of Jesus telling her not to cling to him because he had not yet ascended to the Father. It is fairly widely understood though, that this encounter is an intentional echo of John 10, where Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd, how he will gather his sheep and give them eternal life. Most pointedly, how he calls them by name and they follow because they know his voice.

I love this picture of the Good Shepherd calling us in a voice we know. His instructions to Mary are interesting… suddenly he calls the disciples “my brothers,” and sends the message, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” They are suddenly on a much more even field with him than they’ve ever been. And not only them, but the women as well. In an age when the testimony of women had no legal or reliable standing, Jesus makes his first appearance to women and sends them along with the message — just as he had done with the woman at the well in John 4. In his excellent book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah: 40 Encounters with Jesus, Conrad Gempf writes, “It’s fitting, though. They’re the ones who had been to Golgotha and seen Jesus crucified. If gender issues were left aside, they would be the first and best witnesses to the resurrection.” Good point. They are the picture of constancy and faithfulness here… the disciples had fled. The faithfulness of the women is rewarded with the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, who evidently is quite content to have women as witnesses to speak of him to men… something that large parts of the church later forgot.

From the other gospels, we learn of course that it was three women who had visited the tomb that morning, realizing only while they’re already on the way that they’ve got no way to roll the stone aside when they get there. The other two women return with the message of the angels while Mary hangs back and meets Jesus himself. Imagine Mary arriving on the scene just as the disciples have gotten the women to slow down and stop babbling incoherently enough to have gleaned the parts about seeing angels and the tomb being empty. “Oh wait,” says Mary. “It gets better!” Angels always seem to announce the breaking into time and space of Jesus Christ when he comes in ways that are about to change everything. It’ll happen that way once more yet.

Conrad Gempf again:

Only John’s gospel contains the peculiar story of how the distraught Mary Magdalene hung around a little. She saw another man, who wasn’t, apparently, dressed in silver gift wrap like the other guys/angels. She doesn’t recognize it’s Jesus, and he doesn’t let on right away. “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” he asks (John 20:15). She makes this amnesty offer: “If you have carried him away, tell me… and I will get him” (v. 15). No questions asked, she might have added. You’ve got to love this: she’s so right even while she’s completely wrong. This is the guy who carried Jesus off! She has caught the culprit—in the very act!

Yes, you do have to love that.

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This is also an audio post — I pulled out my vinyl copy of DeGarmo & Key’s live album, “No Turning Back,” from 1982. Dana Key (incidentally, a direct descendant of Francis Scott Key) pulls out a guitar “with air and a hole in it,” known for making “cowboy music,” he says, and sings the song, “Mary” to give voice to this encounter. This is one of my favorite cuts from the album — it wasn’t always, I don’t think, but it’s the one that for me has stood the test of time so that 26 years later (ulp!) it still flows freely back into my mind when I consider this pericope in John. Here for your enjoyment is a quick-n-dirty MP3 of the song that I ran on my old IBM laptop… give it a listen. And for your further benefit, the lyrics:


Mary, why have you come here?
With your heart so sad and your eyes filled with tears
Think back, think back, what did he say?
He said that he would die, but he’d rise the third day
He’s higher, He’s raised up by the Father’s power
Higher, out from the grave
Hummmm, with the power to save

Mary, please don’t be afraid
There’s no man there where he did lay
Run now, run now, tell your friends
Jesus was dead but he lives again
He’s risen, raised up with our sins forgiven
Risen up from the dead
Oooh, oooh, oooh, He did what He said

Mary, why have you come here?
With your heart so sad and your eyes filled with tears
Why don’t you run now, run now, tell your friends
Jesus was dead but he lives again
And he’s ri-i-sen, ri-i-sen, ri-i-sen today!

Hummmm, He did what he said.

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