Easter Sunday “The Eyes of Mary Magdalene”
April 9, 2023 John 20:11-18
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Our celebration this morning has the most solid foundation & confession.
Our foundation is the cross & the empty tomb; our confession is: ‘Christ was dead; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again.’ When John tells the Easter account, he gives a focus on the more personal experience of Mary Magdalene; so let’s review Easter morning thru the eyes of Mary. /First, she has fearful eyes; /then tearful eyes; /next, she has joyful eyes; /and finally, she has telling eyes.
When we first encounter Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, she has fearful eyes.
It’s the third day since Jesus has been crucified. Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus had taken his body down from the cross just before sunset on Good Friday. In haste they wrapped the body, and placed it in Joseph’s own tomb. The stone was rolled against the entrance & sealed. Roman soldiers stood guard. Mary Magdalene had watched from a distance.
Now it’s Sunday morning, just before sunrise. It’s still dark. Mary Magdalene and two other women make their way to the tomb. They’re bringing the burial spices to properly care for Jesus’ body in death; there had been no time to do it on Friday, since the Sabbath began at sundown. In Mary’s eyes is Fear. In the pre-dawn dark, /they don’t feel safe; /& they have no one along to roll away that very heavy stone; /the Roman soldiers may not let them in the tomb; /& if the women insist, they might be arrested. With fear, worry, & anxiety these brave, loyal women make their way to the tomb.
But when they get there, there’s something none of them expected: the tomb is open. The massive stone is rolled away, no one is around = the soldiers are gone. Mary Magdalene jumps to an obvious conclusion of treachery & sabotage. She turns around & runs back to the disciples. While Mary is gone, the others timidly look inside the tomb. They see that there is no body; but suddenly two angels appear to them, & their clothes are shinning. They say: ‘why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen, (just as He said.)’
Those women get out of the tomb & are still afraid, so they leave, and they say nothing to anyone. In the meantime, Mary Magdalene has found Peter & John, and she shares her fear: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (Jn 20:13).
In Mary’s eyes, fear gives way to tearful eyes. Those tears are referred to 4 different times. After Mary tells Peter & John, they all run back to the tomb. John gets there first, stoops down & cautiously peaks inside; Peter gets there second & barges right in. Along the wall is a shelf for the corpse; but there is no corpse. The scene is confusing. Jesus’ body is gone, but the linen burial cloths are there, and the face cloth is neatly folded up – off to the side. Peter is as confused as Mary. Who would do this =& why? And now John comes into the tomb. He sees the simple evidence that a resurrection has taken place, and he believes it; …altho he has not yet made the connection with the various OT Scriptures that had prophesied this event for hundreds & hundreds of years. With nothing more to see there, the disciples leave, and go back to their homes.
But Mary neither wonders nor believes; she weeps. Her eyes are full of tears. Jesus had delivered her by casting-out of her 7 demons that had troubled her for years. She had followed & supported Him faithfully. But then she’d seen her Lord ripped from her life, unfairly condemned & crucified. Now all she wants is to honor Him by properly preparing His body for burial. But His body is gone. She’s frustrated by one thing after another; how much more can she take? She can’t stop crying; her eyes are full of tears.
John tells us that those two angels appear again, and they ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She answers, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” By fears & tears she can’t see beyond her one conclusion that Jesus’ body has been stolen. In her eyes, she refuses to see it any other way; & she can’t even see that there are angels talking to her. It’s tunnel vision. It’s like she’s possessed by that one conviction = even tho it’s wrong.
That can happen in OUR minds & lives. We can get caught up in our own assumptions & conclusions. For example, we convince ourselves that only we are right & everyone else is wrong; avoiding godly repentance. OR we harden our heart, convinced that a certain person hates us & we don’t let anyone tell us different.
OR -just as bad- we convince ourselves that we are the problem, & we deserve to be hated & shunned by others. By that we avoid healing forgiveness & reconciliation with others. OR -worse that those- we convince ourselves that God doesn’t love us, & that must be the reason for the troubles in our life. That’s tunnel-vision, blindness, and it’s not true.
So finally, when Mary turns away from the two angels, she sees one other person there near the tomb, whom she assumes is the garden-caretaker. This man says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” But for the 3rd time she stands firm on her incorrect conviction, & she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Boy, this Mary is one tough nut to crack; stubborn. But there IS One who can break thru her eyes of fears & tears.
It is Jesus standing there in front of her; and He says, “Mary.” And once again He delivers her out of her troubles. His voice, His Word, opens her eyes to the truth, and she sees her Lord Jesus – alive. Believing at last, she cries out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). For a woman of such strong loyalty & conviction, I imagine that she threw her arms around Jesus, and was not going to let go. She almost can’t believe her eyes, but this is no dream and He is no ghost. Her Jesus is truly alive & well, and her eyes are filled with joy.
With Mary, things changed drastically in a short amount of time. From darkness & fear, to frustration & tears, and now with elation & joy. But now her Risen Lord had one more change for her to handle. While she is overwhelmed & has joy-filled eyes, Jesus speaks of a change in their relationship. He has been her earthly deliverer & teacher, but His Scriptural death & resurrection now makes things very different. Jesus tells her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mary got used to having an earthly Master & Friend she could cling to; But He is now the glorified Savior of all mankind. Jesus must now ascend & move on the next phase of salvation’s plan. He will go to His Father in heaven and govern His kingdom, His Church, with the forgiveness that He just accomplished by the cross. At the Father’s right hand, Jesus will intercede for all who repent of their sin; & He will shepherd & lead thru life & into heaven all who obey His Word.
As much as she might want to keep Him for herself, she has to let go; for He is everyone’s deliverer. And now that her eyes are opened, she shows herself to be an amazing woman of faith. She doesn’t protest; she simply obeys Him. To be called ‘Mary Magdalene’ means that she was from the town of Magdala; but the word ‘magdala’ has a Hebrew root meaning ‘tower.’ One of the early church fathers named Origen of Alexandria says that her name becomes a description of the strength of her faith. She is – “Mary – a mighty tower of faith in Christ.” That could only happen because Her Risen Lord opened her eyes.
And now she had a better reason to run away from the empty tomb. With a great & joyful faith, Mary has telling eyes. As Jesus directed her, she goes to the disciples & she tells them, “I have seen the Lord.” Now, John was the first to believe that Jesus rose;
but Mary was the first to see Him.
Mary was also to tell them about this change of relationship with the Messiah. As Jesus said, by faith in Him, now His Father is their Father, and the Triune God is their God. The earthly ministry of the Son of God is now changing for them; He will ascend & leave them so that He can be with them wherever they go. This relationship is also true for US; and we believe that promise that our Lord is with us wherever we are. But this was a big change for them; they would have to adjust to it.
And they did. Jesus commissions those disciples to ‘go & tell’, like He did with Mary. First, they were to go to Galilee, where they would meet with the resurrected Jesus for 40 days. Then they would return to Jerusalem to witness His ascension into heaven, and wait for Jesus to send the Holy Spirit. And finally, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they would live & share their joy of forgiveness & life & future in Christ Jesus with those in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, & to the ends of the earth.
Mary’s eyes went thru a lot that day. They were fearful, then tearful, then joyful, and finally ‘telling’. Looking thru the eyes of Mary Magdalene is one way to view & celebrate the resurrection day of our Lord Jesus. She also helps us to consider our life in this Christian faith.
What kind of eyes do YOU come to church with today? Are they Fearful? Maybe you worry a little too much about the unknown future, or about getting sick, or facing death.
Maybe there was fear about coming to church this morning because it makes you think about your sins & feel that guilt that you don’t want to face. Don’t make some wrong assumptions or conclusions about God. Instead, look at the cross He bore for you; and also look at the empty tomb. He’s the Lord who made you & knows you & loves you. He knows your future, & He will walk you thru it. He’s your Savior who takes your guilt & offers you His forgiveness. Do not be afraid.
Have you come with tearful eyes == having lost a loved one & now life seems empty. The TV news reminds us every day that death is always around. It may stay away from us for a while, but it will touch our lives again. But this Resurrection Day is God’s answer to death. He defeated it. Now every Sunday we hear the news & remember Jesus’ Easter victory.
He can never die again; so, Baptized in Him, we really do have life, with the promise that He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
And because of His work, Jesus has pushed aside fears & tears so that our eyes may always show a certain joy == which is not the same as just being happy; but it’s a deep, foundational confidence in God’s love for us that nothing in this world can ever take away from us. We join with Mary, whose strong faith in Jesus stood firm in that Easter joy
long after she could no longer see Him.
The Lord has also called us by name to see Him, our Risen Lord, and to go & tell
His good news to those who need to hear it: ‘Christ was dead; Christ is risen; and Christ will