But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” John 20:11-13
This is part of John’s account of how some of Jesus followers reacted to the empty tomb of Jesus. John chooses to tell the story from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.Mark also records Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb. Both Mark and Luke tell us that she had at one time been possessed of seven demons before she met Jesus. This trip to the tomb was very personal for her. Was she the sinful woman in Luke chapter seven of whom Jesus said, “She loves much because her sins which are many are all forgiven?” I think she was.
If so, her deliverance from demons and her wonderful experience of forgiveness resulted in a deep personal commitment to the Lord Jesus. That is revealed at the cross, when she was one of the only disciples left with Mary. The rest ran away. Her presence at the tomb was prompted by her love for Jesus and the grief she experienced following His death. Her initial experience at the tomb was confusing. She ran to Peter saying, “They have taken away the Lord, out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:2b
Imagine the agony she endured watching Jesus die! Sudden, tragic death often leaves loved ones in some degree of shock. Overwhelmed by the events of recent days, as well as by her own emotions, Mary Magdalene made the pre-dawn trip to the tomb in the grip of grief. I want to examine her grief and relate it to the experience of grief that comes to us all. In a recent search for definitions of grief, I found the following explanations.
Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. It is defined as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss. It is described as sharp sorrow or painful regret. I’m sure you understand. Most of us have been pierced by one of the painful arrows of grief. Grief comes as a result of losing someone you love. Sometimes we grieve the passage of a stage of our life—unrecoverable days that we wasted or lost. We can grieve a disability that comes into our lives or grieve over a great disappointment or personal loss. Grief comes in many ways.
My purpose will be to examine the grief of Mary. In the midst of her grief, Mary was looking for Jesus. Can you and I find Jesus in the face of our grief?
Mary Was Weeping at What She Knew to Be True.
At first, to Peter she said, they have taken away the Lord and we… Later she said to the angels, “They have taken away my Lord and I…” John 20:13b This was deeply personal for Mary. She was grieving over the basic facts of what she knew to be true. This is the first way we approach grief. We deal with the heart-breaking facts. We face the hard and cold fact of death, of loss, of pain, of sorrow, of suffering that accompanies grief.
Mary Was Weeping on the Basis of Things She Assumed to Be True.
I have heard many people state the truth of how they feel in the midst of their grief. Many of those feelings are based on assumptions made in the pain of the moment. From the personal perspective of sorrow, both the present and the future are clouded by the fog of grief.
“They have taken away my Lord.” Was that true? No, but in that moment, it appeared to be true to Mary, and it deepened the grief of the moment. Be careful about assumptions you make in the midst of your grief. Be careful about decisions you make while in the throes of grief. Be especially careful concerning conclusions you make about God in your sorrow.
God often sends us comfort in the midst of our grief. Thankfully, most of us have friends or family or a minister who will help us walk through our personal sorrow. Have you ever noticed how hollow such comfort sounds when coming from someone not standing in your shoes? The words are often true and sincere. If you will notice, not even the testimony of angels countered the faulty assumptions Mary Magdalene made by Mary in her grief.
In Her Grief, She Failed to Recognize the Presence of Her Lord.
Have you found it to be true that it is hard to see the Lord through your tears? As we read the story, we raise all kinds of questions about why it was that she failed to recognize Jesus. But mainly, it was her grief and the resulting shock and despair that followed the recent loss of someone she loved. Those of you who have walked the road of grief know that this period of grief can last a long time. There seems to be no sense of God’s presence. There seems to be no word from God. There is an overwhelming emptiness and sense of being abandoned, not only by the person you lost but also by God. Mary, for a brief moment, experienced a dark night of the soul when, although her Lord was there, she was not able to know it.
Jesus Was Present in the Midst of Her Grief.
But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? ”Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” John 20:11-15
He was right there in the midst of her grief, even though she did not recognize His presence. Do you suppose that in spite of how you feel, that He might also be present in the midst of yours? In the loss of someone you love, you might have no sense of Him, but He is there!
Passing through some particularly difficult season of change, you might have no sense of Him, but He is there! Maybe you lost your job or your sense of purpose, and you have no sense of Him, but He is there! Jesus is present in the midst of your grief.
Jesus Spoke to Her in the Midst of Her Grief.
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16a He called her name. He spoke to her. He asked her the same question asked by the angels. “Why are you weeping.” I wonder if He was helping her process her grief. Processing your grief doesn’t make it go away. But it causes you to grapple with what happened and what must happen next. Why was she weeping? Who was she seeking? She was weeping because she lost Jesus. But in her grief, Mary came there to look for Jesus. Yet, He was right in front of her and she failed to recognize His presence.
Is Jesus speaking to you in the midst of your grief, in the midst of your loss, in the midst of your change? Is He saying something to you that you need to hear! Yes, but to hear it you must recognize who He is.
His first question was, “Why are you weeping?” What is your loss? What is your disappointment? What is the sorrow that brings you to this point in your life. But His next question is key. “Whom are you seeking?” Who was Mary looking for? She came there looking for Jesus. Have you looked for Jesus in your grief, or have you looked for relief in other people or in other places? A person with grief over an illness might be seeking a physician, as did the woman with the issue of blood, until she sought Jesus. Who are you seeking?
A person who lost their sense of purpose might be seeking for something to fill that void? So Jesus asks you—Who or what are you seeking? What did Jesus offer Mary? He offered her Himself. Is He speaking to you in the midst of your grief? Is He calling your name? Is He offering you the strength of His presence and the comfort of His love? Is He reminding you that you have not been abandoned by your Lord? He revealed Himself differently to various of His disciples after His resurrection. He will choose the time and place to make you aware of His Presence.
In The Midst of Her Grief, Mary Was Afraid.
Why was she afraid? Maybe she was afraid of the same things you are. She was afraid of being hurt again. She didn’t want to lose Him again. Perhaps she was afraid of the future, or even afraid of the past, fearing that the demons who once tormented her might return. She was afraid to go on, and because of her grief her life was without purpose.
In the Midst of Her Grief, Mary Called Jesus Teacher.
She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Most of us, who have been so unfortunate as to experience grief, have learned something along the way. We learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the Lord. Do you suppose there is something the Lord is trying to teach you in the midst of your circumstances?
Jesus Gave Her a New Sense of Mission as a Result of Her Grief.
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. John 20:17-18
I am often amazed at the people who come through some tragic loss with a vision of something God wants them to do. How many times have you heard of a parent who lost a child to some rare illness, who out of that pain, becomes an advocate for other families in similar circumstances. How many cancer survivors have taken up the cause of making sure other cancer victims have adequate support? What about you? What grief changed your life? How did God use that moment to teach you and redirect you and re-purpose your life?
Some of you can identify with Mary. On the other hand, some of you are still looking for answers. You are still looking for Jesus in the midst of your grief. I pray that you will experience His presence in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will speak to you in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will be your teacher as you as you walk through the grief process. I also pray that out of the heartache of your grief, He will lead you to discover a new sense of mission and direction for your life.
Photo by Ksenia Makagonova