At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “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). (verses 14-16)
Mary is gripped by distress. The Master’s tomb is empty, his body gone. Insult is heaped on injury. She weeps, completely distraught, grieving loss upon loss. Peter and John have returned home, and she finds herself alone.
As she bends over to take a clear look within the tomb, she sees two angels within, seated where Jesus’ body should have been. Mary doesn’t pause to ponder that mystery. Rather, through tears, she puts distress into words, crying out that she no longer knows where they’ve put Jesus.
At that moment, she turns, and everything is transformed, for standing there before her is Jesus himself, though she doesn’t yet comprehend it.
Three things stand out to me in this encounter:
(1) “She did not realize that it was Jesus” (verse 14). This highlights an odd, recurring theme in the resurrection encounters: when Jesus appears, often he’s not immediately recognized. The two who met him on the road to Emmaus didn’t know who he was during the whole of their conversation – it was only as he broke bread that they recognized him, and then he vanished from their sight. When he appeared later to the disciples in the upper room, they thought he was a ghost, only believing differently when he’d eaten fish in their presence. And on the shore of Galilee, when Jesus cried out to the disciples in their fishing boat, at first they didn’t recognize his familiar voice, nor did they seem to know him even when standing next to him on the beach – John tells us, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’” (John 21:12). All of this is mysterious, but it holds the sure ring of truth. Why would anyone make this up? It must be an accurate report of events as they unfolded. And why wouldn’t we expect the unexpected, since we’re talking about the Son of God who has come back from death with a never-before-seen resurrection body? Such an occurrence is bound to be out of the ordinary.
(2) There’s a surprising progression in this story. Mary saw Jesus, but didn’t recognize him. She heard his voice, but was none the wiser. But when he called her name, “Mary,” the recognition was immediate. Her heart was warmed, her eyes were opened. Revelation was given and received. She owned him as Master. It’s a moment that rings out with divine intimacy.
(3) There’s something here that then becomes more personal. I’m reminded through this encounter that the Lord calls me by name, too. He knows me individually. He knows every hair on my head. Like Mary, he intends to capture my attention, too, so I follow him more closely. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).
Lord, you are risen indeed. Give me eyes to see you more clearly. Teach me to expect to meet your presence at each turn. Keep me listening for your voice, speaking my name, leading me in your paths.
Reflect: Are you in danger of missing Jesus’ presence as you travel through this day? What can you do to keep eyes tuned and ears open?