But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to 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 Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-18 see also Matt. 28:1-10, Mk. 16:1-8, Lk. 24:1-12)
John shares a story of mistaken identity. Mary and other women arrive at Jesus’ tomb on the morning of his resurrection. The synoptics recall the women conversing among themselves to the effect of “Who’s going to roll the stone away?” But when they get there, the stone is already rolled back and as one might expect they are afraid and confused. Now the synoptics and John’s gospel report that the women went into the tomb and an angel reports Jesus’ resurrection. John then fills out the story with some other details.
Mary Magdalene returns with the disciples who see the empty tomb, and as the men are leaving, she stays and weeps outside the tomb. Jesus approaches her, “‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” As is often the case after the resurrection, Jesus is unrecognized in his risen state. She replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” What I love is his simple reply to her. Jesus says, “Mary” and immediately she knows her Lord. This scene is so intimate. You can sense the care Jesus has for her.
Part of what makes this passage compelling is Mary’s mistaking Jesus when we all know it’s him. Even though the section is short, I always find myself screaming, “It’s him, Mary. He’s alive!” John tells us she thinks he’s the gardener. She’s wrong in a way, but in another way she’s profoundly right. In the beginning starts with creation and ends in the Garden of Eden. God places Adam and Even in the garden to tend and care for it. They failed. Sin enters the world. Jesus arrives and enters the Garden Tomb and crushes the serpent’s head. It’s a death blow, but the writhing serpent will still cause chaos until his final breath. In the end, God’s temple, an eschatological temple-garden, will arrive and all things will be made new--including us.
Jesus is the the eschatological Gardener. He plants our bodies into the ground and one day those resurrection seeds will grow into a tall a tree. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this truth,
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. (1 Corinthians 15:35-38)
Our bodies are seeds. We will die and be planted. We will rise up--just like Jesus, the first fruit of the resurrection. So as we meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus this week, fear not saints. He did rise and we will rise with him. We are the resurrection seed and he is the gardener.
One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow'r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!
“See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)”
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.