We're back now with Mary and her response to the tomb. She bends low and enters in and through her tears sees two angels. Asked why she's crying, she says. “They have taken my Lord … and I do not know where they have put him!” With her face marked with grief, searching for answers, she encounters another who joins the scene, interrupting her space and her time for weeping. It must be the gardener, he's taken Jesus's body. But “Mary!” he says … and how would he know? That Mary's her name? It's the voice of her master. “Teacher,” she proclaims. And in her joy she lunges forward, arms outstretched to take hold of him but he says, “Do not hold on to me... [hers not for the taking!] I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning, to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”
So she runs from the tomb as formerly John had run towards it and perhaps before they hear her, she begins to proclaim: “I have seen the Lord, I have seen the Lord, I have seen the Lord!”
The faith of John and the faith of Mary. Perhaps there is a choice here that is put to us this Easter. Will we go on today with the faith of John or with the faith of Mary?
“I have seen the Lord.” says Mary. Have you seen the Lord? Really seen the Lord? The Glory of the Lord this Easter?
John's gospel presents a Jesus who is certain of glory despite the pain he suffers ...that the cross is just a station on the way back to the Father. We make our Easter too small when we focus only on Christ's sufferings. John is keen to tell us as he narrates Christ's final week that "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper…" (John 13:3–4; cf. 14:28). This is his first rising in confidence, in confidence of the ultimate rising, that he will conquer death through the power of God's Spirit within him. It is, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, "for the joy that was set before him" that Jesus "endured the cross..." (12:2). Jesus knew a joy before his earthly life began and he knows a joy after his earthly life is over. Jesus is on his way back to that previous glory, the glory he had enjoyed with the Father since the beginning of time (17:5, 24)! Let's not forget Jesus lived before he became one of us! That he lives after he dies as one of us, shouldn't be so hard to believe.
But it can hard for us to believe, as hard as it was for John and for Mary. And so what has the faith of each of these disciples to teach us about our faith this Easter?
Perhaps that we must not only travel to the tomb with John, we must run from it with Mary with news for the world. We must not stay weeping with a faith limited by logic, still searching for answers for things that can't be explained. We must move on instead to a place of resurrection, just as sure as Jesus, that the glory has come. “I have seen the Lord!” Have you? I have seen the Lord! Have you seen his glory this Easter?
John's seeing and believing is not yet the resurrection faith of Mary. Only John's logic can deduce that there is indeed no body, that Mary is certainly on to something. He has not yet the revelation that will come later, through the power of the Living Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. It will take Jesus himself to explain all that has happened. It will take the power of the Spirit, coming fifty days from now, to triumph logic with faith, evidence with power and reason with resurrection.
Where are you?
Are you meeting Jesus through his Word? Are you meeting Jesus through his Spirit? Do you need to move from John's faith to Mary's? From questions to acceptance, from puzzling away to a freedom in faith? From your own limitations, into the limitlessness of God? From the natural to the supernatural? From stone strewn with death clothes to angels in bright raiment? I have seen the Lord! says Mary. This Mary who sees angels too.
Mary encounters. Mary is transformed – Jesus becomes present to her and tears leave her face and energy comes to her body as she runs to declare this truth to the town. “I have seen the Lord!” is a declaration of a resurrection faith, a living faith, an active faith.
John's faith is where ours can so easily be today: 'He saw and believed.' John saw and believed. But what? And does faith change him? “For they did not yet know the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” Do you accept this? That John had not heard, that Jesus had not spoken about what was to come. Or is the gospel writer teaching us that there are two ways of hearing, with the ears of the world and the ears of faith. That there's a hearing and a seeing that comes with life in the Spirit. Just like us with our Sunday school lessons and sermons, our Bible notes and study groups, John had heard from his Saviour the news of his rising. Don't be fooled, for Jesus would have spoken perhaps long into the night, “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you (14:18) “I have told you before it happens so when it happens you might believe (14:29) “I will see you again (16:22).” But hearing and knowing are two different things. We've heard. Do we know? And if we know, do we act?
A resurrection faith is a seeing with eyes, and a hearing with ears that is a knowing in the heart; a knowing that will cause us to turn and be healed (Isaiah 6:9-10). Revelation occurs from encounter. It is only Jesus's Holy Spirit who can “open our minds to understand the scriptures. (Luke 24:27).” Without encounter, John's seeing and believing can't be activated. John can't run from the tomb to declare his belief, he is not yet transformed into worship and joy, he returns to his home and his faith is tame. Mary's encountering leaves her never the same! Where John saw a death shroud, she has seen angels.
Jesus summons his sheep this way and by name, and then charges them to take his message to the world, to stare not at empty tombs and seek explanations, and neither to hang onto Jesus as Mary would prefer, he's not ours for the taking, though a personal God, he came for the world and asks that we share him. He calls you by name so you proclaim his. He can't be contained in this church or our liturgy, he's to be one with the Father and with us through his Spirit. So Mary turns from the tomb and out to the world. The faith of Mary is a resurrection days faith. The faith of Mary is active and real. It takes the message of a Saviour to the people who most need it.
So what's Jesus asking of you this particular Easter day? To move on from John's into a faith like that of Mary? To turn from the emptiness and behold the potential, to dwell not on the impossible but be filled with the Spirit. Let this Easter be remembered for your turning towards him, not to hold him down or work him out, he works in you and lifts you up. Let's put Jesus in his rightful place, our resurrection King. Let's invite the Spirit to activate our faith so that with Mary we might go out in joy to declare 'I have seen the Lord!' 'I have seen the Lord!' 'I have seen the Lord!' Amen.