According to the description in chapter 20 of John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene, the cleansed and purified sinner, came very early in the morning after the crucifixion of Jesus to the sepulchre where His body had been laid. She found the huge stone rolled away from the entrance and the body gone. At that time it seemed to her that all was lost, all comfort was gone, the career of Christ Jesus was finished.
Verse 2 takes up the story. It is poignant and heart rending because most of us “have been there.” We have all been through bitter times when the light of Christ has seemed dim, when even our dearest friends are powerless to help. Let us read that verse: “Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” For a brief time in Mary Magdalene’s experience, a time of desperate need, a heartbreaking interval, all evidence of the Christ was gone, gone from her life, gone from the world. What a sense of desolation was hers! What a hopeless world without the presence of the Christ! Her tears scald our own eyes – we have all been there, when the Christ seems to have gone and only grief and pain remain.
As we look around our world today, just beneath the surface of the “business as usual” and the frantic activity, we often sense the same despair. All our material advances, our swift transportation, our grand accomplishments, our human cleverness, do not fill the void within us, because “they have taken away my Lord, and we know not where they have laid him. The modern computerized theology, smooth and polished as a diamond, cannot fill or even touch our deep need. When we ask for the Bread of Life that theology gives us a stone. In many of its temples the Christ still hangs on the cross. That theology knows not where they have laid Him because to it only the material has reality and the spiritual is hazy and unreal.
Verses 10 and 11 show the helplessness of the merely human, its inadequacy to give help and comfort when desperately needed. Christ Jesus had disappeared, and verse 10 tells us starkly and simply, “Then the disciples went away again unto their own homes.” No comfort for the heart broken Magdalene from that source. They gave up. They knew not where the Christ had gone. They left the weeping Mary and went home.
Mary Magdalene did not give up and go home, because she knew all too well there was no earthly place to find comfort. Just like the despairing ones of today she clung to the Christ. Verse 11 tells us, “But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.” At that point she hoped against hope that the body of Jesus would be still lying there. She would not give up her search. She would not go home. In the face of human reason and logic, she persisted. She looked once again into the tomb.
Her persistence was rewarded. Where Jesus had lain she saw two of God’s angels. They spoke to her as they speak to us in our grief, “Why weepest thou?” Her answer revealed the source of her grief and despair, and the source of much of the world’s grief and sorrow to this day – human ignorance of the deathless Christ and of life eternal. Her forlorn answer was this, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.”
But all the time the Christ was right beside her, even as the Christ is always beside you and me when we need reassurance, alive, ready and waiting to comfort with the truth of life everlasting. Christ Jesus spoke one word, “Mary”. What a world of comfort in that one word! It said to her, “I am here beside you, Mary. Don’t be sad or despairing. I am here. I am unharmed. The scourging, the mockery, the cross, the tomb, have not destroyed the Christ. The ignorance and sin of man, all the opposition of the carnal mind, cannot harm or kill the Christ. I am here, Mary, and all that would oppose me is powerless. Death has no dominion.”
When you and I know more of God and His eternal Christ we will see that human grief and sorrow and despair have their basis in ignorance – ignorance of God, ignorance of His Christ, ignorance of man made in God’s likeness. Like Mary Magdalene we will rise some day to a better understanding of life as Jesus proved it. The Christ, the Truth of God and man, waits unchanging, waiting to be understood. The holy Bible holds out the key to that Christly understanding which conquers ignorance and sin and death. It is the Truth that makes free, the most precious gift that God can give.
Let us, you and I, put first things first and refuse to be diverted. Let us not give a disproportionate attention to worldly things, but instead strive persistently, as did Mary Magdalene, to find the Christ. That is the only practical thing to do. All earthly things will eventually vanish, however desirable they may seem. They are often Satan’s tools, mere baubles to divert us from a single minded search for Christ.
The Bible sets the priorities for men and for nations in these verses – “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” And, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us … looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”
Like Mary Magdalene let us persist through pain and sorrow, through grief and death, until we find Christ and Christ finds us. Then our earthly sins and griefs and sorrows will disappear in the brightness of His coming as the shadows disappear in the presence of the sunlight. Let us accept that wonderful gift from God, Who gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.