The Apostle Mary: Red Letter Year 12/26

John 20.1-18

“MM fin” by dashinvaine

1 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed — 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t keep clinging to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.


Early in the morning, before dawn even, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Why? To be near Jesus even in death? To pray? Because she didn’t know what else to do? Because she hoped he would rise from the dead as he promised? We can’t be certain that she had heard Jesus predict his resurrection, but some did; why weren’t any of them holding vigil with Mary? It seems the community Jesus founded was down to just one member at this point. We can learn a lot from Mary’s faithfulness and her desire to be close to Jesus.

Then she find things not as they were when she left them on her last visit (no telling how often she went to the tomb over the weekend, but we would be safe to guess she spent a good deal of time there) and she runs to get Peter. We also can’t be sure whether she knew of Peter’s denials, but she knew he was absent at the cross and since, but that doesn’t stop her from going to him first. Mary also tells the beloved disciple, who (as I discussed last week), could be John son of Zebedee or several other people, including Mary herself. I see two hints here that make me want to read this as Mary’s account and the ‘beloved disciple’ as her pen name.

First, after hearing the news from Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple both run to the tomb. The beloved disciple outran Peter. We know this because the text above tells us three different times that the beloved disciple got there first. So either BD was quite proud of being faster than Peter, or this is a subtle way of saying, “I got there first.” But who got to the empty tomb first? Mary. Second, follow Mary’s movement in this passage. In v.1 she goes to the tomb. In v.2 she goes to where Peter is. In v.11 she is back at the tomb with no indication of movement. It’s like she never left, except we know she went to fetch Peter (and BD if that was someone else). If Mary was the beloved disciple that explains how she got back and why the author cared so much about who ran faster.

Not a flawless theory, but at least an interesting one. And more than that, one that lends itself to a point that is actually important (quite independent of the conjecture): whoever wrote this Gospel did so in close consultation with Mary. Mary is the first person the risen Jesus appeared to and the only person he appeared to alone. Verses 11-18 is one of my favorite passages in all the Bible because it beautifully conveys the powerful spiritual and emotional pathos of this moment. Mary was unconsolable – not even angels or Jesus himself could comfort her. It was not until Jesus spoke her name that any word got through her grief. And then her sorrow turned to joy and she wrapped her arms around the living man whose death she was mourning.

And then Jesus gave her a mission. He appointed her to share this best of news with his followers. This community of one was miraculously up to two and was about to grow quite rapidly as Mary preached and the other followers responded to her and began to preach as well. We should not read what Jesus says to Mary in v. 17 as only a one-time, functional, discrete order. Jesus gave Mary a life command to keep telling others about this Jesus she was love with, this man she had to be near. We have nearly forgotten this, but this is why she came to be known in the church as the apostle to the apostles. She is the mother of the church. Mary either wrote or greatly contributed to the Fourth Gospel as one way of obeying this command. Her witness at the cross and outside the empty tomb are central to the faith you and I have. We are the brothers and sisters Mary was sent to tell. I pray we would listen to her and learn from her example. I pray we will be in love with Jesus as Mary was, that we will long to be close to him like she did.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.