(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

The story of Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus early on the resurrection morning is a very lovely one. It has great appeal for me because it illustrates some very endearing qualities of the risen Lord. Jesus also demonstrates how to deal with a type of Christian woman for whom I haven't always had much sympathy!

(B) Mary's bitter disappointment.

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. Jn20v11. She wept tears of frustration and disappointment. Mary spent the Sabbath waiting restlessly to render one last service to Jesus - the proper anointing of his body. It was something she:

    (1) Wanted to do. Mary was so anxious to tend the body of Jesus that she travelled to the tomb in the dark - before the Sabbath was over. It is not often I am up very early. But on April 28th 2005 I rose at 3am - such was my eagerness to spend the day bird watching. We will rise before dawn if there is something we really want to get on with.

    (2) Needed to do. It would be some small consolation to Mary for losing her Master to check that his body was properly prepared for the sepulchre. Many folk are comforted by putting flowers on the grave of a much-loved friend or relative. The flowers give no pleasure to the dead but the ritual of placing them on the grave in memory of a dear one satisfies a need in the living.

    (3) Was equipped to do. There can be little doubt that the loving, gentle hands of Mary Magdalene would have made a good job of embalming the body of Jesus. A jobbing gardener keeps our graveyard neat and tidy in memory of his daughter who died at the tender age of 19. It is something he feels able to do.

Mary was terribly upset because of her thwarted desire to minister to Christ's dead body. As it happened her service wasn't necessary!


(a) What we do for Jesus should never become more important than what he has done for us. That is why Jesus instructed his disciples to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of his body given, and his blood shed, for them. Christians need to be reminded often that they owe everything to Jesus. Without his saving work on the cross there would be no forgiveness of sins and no reconciliation with God.

(b) Our spiritual well-being should not depend upon our Christian service. I study the Bible a lot to prepare talks and sermons but I do not read it as much as I should for my private edification. There are Christians who maintain their church attendance because they play in the band or help with the youth group. This is sad. We can be like the teacher I knew who taught the classics of English literature but never read them for private enjoyment.

(c) We shouldn't confuse what we want to do with what Jesus wants us to do. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Mt7v21to23. It is far more important to obey Jesus and do God's will than it is to be a great preacher or even a miracle worker.

(d) We must be humble enough to realise that God doesn't always need our talents. It is not easy to accept this. My friend Phyllis made some nice cakes for the chapel tea but such was the abundance of buns, scones and sponges that hers were not even taken out of the tin. It was hard for her to bear - but I expect she will make some again next year.

We mustn't get angry with God when our talents appear to go unrecognised. I sometimes feel I could be used more as a writer and Bible teacher! However, God has given me opportunities for service: sports organiser at a Christian camp, speaking in school assemblies, supporting my parents, administering my small Baptist church, visiting the elderly and writing newsletters. God often finds us jobs no-one else is in a position to do.

(C) Mary's great love.

Mary's grief was not due only to disappointment. She was crying so much that she didn't recognise Jesus. She was weeping for the loss of him she loved. This sometimes happens at funerals. I conducted one recently where two daughters sobbed loudly for the mother they loved.

There are three points to make about Mary's love:

(1) Its nature
Mary's devotion was deeply emotional, a thing of the heart. She had warm affection for, an intense admiration of, and profoundest gratitude to Jesus. It was he who had delivered Mary from her demons. See Mark16v9.

I once experienced an outpouring of emotional love. I was visiting my uncle in Ipswich Hospital when a young man in the adjacent bay died suddenly. His wife was with him at the time. When efforts to resuscitate him failed his wife was informed. She came back to his bed and I shall never forget the outpouring of grief. The woman cried out, "Oh my baby, my baby - come back to me my baby, my baby. Why have you left me, why have you left me - oh my baby, my baby."

I have to say that this rapturous, emotional love is not common among Grace Baptists. I believe it is to be found amongst Charismatic Christians and some Roman Catholics. It is particularly evident where a woman has experienced a great deliverance. I was very moved to hear the testimony of a former prostitute and crack cocaine addict on BBC TV's, 'Songs of Praise,' on the 19th March 2006. She tried everything - therapy and counselling - to improve her squalid existence. After one heavy drug taking session the woman realised that unless she changed she would soon be dead. So she turned to spirituality and experimented with one eastern religion after another but none filled the void in her life. In desperation the deeply unhappy woman consulted a friend who suggested she try the church. Well she was desperate! So she went to a church a knelt before the altar and prayed to Jesus, "Help me. I feel you calling me. Help me, don't let me down." The woman had experienced much rejection in her life but the friend of publicans and sinners did not reject her. She concluded her testimony by saying with deep feeling, "Jesus likes misfits and rejects ...... he loves me immensely. I have so much to look forward to."

(2) Its weaknesses
Mary's love was not perfect. It was too feelings based and as such resulted in irrational behaviour. We see this in her conversation with the man she took for the gardener: "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." v15. Why should the gardener have moved the body of Jesus? How could Mary convey the body back to the tomb single-handedly?

When John saw the discarded grave clothes he in all probability believed that Jesus had been taken up to Heaven. He loved Jesus, too, but his love was more intelligent, perceptive and understanding. Mary, in spite of all the evidence, didn't believe Jesus had risen. All she could think about was that someone had robbed her of the precious body she had waited so impatiently to anoint.

It is significant that when Mary went to the disciples and other supporters of Jesus with the news that she had seen him she was not believed. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Mk16v10and11. Mary was not considered a very reliable witness!

I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of Mary's type. I can remember one year at the Christian camp I attended when the kitchen staff heard heavenly music. The rather emotional and impressionable ladies who were in charge of preparing our food were so overwhelmed by their experience that the meals were never ready on time. It played havoc with my sport's program! I was not in sympathy with any ecstatic, religious stirring of the soul that resulted in late, ill-prepared meals. But then I never heard the heavenly music!

(3) Its strengths.
(a) Mary's love cast out fear. She feared nobody - soldiers, angels or the gardener. She did not even fear the risen Christ which is more than can be said for the disciples. "While they (the disciples) were still talking about this, Jesus stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. Lk24v37.

One of the profoundly good things about a fervent emotional love is that it makes Christians bold. It helps them to witness without fear in the most perilous situations. See anecdote about Marya Yudina.

(b) Mary's love brought her close to Jesus; through it she proved the reality of Christ's living presence. Charismatic or mystical or deeply indebted Christians are, on the whole, better equipped to celebrate the presence of Jesus than staid, dispassionate Calvinists. They sing with every semblance of conviction:

            He lives! He lives!
            Christ Jesus lives today;
            He walks with me and talks with me
            Along life's narrow way.
            He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
            You ask me how I know he lives?
            He lives within my heart!

(D) The ministering Christ.

Mary came to minister to Jesus but he ended up ministering to her. It is heartening to examine his methods:

(1) He appeared first to Mary.
The gospel writers are unanimous that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. Mark writes: Now when Jesus had risen early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene. Mark16v9. I find this amazing. He didn't appear first to confound Pilate, rejoice with John or celebrate with Mary his mother but he appeared first to this sobbing, irrational, distraught woman. Why? It wasn't because she loved him most or that he loved her most. No, it was because of all those who loved Jesus Mary Magdalene needed him most. John had seen the grave clothes and believed. His mother Mary was prepared for sorrow. Simeon had told her: "And a sword will pierce your own soul too." Lk2v35. Luke tells us: His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. AV. Lk2v51.

Jesus will draw close to his own in their time of need. When Paul was in Corinth after bruising encounters in Philippi and Thessalonica and discouragement in Athens he contemplated the task before him in fear and trembling. But Luke records how the little apostle's spirits were restored: One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid: keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no-one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." Acts18v9and10. See exposition on Paul in Corinth.

I have found, even among my fellow Grace Baptists about whom I am not always very complimentary, that at the funeral services of Christians there is a real and vibrant experience of Christ's presence and a triumphant celebration of the hope within us.

(2) The word of revelation
Mary Magdalene and Jesus spoke Aramaic. He said to her in the language of Galilee, "Miriam." How did he speak that word? We have certain clues: her attention was caught, she knew him at once and cried out, "Rabboni." She called the gardener, 'Sir,' but addressed Jesus as, 'Teacher'.

I believe Jesus used the tone of voice a teacher might use to check a loved and loving but exasperating pupil. There was in it tenderness, humour, authority and gentle reproof. I have taught girls that have been more taken with their teacher than the subject he taught - friendly, affectionate, happy girls who from time to time I have checked much as Jesus checked Mary. I have just spoken their name firmly, with a trace of amusement and a hint of warning! It has usually been enough to bring them to their senses!

Jesus, Mary Magdalene's teacher, had needed to put her right on many, many occasions. She was one of his more wayward and inattentive pupils. When he spoke her name, in a way he had done so often, she knew it was her beloved teacher speaking.

Do you love Jesus as your teacher? Are you glad that from time to time he puts you right? Aren't you even gladder that he does so with both firmness and understanding?

(3) Jesus response to a hugging
I have to say that it is very nice to be hugged. Only last week I went to visit an old friend in the West Suffolk Hospital. As I arrived at his ward a chic nurse was leaving. "Why it is Mr Reed!" she said. It was one of my former Debenham High School pupils. Helen was happy to give her old teacher a hug and a kiss but probably not as happy as I was to receive these tokens of affection.

I can well imagine how Mary hugged Jesus! He said to her: "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father." This sounds rather unfeeling! But that is because we do not hear the words Jesus spoke. I am sure Jesus said something like: "Don't cling on so. I'm still here. I'm not going to the Father just yet." Jesus was speaking rather as a soldier might, who has received an overseas posting, to his small daughter who has her arms tight around his neck, "Let go, let go. I'm not leaving for another month!" One thing we can be absolutely certain of: Jesus was not embarrassed or uncomfortable to be hugged! He had allowed a reformed prostitute to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair!

Jesus was dealing with a very emotional, loving woman in a highly charged situation in almost a light-hearted, jocular way. He was trying to return her to normality. Jesus wanted Mary to behave rationally and sensibly.

I am glad that Jesus dealt with Mary's weakness in a matter of fact, good humoured and slightly amused fashion. He didn't put her down roughly or coldly. I may have put down some of the boys and girls I taught roughly but rarely any of those who loved me!

If we have to correct our fellow Christians, particularly those whose hearts rule their heads, it is best to do so graciously, with understanding and real affection.

(4) Jesus gave Mary something to do after all.
Jesus gave Mary an errand to run: "Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" v17. Mary would have loved to stay with Jesus but she did as she was told. Was her going more truly an act of love than her weeping? Mary obeyed. Jesus said that those who love him keep his commandments.

The truest measure of our love for Jesus is not how much we get emotionally wrought up in our worship of him but the extent of our obedience to him. What is needed is cheerful, sensible, good humoured, prompt, persistent obedience to the commands of Christ. We can all run errands!

(E) Conclusion

This passage contains a word of rebuke for me. I have not been a great admirer of emotional Christian women. Some have exasperated me in the past. The fact remains Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene on the resurrection morn.

But what I do cherish about the story is the insight it gives to Jesus the teacher's relationship with a loving but erring pupil. It is something I can strongly empathise with.