A Sermon on John 20 (Mary Meets the Resurrected Lord)

Note that this is actually Mary Magdalene in John 12, but there are some parallels to John 12 and John 20 that are interesting.

I know I’ve posted a lot of these same things before as are embedded in this sermon; but, this is just the same material synthesized in another way for a 15-20 minute sermon I was required to preach for class. (And no, I wasn’t able to say all this in twenty minutes or less haha)

I’d like to start with a prayer from Thomas Aquinas, one that he would frequently pray before he would start his studies, because I think it would help us too here today.

Ineffable Creator,

You who are the true source of life and wisdom and the Principle on which everything depends, be so kind as to infuse in my obscure intelligence a ray of your splendor that may take away the darkness of sin and ignorance.

Grant me keenness of understanding, ability to remember, measure and easiness of learning, discernment of what I read, rich grace with words.

Grant me strength to begin well my studies; guide me along the path of my efforts; give them a happy ending.

You who are true God and true Man, Jesus my Savior, who lives and reigns forever. Amen.

If you would, turn in your Bibles to John, chapter one, so we can scan a few things there first, but then we’ll move over to chapter 20 in a moment.

Can I ask you an honest question? Have you ever been bored with the Bible? Have you ever wondered, “What’s the use of all these stories?” or “Couldn’t have God been more plain?” Or maybe you have more moderate questions, “Like, man, I know the Bible is true and meaningful, and relevant, but why do I have such a hard time figuring out what it really says and means?”

I don’t think I will dissolve all those questions, but I want to encourage you to see these stories and histories are the most meaningful way to change lives, because they are a little bit plastic, and take on all sorts of significance. How many of you had a code of ethics handbook at your college? Did that ever radically change your live in a way a well-told story did?

So as we read this text, consider that John crafted this book really well. He doesn’t use details just for no reason. You may have often heard the phrase “the devil is in the details”; well, here it is the diamonds that are in the details.

And before we start reading I want to ask that you tune your ears to the echoes of Genesis in this text. If you remember John begins his Gospel with the words “In the beginning”…“in the beginning was the Word,” almost the same words that start the book of Genesis. So if John starts his book with an allusion to Genesis, we probably should be looking for some echoes here near the end.

Then, what happens is John records four or five times the phrase “the next day”, so by the time we get to the wedding at Cana, we realize, “Oh, duh, this is day six”. John straight up copies the beginning six-day structure of Jesus as he tells the story.

But what is really strange is that when we get to chapter 2 verse one, it says, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana” Third day from when? John has used the phrase “the next day”, like I said, four times and another phrase to indicate a whole day has passed in between. It’s the third day from when Jesus called the disciples together, the third day they were with him. Day six and day three are the same day; John is conflating the two, and they go to this wedding in Cana.

And then later on in chapter three, John the Baptist calls Jesus’ the bridegroom, and we get to the Samaritan woman. And when a man meets a woman at a well, a common Ancient Near Eastern Scene, wells are always engagement scenes in the Old Testament. I can’t think of one exception: Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah, Isaac and Rebecca, though actually it was Abraham’s servant who went there on his behalf.

But this is how those scenes always go:

  • The future groom (or a surrogate) travels to a foreign land, comes to her country.
  • He encounters a woman there.
  • Someone, man or maiden, draws water from the well.
  • The girl rushes home to bring news of the stranger.
  • A betrothal is arranged for a future time.

The Samaritan woman has five husbands, she has tried a relationship with five other men and they have all left her empty. But, she is with another man now, not her husband, a sixth man. And, the allegory of engagement means that figuratively, Jesus is the seventh man to come into her life.

She has already come to the marriage well plenty of times before, but after every instance, she still can’t quench her thirst. But the seventh man, like the seventh day, is the one of rest.

Individuals are representative in this book of the larger history of Israel, and now, by extension, the church. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Song of Songs all talk about God’s people with the analogy of a marriage, the analogy of relationship. Samson, the longest and most central narrative of the Book of Judges was representative of the state of the whole nation at the time.

When Abraham first goes to Egypt it foreshadows the longer period of time his descendants will have spent in Egypt. Here too, John is adding together all this Old Testament imagery about Israel and the Church being betrothed to Christ.

So, let’s read our text, and keep in mind if we saw this all at the beginning, home much more will it be evident at the end, when Jesus rises from the dead?

Turn to John 20:11-19.

Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping. And so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her,

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them,

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and 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’ve carried Him away, tell me where you’ve laid Him, and I’ll take Him away.”

Jesus said to her,

“Mary!”

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew,

“Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).

Jesus said to her,

“Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ ”

Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples,

“I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.

Now, question at hand is, “What does that mean?” And I suppose really at the most basic level it means Mary saw the resurrected Jesus, historical fact. But when we say “what does it mean?” I think we intend to ask, “What does it signify?” and “What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for us today?” “What does it mean, for me and you today, at a more personal level?” And, remember how we said characters tend to be representative of larger themes.

Mary and the Samaritan women are going to seem a lot like you and me: woman of no real importance out in the world, with checkered pasts, whose lives are changed by the coming of the Lord. Weeping is turned to joy; sadness is made merry; thirst is quenched, and death is defeated. But we know the ending. Mary doesn’t right now in our scene. Let’s start in verse ten again.

She’s weeping, crying, and sees two angels there, in what John just called a little earlier the “garden tomb” (19:38) sitting on each end of where Jesus once lay. John does not just include details needlessly, so I think its safe to say we can imagine one angel being at each end to demonstrate that beginning to end, head to toe, left to right, Christ’s resurrection has fulfilled everything and is relevant to every aspect of human history. God’s story, the gospel, the good news, hinges on the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice, and the unlimited power of his resurrection. Augustine is the one who points that out.

And then the angels ask her a pair of questions why she is weeping, and who she is seeking? She answers them and turns around, just a little bit, and sees someone standing there. You can actually almost act this scene out. She was looking forward, then turns halfway, not far enough to where she can see, then eventually turns all the way and recognizes Jesus.

At first, she mistakes him to be the gardener, which is ironic, because in a way, he is the Gardener, capital ‘G’, the New Adam is the way Paul phrases it. And what happens in the first scenes of Genesis, after Adam appears? He takes a wife right?

You see, John is bookending his gospel with points of Jesus’ life that are similar to the stories in the first four chapters of his book, and combining it with a retelling of Genesis 1-4. John tells us himself at the end of this book he is only giving select details, the ones that are most important.

He says later on at the end (21:25) that

“there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

You see, we know there were other women there with Mary. Men too actually. The Gospel of Mark tells us so, that there was Mary, Salome, Joses, and James the Less. but John singles out Mary because he is embedding in the real history of the story the ultimate significance of that event, that God has taken for himself a bride of believers by grace, even those that seem most undeserving.

Mary Magdalene is the other end of the symbol of Jesus’ marriage analogy that he started in chapter four. Who are the women who recognize Jesus? The Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene, women who were or seemed promiscuous, but came to faith. Just like the women of Ruth, Proverbs, and Song of Songs. The Old Testament prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Song of Songs all compare God’s relationship with Israel to a wedding.

Returning to our passage, then Jesus says to her, “Mary”, and she turns around and recognizes him right away. Doesn’t that sound exactly like the passage in John (10:27), where it says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me”? Jesus said himself in the middle of the book (10:11), “I am the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.”

If we can presume that John is alluding to Jesus’s early statement, that he is the Good Shepherd, that fits the exact telling of Genesis. What is the next thing that happens in the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve. It’s Cain and Abel. You see, Jesus is not like Cain, but he is like Abel. He was killed by his fellow man and he is the Good Shepherd; he is the King and the Lamb. Doesn’t this sound exactly like the end of Revelation, Revelation 22, where the wedding feast takes place?

The metaphor of marriage is embedded throughout Israel’s history. God sees Israel, and by extension now the Church as the bride of Christ: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, and Song of Songs all use this metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God. Here is the passage in Song of Songs I think John is specifically hinting at. The Ethipoian church has connected the John passage with the Song of Songs one for years, and reenacts this every Easter.

Where has your beloved gone,
O most beautiful among women?
Where has your beloved turned,
That we may seek him with you?”
My beloved has gone down to his garden,
To the beds of balsam,
To pasture his flock in the gardens
And gather lilies.

Don’t you see, Jesus pastures his flock from his garden. The exact same Shepherd and Garden imagery is conflated here too. Jesus and Mary are at the garden tomb right now, the same tomb where he was buried with spices.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,
He who pastures his flock among the lilies.”
You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
As lovely as Jerusalem,

Tirzah was the capital of Samaria, northern Israel, where Mary is from.

As awesome as an army with banners.
Turn your eyes away from me,
For they have confused me;
Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Gilead.

See, “turn your eyes away from me” It describes what Mary did before. Even some of the details fit Mary. She is Mary of Magdelena, northern Israel. Tirzah was the capital of the Northern Kingdom; and where are they standing right now in this scene? right outside Jerusalem, but she turns her eyes from Jesus. I think it is safe to say John is making Mary a symbol of the Song of Songs passage to explain the significance of what happened in the resurrection. He knew this book, and his readers would know it too. “Awesome as an army with banners.” An army with banners is such an obvious and fearful scene, and that’s exactly what the resurrection was.

I don’t want to exposit the entire book of Song of Songs but I do want to bring your attention to the beginning and the end. The woman who is speaking in that scene, 1:6 says this girl, who is the one speaking in 6:5, is caretaker of her brother’s vineyards. Doesn’t that make her literally her brother’s keeper?

And marriage is the most intense way you can describe the concept of being your brother’s keeper (Gen. 4), And the book ends with her giving all her riches away that she gained from taking care of vineyards to Solomon.

That’s exactly what the church should be too. And we do that by telling others about Jesus, like Mary did at the end of this passage. Mary, who symbolically stands in the shoes of the rest of us, loving the Lord your God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 17:26).’ Go tell people.

Like the Samaritan woman, rivers of living water overflowing. You actually gain by giving; you live by dying, and you experience new life yourself by telling others about the new life of Christ. If you are a builder, build to the glory of God; if you are a visionary, dream for the glory of God; if a singer, sing to the glory of God.

Find creative ways to use your skills and help those around you. Take on projects that address the needs of your community. If you are an accountant, help people earn and preserve wealth that can be used to enrich their lives and shared. And do these things like you were in love, as if you were lovesick.

The Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene, women who were or seemed promiscuous, but came to faith. Just like the women of Ruth, Proverbs, and Song of Songs. Do you cling to Jesus, like Ruth clung to Naomi? “’Til death do us part” kind of love.

Do you know his story so well that it is intertwined with yours? Are you doing your part to make this world like the New Eden, and lovesick for the Paradise that is to come? Is your love the continual refrain of “I have seen the Lord” to all your friends? Are you telling people that you, like Mary, have seen the Lord? Do you tell your friends that you have found love? Figuratively of course, but no less vividly.

John talks about the Word, Jesus, being the light that comes into the world, and remember light. Does the resurrection of Jesus cause you too see too? Does everything else in the Old Testament make sense because of Jesus? Does everything else in your life become clearer because of Jesus? Jesus and you are married now, don’t you see, or at least bethrothed, for the day we enter the wedding feast (Rev 22).

The people that Christ marries, the church, is her brother’s keeper, and she shares the wealth of what she has earned with others, and with Christ himself. Live your life with an eye towards the new Eden, trying to make the present world more like it, and looking forward to the day when it finally is.

You don’t have to see him to know who he is, but you have to hear his voice. John wants you to see and hear Jesus like Thomas and Mary did. And their lives are changed by it. Thomas says he won’t believe until he sees, but Mary believes when she hears.

You have to invent the practical way to do it. God gives the story, and entrusts you to think through its consequences. With all your imagination, with all you know about the Bible, creatively turn your head to recognize Jesus, to see him and share him.

To see him for who he really is. Whatever rewards you gain by seeing Jesus, whatever the result is of your tears being wiped away, whatever comforts you have from being loved by Christ himself, share them with Jesus, and share them with others.

Let me just close by reading Song of Songs 8:10-11 and Matthew 12:42

“Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
He entrusted the vineyard to caretakers.
Each one was to bring a thousand shekels of silver for its fruit.
My very own vineyard is at my disposal;
The thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
And two hundred are for those who take care of its fruit.”

And as Matthew 12:42 says,

“Behold, someone greater than Solomon is here.”

You, the church, are the bride of Christ, and are to share the rewards of seeing and being with him.

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