When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not recognize that it was Jesus.
I. IT WAS A DEAD AND LOST CHRIST THAT CAUSED MARY'S GRIEF AND DISMAY. The woman's attachment and devotion to the Savior were unquestionable. She and her companions seem to have been more faithful to Jesus even than the twelve.
"Who, while apostles shrank, could dangers brave; II. IT WAS A LIVING CHRIST THAT TURNED MARY'S SORROW INTO JOY. Observe that Jesus knew Mary before she recognized him. The language he used was intended to draw out her best feelings. Very beautiful and touching was the way in which Christ revealed himself to her heart, uttering simply the familiar name, dear from the hallowed intercourse of friendship. It was, perhaps, the name he had used in dispossessing the demons, and its utterance must have awakened many a tender memory in her heart. The living Christ thus, in a way truly human, revealed himself to his friend in one moment to banish her forebodings and assuage her grief. Her cry, "My Master!" was enough to reveal her gratitude and joy - her joy again to see him, her gratitude that the appearance and revelation were to her. Emblem of those souls to whom - is their darkness and sadness, their skepticism and despondency - Christ appears in his own Divine dignity and human sympathy, addressing them in language of compassion, and gladdening them by the vision of his risen form and his glorified and gracious countenance. - T.
II. IT WAS A LIVING CHRIST THAT TURNED MARY'S SORROW INTO JOY. Observe that Jesus knew Mary before she recognized him. The language he used was intended to draw out her best feelings. Very beautiful and touching was the way in which Christ revealed himself to her heart, uttering simply the familiar name, dear from the hallowed intercourse of friendship. It was, perhaps, the name he had used in dispossessing the demons, and its utterance must have awakened many a tender memory in her heart. The living Christ thus, in a way truly human, revealed himself to his friend in one moment to banish her forebodings and assuage her grief. Her cry, "My Master!" was enough to reveal her gratitude and joy - her joy again to see him, her gratitude that the appearance and revelation were to her. Emblem of those souls to whom - is their darkness and sadness, their skepticism and despondency - Christ appears in his own Divine dignity and human sympathy, addressing them in language of compassion, and gladdening them by the vision of his risen form and his glorified and gracious countenance. - T.
Two angels... say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?: —
1. Christians are often sorrowful when, if they had clearer knowledge and stronger faith, they would rejoice. "Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping." She wept because she thought He was dead. But the absence of the body — an additional grief — was a proof that there was no cause for grief. That which then caused weeping, afterwards caused rejoicing. And thus we often weep at that which would give us joy did we rightly know or fully trust.
2. Angels sympathise with Christians in their sorrow.
3. The thought of losing Jesus is enough to make His friends weep. "She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." It is grief to Christians when, in any sense, their Lord is taken away.
4. Jesus is often very close to His disciples when they do not perceive Him. "She turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus." We think only of the servant when we should acknowledge the Master. We rest in the means of grace when we should rise to the Giver of grace. We deem Him absent when, in the blessing He gives, through the humblest of instruments, we should adore Himself.
5. Christ's first resurrection word was one of consoling sympathy: not of power, victory, or vengeance. He is tender, loving still: "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." His first word was not to an official but a private person; not to the strong but to the weak; not to an apostle but to Mary. He spake to womanhood through her. He knew how often woman weeps unseen — what a martyrdom of grief she often undergoes by sensibilities wounded, yearnings unsatisfied, love unrequited, closest ties torn asunder.
6. True love may be combined with deficient knowledge. "Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence, tell me where Thou hast laid Him and I will take Him away." Because He was uppermost in her feelings all the world besides must think of "Him" too. So let the thought of Jesus be in our hearts. Will He be pleased? What would He have me to do? In this enterprise, affection sees no difficulties. Love laughs at the impossible. Jesus accepts true love in spite of its errors. There may be theology, correct and complete in every detail, but without love; and there may be love, true and deep, allied with much ignorance. Should not we also be lenient with intellectual mistakes when associated with reverent love? Jesus will excuse mistaken modes of worship and of thought; but no orthodoxy or churchmanship, however sound, will win recognition from Him without love.
7. Christ knows His disciples individually. "Jesus saith unto her, Mary."
8. Every true disciple recognizes the Saviour's voice. "She saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master." Do we thus confess Him to be "Master?" saying, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
(Newman Hall, LL. B.)
(H. W. Beecher.)e.g. —
I. WHO ARE UNABLE TO SEE THE DIVINE HAND FAR ABOVE ALL HUMAN MEDDLING AND STRIFE. To many of us human history is but a disorderly and haphazard movement. Where is the religious eye that sees God above it all? Mary said that somebody had done mischief; the idea never occurring to her that her Lord might have taken Himself away. And so we are victimised by our senses; our eyes and ears deceive us; and our hearts have lost the power of completely trusting God; and so life has become an enigma without an answer, and a fight in which the strong man wins all, and that all is less than nothing and vanity.
II. WHO IN ALL AGES HAVE GIVEN THEM-SELVES UP TO UNNECESSARY GRIEF. "Why weepest thou?" Mary had her answer ready, but it was an answer founded upon a mistake. So our explanation of our grief may be but a fool's answer or a blind man's guess. Are not God's angels often asking this? They see the things that are hidden from us. We see the underside of the pattern which God is weaving, they see the upper side in all the charm of its celestial colour and all the beauty of its infinite perfection. No doubt God's providence is full of mystery, a road of deep declivities and sharp curves, with many a jungle and many a wild beasts' den; yet there is a foot-track through it all onward to the summer landscape and the harvest plain. Why weepest thou? Surely not over the child who has gone to the care of the angels and the sweet rest of the pure skies. Surely not over the disappointment whose sharpness has taught thee thy best prayers and mellowed thy voice to the tenderest music. Why weepest thou? If for sin, weep on; if for God, your tears are not vain only, but unnatural and impious. When Mary knew but part of the case, she wept over it; when she knew it all, her joy became almost a pain by its very keenness. So shall it be with ourselves in the revelations which are to come.
III. WHO CAN ONLY RECOGNIZE CHRIST UNDER CERTAIN FORMS AND IN CERTAIN PLACES. If Mary had seen the dead Christ in the grave, probably she would have felt a sad satisfaction. But the idea of death having been turned to life never occurred to her. Christ was infinitely larger in spiritual influence than Mary had imagined, and He is infinitely larger and grander than any Church has conceived Him to be. There are people who would rather have a dead Christ in their own sect and ritual than a living Saviour outside of their own approved boundaries. There are others who care more for their own idealized pictures of Christ than for the living Man Himself. I find Christ in all Churches where the Christly spirit is. What man has seen all the truth of God? Into what sectarian hut has God crowded all the riches of heaven? You may find Christ everywhere if you seek Him with a true heart.
IV. WHO ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AS IF HE WERE ABSENT: it is a historical Christ they refer to — a Christ that once was, but no longer is. Now, at the very moment of Mary's complaint, the Lord was looking at her! She thought He was the gardener! How clearly this shows that though we may think we know Christ, yet we know Him only in one aspect, and if we happen to see Him in any other, we actually know nothing about Him! We only know Christ in one place, in one ritual, in one theology, in one Church. Take Him out of these, and He becomes a common man, unknown, and suspected of stealing Christ, stealing Himself! Some persons do not know Christ except from the lips of their favourite preachers. Others do not think they have kept Sunday properly unless they have attended a particular place of worship. I would see Him and hear Him everywhere — in all history, in all communions, in commerce, in art, in all the endeavours and enterprises of civilization.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. THE WAY IN WHICH WE MISAPPREHEND THE ACTUAL FACTS OF OUR EXPERIENCE.
1. God comes to us, but not in the form that we expect, and therefore we do not recognize Him. It is a misfortune that befals us, not a providence; a cruel mocker who has taken away the body, not a Divine hand. Mary thought only of the adversaries of God, frustrating His purposes. Peter afterwards said they did "whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done."
2. How often it is the Christ, when we think it is only the gardener I A preacher uttering vague thoughts in a blundering way may be Christ speaking to human souls. The chancest meeting in the street may be Christ diverting the entire course of our lives. Should we not learn to see Christ in every form? And is not half the sorrow of our life because we do not see Him where He really is — in providences, in rough forms of character, in homely forms of work, in diversified forms of theological thought, Church life, goodness? In a thousand things it is only the gardener, because our eyes are blinded by prejudice or sorrow.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH WE MISAPPREHEND THE PROCESSES THAT GOD IS CONDUCTING WITH US. We weep in bitterness over a lost blessing when it is simply its transformation into a higher one. "That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." "It is expedient for you that I go away," &c. How we weep over the grave of buried things — lost beliefs, habits, forms of service, as if truth, or usefulness, or goodness, or even the Christ, were slain, when they are simply being transformed. It is as if the husbandman were to weep over his decomposing seed corn, the child over his outgrown clothes, the lad over his disused school-books. God is teaching us that "We rise on stepping-stones of our dead selves to nobler things." When the plant becomes pot-bound the gardener breaks the pot as the first essential condition of its development. Before Christ can be to the disciples the Christ of resurrection life and glory, He must be crucified and entombed. And the ignorant affection of His disciples weeps. We cling even to the dead forms of things because they have been precious, but God's laws of development demand that we should let the dead bury their dead, and follow Him.
1. Our theological beliefs advance to more perfect truth by the falling away of old forms and the development of new ones. From the Day of Pentecost we have ever been advancing. In educating your children you begin with a picture alphabet and end in abstract reasoning. Or you begin with simple commands, and then appeal to intelligence. But when the youth becomes the man, the law of obedience is superseded. It has so educated his mind and heart that he has become a law unto him. self. And you do not think that moral safeguards are relaxed when the youth obeys from reason and the man becomes a law to himself. So God educates us. The evidences which attested Him to the older Church were miracles; then came the prophets, when miracles ceased, and the intelligent reason was appealed to; then the spiritual economy of Christ, when men believed in Christ, not because of His miracles or intellectual arguments, but because He spake directly to their souls "told them all that ever they did," met their sense of spiritual need.(1) Proofs of the being of a God are changing. Those from causation, design, miracle, special providence, are, of course, as absolutely true as ever; but a keen dialectic discovers flaws in the reasoning, incompleteness in the demonstration. We have come to feel that the most conclusive of all proofs is that we are spiritual men. Our spirits answer to His spiritual nature as the wards of a lock to its key. We do not prove God by argument so much as we see and feel Him. And is not this proof far more conclusive? And yet how many think material proof more satisfactory! Let one of them fail, and they feel — "They have taken away my God, and I know not where they have put Him." But may not this very discomfiture be the means of driving our belief in God to the higher ground? Now we believe, not because of the proof of science, but because we have seen Him ourselves. The most ignorant peasant whose soul is filled with the life and light of God has a much surer ground than all the evidences of Paley.(2) Our conceptions of the character and feelings of God change and develop with our spiritual education. It is so in the Bible. In the earlier books the predominant conception is that of sternness. He is holy, majestic, distant. How this is softened in the time of David and the prophets! When we come to the New Testament — to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — the revolution of feeling is almost startling. And the development has never been arrested. Every generation has attained to a higher conception of God than its predecessor. To us God is more of a gracious, tender Father than He was fifty years ago. Old men see this with apprehension; they cling to their old Calvinism, and tell you that the sense of righteousness has relaxed with the sternness of law. Nay, God's hold upon our affections is stronger than upon our fears. The Divine Father is more than the Divine Magistrate?(3) Are not our conceptions of Christ Himself ever rising in truth and spirituality? Less and less we "know Him after the flesh," more and more we know Him after the Spirit. Take for example —(a) His Incarnation. Less and less it is an arbitrary conjunction of two different natures; more and more it is a coming together of profound and wonderful affinities. Man bears God's image, therefore God takes upon Him man's nature. When we are asked about the Incarnation we do not so eagerly have recourse to proof texts. As with the being of a God, so with the Incarnation of the Christ, the proof may be argued on purely intellectual grounds, but we have come to think that the supreme proof is the religious and spiritual demonstration. The Incarnation exactly and fully meets all the necessities of my spiritual nature. So I believe in gravitation and electricity, not because I can demonstrate them, but because, assuming them by hypothesis, they perfectly account for all the phenomena.(b) So we give more emphasis than our fathers did to the human element of our Lord's nature. Where they debated about His Divinity and devoutly worshipped Him as God, we think of His humanity and rapturously love Him as man. It is not that we believe in the Divinity the less, but we see how He embodies His Divinity in humanity, so that He can live, and suffer, and sympathize, and die. He is Divine because He is so grandly, helpfully human.(c) Much more marked have been the changes through which the doctrine of atonement has passed. There was the strange idea held by the early Church, that the death of Christ was a ransom price paid to the devil; then there was the theory that it was the necessity of a struggle between justice and mercy; then there was the forensic theory; then there was the commercial theory; then there was the predestinarian theory. We have attained larger, freer, more spiritual conceptions of it, as a grand moral process, embodying great principles, and satisfying eternal righteousness and love. And every generation has felt, in the giving way of its special theory of the Atonement, as if the atonement itself must be surrendered. It was only the chrysalis that was falling away, that the Atonement itself might be the more grandly conceived.
2. Men's theories about the Bible undergo development. We get nobler conceptions of its inspiration and more spiritual conceptions of its meaning. It is the very lowest theory that every letter of it is Divinely dictated. It is surely higher to conceive of the entire moral nature of the sacred writer as engaged in receiving and recording the Divine revelation. And yet when you assail the mechanical theory, which the facts utterly discredit, in order to assert the spiritual theory, men cry out that you are bereaving them of the very ark of God. They cling to the letter, which killeth, and are afraid of the Spirit, which really makes both the writer and the book a living power.
3. Similar things may be said concerning conceptions of the Church. Every development of Church life and liberty and spirituality has been ennobled by the throwing off of some old restrictive ecclesiasticism. And the emancipating process has caused alarm. How the Temple Jews would despise the worship of the Upper Room; and yet there the promise of the Father was realized. In manifold forms the Christian Church has been, and is, as intolerant as Old Judaism itself. And when men began to ask whether organized Church societies, however legitimate and expedient in themselves, were really identical with the Saviour's conception of His Church, and claimed that the New Testament Church included all men everywhere who truly loved Him,the timid got alarmed, and thought that the Church itself was being denied. At every step the cry of alarm, and sacrilege, and infidelity is raised, and that which is really emancipation, and advance to higher spirituality and greater moral power, is regarded as the destruction of sacred and precious things. So when barriers round the table of the Lord are broken down; so when the ecclesiastical conditions of Church membership are made easier.
4. So, again, good men are terrified when the personal religious life of a man is emancipated from mere precept and tradition, and thrown upon living principle and intuitive love, when bonds of asceticism are broken, and the Divine use and good of all things is freely enjoyed. How many pious people of the past generation deemed religion itself imperilled when Methodist bonnets and Quaker coats were laid aside! How much faith has rested in the cowl of the monk or the hood of the nun, and how weak the faith that so rests!
5. The same principle would apply to the course and process of God's providential dealing with our life. He smites away the lower good in which we have rested that He may put us in possession of the higher good which otherwise we should not seek. Friends, health, property — these were the husks and props of our strength. They fall away, and we cry out in helpless desolateness; the good of our life has failed, its pleasant things are laid waste. "What good shall my life do me?" Nay, but these simply hindered and concealed our real life; they are but as the fleshly Christ; they perish, and we are thrown upon more spiritual things; we develop into a nobler life.
6. The crowning illustration is the life that comes through death. How we weep over our dead, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died"! True, but neither would he have been raised from the dead. Our dead friends are more to us than when they lived; not more to the sense, but more to the soul.
(H. Allon, D. D.)1. On Easter Day the tears of Mary Magdalene are at first sight inappropriate. They seem to check the flow of joy which is the privilege of the festival. They recall the sadness of the Passion, of the Burial. And yet they do not appear here without good reason. It is impossible to surrender ourselves unreservedly to one mood of feeling. No earthly sorrow is unrelieved by some ray of brightness, no joy is without the shadow of some grief. It might seem that we require the foil if we are to do justice to the feeling of the moment; just as a landscape which is relieved by the alternate play of light and shadow is more welcome than that which lies under the uniformly splendid but oppressive glare of a southern sun.
2. Tears, they say, are wont to be unreasonable, but Mary Magdalene knew the reason of hers. They evidence —
I. MARY'S LOW.
1. She arrived at the sepulchre alone and first of all. As we learn from the other Gospels, she was one of a company of women; but just as later on "John did outrun Peter," so there is reason to think it had been with Mary Magdalene. Her more ardent love was impatient of the measured pace of others. Mary, then, must not be merged in the company. Her relation to the Resurrection is all her own. "She loved much." And in this there is reason. For what is rightly-regulated love but moral power of the highest order? As St. Paul puts it, "The love of Christ constraineth us." Love is the very muscle and fibre of moral force.
2. All this may seem commonplace; but it requires to be reasserted. The moral power of love for goodness, for humankind, for right as against wrong, for truth as against error, is sometimes discredited by being labelled with a new name. "Beware," men say, "of being led by emotion. Emotion is for women, the unthinking, the young; it deserves no recognition in the life of a man, since he should be swayed only by reason." Here observe, first of all, an unwarrantable assumption, namely, that emotion is another name for love. Emotion may be vulgar passion and violent hate; ay, though they pose in the garb of the most unimpassioned philosophy. And emotion is by no means always power. It may be as unfruitful as any speculation. But love, the concentration of purified desire upon an infinitely noble object, moves and constrains all the resources and faculties of man. And, therefore, love, so far from being the monopoly of women or children, is the very grace of manliness; it kindles reason itself into activity; it gives nerve and impulse to will. Woe to the man who is without love; woe to him, above all, if he glories in his moral poverty 1 He will never achieve anything solid or great. It is love — now as in the days of Mary Magdalene — which conquers difficulty and outlives disappointment.
II. MARY'S DISAPPOINTMENT.
1. Mere curiosity would have been tranquil where Mary is in agony. There is no reason for thinking that she believed more than the apostles. At that time they expected to find Jesus in His grave; and so did she. The past was tragic, irretrievable failure; so she thought. But in His dear body there was a centre.point for love. Nothing else was left. This she would honour. She did not care to look forward. For the moment this was enough; it was her all And then she came, early in the morning, and found Him gone. It was dreadful. She could bear the Crucifixion better than this. For the moment it was the ruin of the little that was left to love.
2. If you say that all this is unreasonable, you know little of true affection. Certainly love seeks its object; but if its object be out of reach, then it seeks anything which suggests that object. A picture, handwriting, a bit of old furniture — almost anything — is enough for love. The objects upon which it fixes are, to other states of feeling, matters of indifference; but to love they are everything. So it was with Mary. We can imagine what comment her tears would have provoked from some well-to-do Scribe or Pharisee. Why should a Jewish girl thus care to haunt the precincts of the dead in the early morning? Why should she trouble herself if the grave had been rifled? Surely there were objects nearer home with greater claims upon her sympathies! Let her rid herself of this sentimentalism! But what would it have mattered, did she know it, to Mary Magdalene? Love is supremely indifferent to criticism. It has eyes and ears for one object only. Mary was at that very time gazing on an angelic form, but this was as nothing Do not try to measure the movements of a soul on fire by the stilted rules of your artificial society, which can create and understand anything better than an unselfish love. Let her cry on bitterly, as she stands there; for she heeds you not. Have the grace to let her cry awhile, and then consider if her tears and her love have not that in them from which you may learn something.
III. MARY'S PERSEVERING RESOLUTION. She does not mean to sit down and wring her hands, and cease to inquire and to hope. No; He must be somewhere; perhaps she has a dim hope that He has not been taken away by human hands after all. Anyhow she will cross-question any one that she meets, whether it be an angel or a gardener, till she knows the truth. The disappointment does not overmaster her love. It was said of English soldiers by a foreign commander, when recalling his own experience, that they did not know when they were beaten. And so Christian hope refuses to believe that it is ever beaten. It is to tempers of this kind that Jesus ever reveals Himself: it is the hopeful who in fact succeed. In Mary Magdalene that old promise was made good: "They that seek Me early shall find Me." He whom she had sought in the tomb was alive before her eyes; and her joy was fulfilled. Conclusion: Mary, weeping before the empty tomb, reappears in each generation of Christians. She is the type of those who have a genuine love of religion, but who, from whatever cause and in various ways, are for a time, at any rate, disappointed. Take the case of a person who has for some years paid scant attention to religious matters. He may not have broken God's law in any very flagrant way; but he has lost sight of God. Still he remembers something of what he learned from his mother; something of his early prayers; something of his Bible. And as he knows that the years are passing quickly, and that he must die, he trusts himself to the guidance of those memories of the past. He sets out — it is a painful and a creditable effort — to visit the sepulchre of his early life as a Christian. There he trusts to find again the reality of religious faith; there he seeks the body of the Lord Jesus; but, like Mary, perchance, he finds the body of Jesus gone. He remembers how he used to think about sacred subjects; but somehow his old thoughts will not recur to him. He cannot recognize the accustomed haunts of his spirit; the old phrases of thirty years ago are no longer to him what they were. He opens his Bible; but, alas! it is interesting to him only as literature. He tries to pray; and prayer is to him only like poetry, an exercise which warms the soul; he approaches the Holy Communion, but here again he finds only a symbolical ceremony which recalls the dead past. Everywhere he sees traces of the old presence which haunt his memory — the napkin and the linen clothes; and he murmurs sadly that something has taken away the Lord. Is it not possible that he is repeating the very intelligible mistake of Mary Magdalene? Is he not forgetting the meaning of the lapse of time? She knew not that there are hours, in the life of souls, which may count for centuries, and that she had been living through such hours as these. She did not bethink herself that her Saviour might be preserved to her, not in the tomb where they laid Him, but under new conditions. Had Mary remained at the sepulchre, from the burial onwards, she must have witnessed the Resurrection. As it was, she had been absent. She has lost the thread of continuity. In time she found that her Lord was there, as before, but in the garden, not in the grave. Nor need it be otherwise with such a case as I am considering. Believe it, the old truth is what it was. But a generation has passed since you were a boy; and a generation counts for much in a busy age like this. What wonder if some of those associations of a boyish mind have been disturbed; if some misapprehensions have been corrected; if the relations between different fields of thought have been made clearer — during the interval? What wonder if some of this activity has resulted in what looks like dislocation or destruction, and caused perplexity? Depend on it, the body of Jesus is not lost. Do not despair because you find it no longer amid the old conditions, the grave-clothes, &c., of a bygone time. Distinguish between the Unchanging, Indestructible Object of the religious life of the soul of man, and the ever-shifting moods of human thought and feeling that circle round Him, as the ages pass. Be as patient and hopeful as Mary, and your share in Mary's tears will surely be followed by Mary's joy. You will recover for your Bible, prayers, communions, much more than their old meaning. You will have exchanged Jesus in the tomb for Jesus in the garden; the religious thoughts and resolves of a boy for the religious horizons and aspirations of a ripened manhood.
1. We see this in her early visit, her lingering, and the words in which she expressed her sorrow. She had been tied to Christ by gratitude for a great service, and had been always ready to minister to His needs. All this had awakened a feeling of special possession.
2. We whom Christ has delivered from the thraldom of sin should, like her, cherish towards Him heartfelt devotion. The best company, even that of angels, would not compensate for the loss of Christ.
II. FORGETFULNESS. She could hardly have missed hearing Him refer to His resurrection. But memory failed her, as it did the apostles. Our grief often originates from or is intensified by our forgetfulness of Christ's promises. There is not a condition for which we cannot find some consolation in God's Word.
III. IMPULSIVENESS. Whom did she mean by "They"? Foes? Joseph? the disciples? Perhaps she had no definite ideas. Somebody had removed the body; but she never thought Christ Himself. So, too, our impulsiveness often lands us in wrong conclusions.
(F. J. Austin.)
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
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