Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
From the Bible: John 20:15c-16, Col. 1:16, I John 5:19
John 20:15c Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, . . .
Since a gardener would normally arrive about this time of day, in early morning, it was logical for Mary to think this might be a man employed by Joseph of Arimathea to dress and keep his garden. If he worked for Joseph of Arimathea, Mary assumed he would be friendly and began talking with him.
Maybe they took Jesus’ body elsewhere to keep a mob from rioting on the premises. Maybe Joseph had meant for the burial arrangements to be temporary.
Maybe another grave had been found for the body, now that the Sabbath was past. Maybe it had been decided a crucified criminal should not occupy a grave owned by a member of the Sanhedrin. Maybe, maybe, maybe, the reason didn’t really matter. She just wanted the gardener to point her to the body.
John, ever the master of hidden meanings, may have included Mary’s supposition about this being a gardener because he knew Jesus actually was the Gardener in ways far beyond what she was thinking.
Jesus is the Gardener of creation. “By Him (Jesus) everything was created” (Colossians 1:16a). Those who say Evolution is the agent of creation assault Jesus directly. The Creator of the Cosmos is a “He,” not an “it.”
Jesus is the Architect of this Universe. Everything that exists was once a thought in His mind. Every shred of beauty in nature that charms us began in Him. Every flower, brook, waterfall, tree in Autumn, majestic mountain, ocean beach, rainbow – we see in these and all other beauties, the loveliness of Jesus’ mind.
Jesus is the Gardener of the Church. Any garden, to do well, must have a gardener. Someone must sow, weed, water, and reap. For his Church, Jesus plants in His Garden seeds of grace, staves off the world’s weeds of encroachment, waters the seeds with His Word, and reaps from His people praise and thanksgiving.
The fact the Church can survive at all in this evil world is a miracle. The Bible says, “The whole world is under the sway of the evil one” (I John 5:19). Were Jesus not our Gardener, no church would exist on this sin-blighted planet.
In this barren world, God planted a Garden where there should be nothing but wilderness. Where there should be only thorns, Jesus gives His everything for this sacred enclosure known as the Church, causing flowers to bloom where there should be only thorns.
Mary will now learn this beautiful truth for herself. Jesus the Gardener is about to change her from a weeping willow into a happy rose.
John 20:15d “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.”
Mary offered to give Jesus’ body a decent burial. She could not do this. She was too weak to carry a body, plus had no place to take it for burial.
This is the way of love. It sees no difficulties, deems itself omnipotent. Love always thinks it can do more than it actually can. Love never tries to calculate the weight it can lift, but is always eager to try the impossible.
Mary’s loving heart was so filled with thoughts of Jesus that she felt no need to mention His name. She assumed everyone else was also thinking about Him.
Poor Mary! She still didn’t have the foggiest notion Jesus might be alive. Grief was drowning out her ability to do any deep reasoning, but she nevertheless persisted. She did not sit down and wring her hands. His body had to be somewhere. She was determined to find it. Mary’s love refused to give up.
Notice her sense of attachment to Jesus. She spoke as if Jesus’ body belonged to no one but her. He is “her” Lord, “her” own personal possession. Do we feel this close to Jesus? Can we say, “My friend, my beloved, my all, my Jesus?” Martin Luther said the heart of Christianity was its possessive pronouns.
John 20:16a Jesus said, “Mary.”
Hearing Mary’s ultimate expression of devotion, and seeing her willingness to do the impossible, Jesus could no longer hide Himself from her. The secret could be held in no longer. It was time to break the spell grief had cast on her.
With one word He broke the shackle binding her heart. He compressed all the compassion of His heart into one word, a word filled with a world of love.
Mary instantly comprehended everything without needing to hear another remark. Her faith was revived by Jesus’ one spoken word. This moment, one of history’s most dramatic recognition scenes, surpassing even Livingstone and Stanley, or Caesar and Brutus, occurred because Mary recognized Jesus’ voice.
The voice of a friend is always special. One of my best friends in grade school was Gerald Taylor. In fifth grade he moved to another city. Years later I was hurrying one day to a college class. At the corner of a building, I collided with another student who was also rushing to class. He dropped a book. As I bent over to pick it up, he said, “That’s okay, I’ll get it.” Without looking up at him, I immediately said, “Gerald Taylor.” He looked at me, and said, “John Marshall.” I recognized his husky voice even after more than seven years of being apart.
Mary knew Jesus’ voice. God’s sheep still do (John 10:4). God always makes Himself known to us through His Word, the Bible. If you love Jesus, you will recognize His voice in Scripture. If you want to hear Jesus, put your ear to the Bible. There we hear and recognize His sweet voice.
John 20:16b Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” – which means “Teacher.”
An old familiar accent came back. Only one voice could say “Mary” like this. Startled by the well-remembered inflection of her name, Mary responded to His one word with another single word, compressing all her love into it. With one solitary word, she relieved the pressure in her heart. The result was a dialogue in two words. No further conversation was needed. Love did the talking.
Mary’s search was over. Her seeking ended not in a grave, but in a Resurrection garden. She did not find a corpse. She found Jesus.
Her thrilled reaction should be the impulse Christ-followers feel each time we find ourselves conscious of the resurrected Lord’s presence. In these moments our heart should pour itself out in adoration.
For Mary’s sake, Jesus came back to His own grave after He had finished using it. He returned because He could not stay away. He knew how terribly Mary was hurting. He had once wept by a graveside (JN 11:35). Jesus could endure seeing her suffer no more. He had to come heal a deeply wounded heart.
Though He had much to do, Jesus was not too busy to care for Mary. Hell had been vanquished, Heaven was rejoicing, angels were on alert, and disciples needed help, but Jesus dropped everything, saying, “Excuse Me a minute, I have to go help Mary.” Jesus had to reward her love. He let her be the first person to see Him after the Resurrection. To Mary, who loved Him deeply, He first appeared.
This scene should comfort all Jesus’ followers. He still comes to us when we have to weep. Tears may dim His face from our view, but He does come. He rules the world, makes decisions of world-wide significance, and receives the worship of Heaven, but He halts everything and says, “Excuse Me a minute, I have to go help a weeping one.” Truly, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). When the disciples needed Jesus most, He promised, “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you” (John 14:18 KJV). He also comes to us.
We do not know how Mary died. I know how I would write her death scene in a novel. Angels would be coming to escort her to Paradise. As they leave Heaven to receive her, Jesus decides to go along. Mary had attended Him at His resurrection. He would return the favor and attend hers. I can hear Him telling the hosts of Heaven, “Excuse Me a minute. I have to go help Mary.”
As Jesus nears Mary in her moment of death, He whispers one word, “Mary.” Those gathered in her room hear or see nothing, but seem to understand why her face suddenly brightens, and why she leaves this earth looking up and saying one word, “Rabbouni.”
Fortunately for us all, I am not a novelist. But I do like this imagined scenario, because it is the way I would like to die. As Jesus says, “John,” I want to respond, “Rabbouni.” I want to hear His voice, and knowing death has come, not be bitter or disappointed, but rather be glad the Master has come for me.
When He calls me, I want to recognize Him with only unmingled gladness in my heart. I do not want my final days to disappoint you or my family. I want the faith I have tried to show in my life to be the faith you will see in my death.