Before Jesus appears on the shore of Tiberias he appears to Mary of Magdala in the garden. This is one of my favorite Easter stories. Mark identifies this Mary as the one from whom Jesus cast out seven devils. ‘Casting out devils’ is a phrase in the scriptures meaning a healing took place. In the ancient world illnesses were thought to be the result of some demonic force. The number seven in the scriptures repeatedly refers to something sacred, someone made whole. Whatever this meant it was powerful enough to cause Mary to become his most faithful follower and the first person to whom he appears after he is risen.
It is Mary alone who has the courage to go in the dark to the tomb in search of Jesus. Finding the stone rolled away she goes back to tell the others. It is Peter again who sets off running to the garden to see for himself. The disciples look inside and when they see that Jesus is not there, they finally understand what Jesus had said to them about his rising from the dead. Then they go home.
But Mary stays. She is still distraught and is crying. When the angels sitting where Jesus had been ask her why she is crying, she tells them Jesus has been taken away and she doesn’t know where to find him. But then something makes her turn around. And there is Jesus standing before her. She thinks he is the gardener. The he speaks her name. Mary. She only has to hear his voice to know it is Jesus. This is such a tender moment. And such a real moment. I hear in this moment how much she loved him and that he loved her and cared for her deeply.
The others hadn’t seen him in the garden. Perhaps when he knew she was looking for him he came to her. But he would not let her ‘cling’ to him. For surely this is what he knew she wanted to do. Instead he told her to go and tell the others what she had seen, and what he had said to her. And she did.
Where do we look for him? Do we hear or read the gospel message and then just go or stay home? Perhaps the invitation to become whole, to rise up with him, and the love he empowers within us, might cause us to go out and tell others, like Paul did, about the power of his resurrection. That love has overcome hate. That life has overcome death. That his presence and love is a more powerful force than all the daemons that threaten our good life.
It would not be a mistake for us to think of Jesus as the gardener of our souls. That the first encounter after the resurrection took place in a garden. It was in a garden that life began. And now in a garden that new life became possible. That we have been seeded with his life. That when we seek him, he brings that seed to life out of the dark tomb of our souls, into the light, to flower, to become whole. To see the sacred life he brings to us. For some of his disciples, including John, after they saw the empty tomb they went home. It was enough for them to merely understand. They did not remain. They did not look for him. Perhaps they were still afraid. In Mark’s account the women who came that day left in fear as well and told no one. But in John’s gospel it was Mary who remained, who searched for him, whose love for him caused him to come to her. So perhaps knowledge and understanding are not enough. Perhaps it is love that brings his presence, that brings the life and love of Jesus to us. The disciples now understood but it was Mary who would see him more clearly and love him more dearly.