John 20:11

Among the wonderful events of the first Lord's day morning, the incident here recorded is remarkable for pathos and beauty, and also for spiritual instruction and encouragement.

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;
Last at his cross, and earliest at his grave." To Mary Jesus was as a dead Friend. She shared the common grief of the disciples, and their common anxiety during the interval between the Crucifixion and the Lord's first appearance to his own. Love induced her to linger near the tomb, and thus occasioned her interview with the angels and with the Master himself. No wonder that she loved much; she was indebted, she may well have thought, more than others to the compassion of Christ, for she had been delivered from the power of demons, and received into the favor and friendship of her Deliverer. And now to lose the Lord she loved and on whom she leaned was a trial to her faith, a grief to her heart; and she would fain care for the lifeless body of the slain One. Emblem of those who have not found Christ; of those who, having found, have then lost him; of those to whom Christ, alas! is as if dead, to whom he is no living reality, no near presence, no Divine power. Yet it is better that sensitive and yearning souls should grieve over the distance between the holy Savior and themselves than that they should acquiesce contented and indifferent - in their privation.

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.

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping.
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1. Christians are often sorrowful, when, if they had clearer knowledge and stronger faith, they would rejoice.

2. Angels sympathize with Christians in their sorrow. If they shed no tears they are not indifferent to ours.

3. The thought of losing Jesus is enough to make His friends weep. When He is absent from the Church, and outward shows divert the eye from the Lord; when, instead of a living Christ, there is only a sepulchre, no whitening of which can compensate for the absence of the Prince of Life; and when He is absent from the pulpit, and where criticism, or philosophy, or Jewish ethics, or Christian polemics are discussed, and the living, loving Christ is absent; and when by worldliness we have no longer that fellowship with Him we once enjoyed — if we are indeed His friends we shall weep, saying of our follies and our sins (ver. 13).

4. Jesus is often very close to His disciples when they do not perceive Him (ver. 14). We are so absorbed in sorrow that we do not see Him who comes to soothe it. We often think He is farthest when He is nearest. Is He not "a very present help in trouble?" Like Mary, also, we sometimes mistake Him for the gardener. 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.

5. Christ's first resurrection-word was one of consoling sympathy — not of power, victory, or vengeance. He is tender, loving still. He spake to Mary, and 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, anxieties and toils which only love like hers could enable her to endure, and wounds hidden from all eyes, which only love like hers could bear and yet conceal; and so Christ's first word after His resurrection was one of sympathy with woman's grief. Seeking Jesus is the best antidote to weeping.

6. True love may be combined with deficient knowledge. "Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence," &c. No name had been mentioned, but Mary speaks as if 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 do? In this enterprise, in that company, shall I have His presence and enjoy His blessing?

7. Christ knows His disciples individually. He addresses her by the old familiar name (ver. 16). The friend of former days was still individually dear. Are we in sorrow, inconsolable, forgetting Him who sends it for our good? He reminds us of His presence, saying, "Mary!" Are we fearing some danger as though we had no Almighty Friend to protect us? He places Himself between us and it, and says, "Mary!" Are we becoming worldly, restraining prayer, toying with temptation, looking at some forbidden fruit till it becomes pleasant in our eyes? Jesus, in a tone of faithful remonstrance, says, "Mary!"

8. Every true disciple recognizes the Saviour's voice (ver. 16). Do we thus confess Him to be "Master," saying, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" In sorrow, do we submit with patience, and say, "Rabboni"? In danger, do we trust with holy confidence and repeat, "Rabboni"? When tempted, do we turn at His reproof and penitently, resolutely exclaim, "Rabboni"? At death, Jesus will say, "Mary! It will be the voice not of an enemy, but of our best, our heavenly Friend. It will be Jesus coming to take us to Himself. Shall we be ready at once to welcome Him as Rabboni? When He sits on the throne of judgment He will invite to His kingdom every one of His faithful followers, with an individual recognition, calling each by name — Mary! Shall we be among them and joyfully respond, Rabboni"?

(Newman Hall, LL. B.)

: —


1. She sought for a lost Christ, and looked for Him where He was not to be found. So —(1) Some lose Christ when any great calamity comes upon them, and their faith is shaken in the Divine goodness.(2) Others fall into temptations, become prosperous, and worldly, lose sight of all spiritual aims, become content with this world, and their faith and hope in Christ are gone.(3) Others get entangled in intellectual difficulties about the Gospels, or inspiration, or miracles, and because they cannot see their way out. Christ meanwhile is almost, if not entirely, lost to their vision. We can lose Christ in a thousand ways, and look for Him in a thousand places where He is not to be found. We try to find Him in books of controversy, in going from one Church to another, in praying for faith in Him, in reiterating the creeds, forgetting that the restoration of all belief must begin on the high road of duty, and that spiritual work is the road to spiritual knowledge, and the recovery of our hold of Christ.

2. Mary failed to recognize Him though so near to her. So we often fail to recognize Christ though He manifests Himself to us in all the manifold forms of our life. We, too, often think that we can meet and recognize Him only in Church; but there is no charm in a Church for disclosing Christ; the charm must be in ourselves, perceiving and answering to the charm that there is in Christ. Then we can see Him everywhere.(1) The wickedest persons ought to reveal Christ, for you may be sure that He is there yearning to recover them.(2) Wherever an afflicted man or woman lies in sorrow, there you hear His voice, saying, "Come unto Me," &c.(3) Whenever you see a man reviled or misrepresented, there you have an image of that Christ who was crucified for His goodness.(4) Christ looks at us through the eyes of every innocent child; for there is in them the light of the kingdom of heaven.(5) Every just and noble deed is a revelation of Christ; for He came not to be ministered unto, &c.

3. She mistook the Divine work for man's. "They have taken away my Lord;" not knowing that He had reclaimed His own life by the power of the eternal Spirit. There is a human and a Divine side to every event, and things become significant in proportion as we can see their Divine aspect. There are men who can see in Christ nothing but what is simply human. There are men who have no eye for the Divine. They are mostly cold, self-contented natures; having no moral enthusiasm, nor intellectual grasp, but play upon the surface of a great many things with cold moonlight gleams. Let us guard as beyond all price the faculty which can see God in all things.

II. THE STRENGTH OF MARY'S LOVE (ver. 15). Her overflowing love in the midst of her grief does not wait to measure her strength. She was equal to anything that her love prompted her to undertake. Love is the real worker of miracles in this world. And I am speaking now of human love; the Divine love, which is the parent of ours, is to ours as the ocean is to the rivulet, and as the sun is to the glow-worm. Human love still undertakes tasks that are beyond its strength, and dies in hopeless endeavours. How many lives are there who have not been able, through years of ill-treatment, to uproot the love of their youth, and who still wait and pray for a change in the husband who has long ago forfeited all title even to respect. And I think there are some men of the same nature. There is a love that descends upon those lower than itself, as when the mother loves the unworthy son or daughter, and there is the love that bends, entranced before a goodness and a beauty far surpassing itself. This was the love that kindled in the soul of Mary, and the highest proof that we have it is that we do not waste our time in visions and rapture, but imitate the love of Christ in doing His work. "Inasmuch as ye did it," &c.

III. THE IMPERFECTION OF MARY'S FAITH. She desired and dwelt too much on the outward Christ. Therefore she must not touch Him. The most difficult thing is to pass away from the outward things of religion into the region where faith grasps its objects, and sees its truths, and feels their reality. Does eternity open to you when you sing, or pray, or meditate? When you gather round the Lord's table, does it proclaim the unseen fact of Christ's sacrificial love?


1. This was a message of forgiveness. There are two things difficult about forgiveness — the power to forgive and the manner in which it is done. There are some natures that cannot forgive, even when they profess to do it, but when we can turn our resentment into pity and mercy we have learned the lesson which Christ taught us from the cross.

2. The message was one of continued, unbroken affection. Go and tell My brethren — not My poor weak followers and disciples, not even My friends. He was not ashamed of them, notwithstanding all their spiritual poverty and their want of sympathy with Him. What a lesson it reads to us!

(C. Short, M. A.)

How does the risen Saviour reveal Himself?


1. Even then the seeing the risen One was not a thing of physical sight. It was dependent On the condition of the inner life. Not to the world, who did not want to be convinced, but to those who were longing to be fully convinced that He was the Saviour.

2. Mary, foremost among these, could not tear herself away from the grave. She had passed through the scene at Calvary in mute amazement; now she realized that her heart had lost its last stay, and the whole world seemed like an empty tomb. What would become of her now His Divine life was no longer there for her poor life to cling to, as ivy to oak, and train itself heavenwards.

3. Is not this a page in our history? The Saviour once took you by the hand and your life began to twine itself around His. Then this childlike confidence was lost, but the longing remains. This is the deepest sorrow — to know what can help and to have lost it — to seek the Lord among the evidences of His life, and have only an empty grave to go to. When we have to stand before our own life as before an empty tomb, which reminds us only of what we have lost, and in which we cannot find our childhood's Saviour there is no comfort for us. A risen and living Saviour is what we want. It would not have helped Mary had she found the buried One. If our longing souls rest in the fact that He has lived, what can He be to us? He is not here; He is risen, is the Divine message to us.

II. IN WHAT EXPERIENCE? While Mary is still hopeless He is beside her. Though invisible and unknown He is near all who seek Him. Why not disclose Himself then? "Woman, Mine hour is not yet come." The experience God gives depends for its value on our susceptibility, and this comes to maturity only by persistent seeking. She turns again to seek Him when Jesus says, "Mary!" It was through her name that the Lord revealed Himself. A name may awaken emotion, as when you hear the voice of one long absent. She knew her Lord in that He knew her. Her name is written in His heart for ever. It is the heart that recognizes the living Saviour.

III. WITH WHAT DIRECTIONS The complaint of the heart is not of the reality of precious moments, but that they are only moments. Mary had no advantage in this over us. The moment she recognized Him He says, Touch Me not. Stern but needful words. Mary needed to be taught that the fellowship of the future would be very different from that of the past. Few had enjoyed His intimacy, henceforth all might and in a higher form. Their dependence on Him as a man must be changed into a holier relation — "brethren." All this Mary had to learn amid her joy, that her joy might not be taken from her when the Lord should ascend. And as this joy would naturally seek to retain the beloved object she is bid serve Christ by going to His brethren and bearing witness to others. Moments such as this are short and fleeting; must be; should be. It is not good to live on mountain peaks. Mary now knew that what is needed for the service of Christ is power from on high.

(Dr. Beyschlag.)

We see —


1. Mary would not leave the sepulchre when Peter and John went away to their own home. Love to her Master made her honour the last place where His precious body had been seen by mortal eyes. And she reaped a rich reward. She saw the angels whom Peter and John had never observed; had soothing words addressed to her; and was the first to see our Lord, and to hear His voice.

2. As it was in the morning of the first Easter Day, so will it be as long as the Church stands. All believers have not the same degree of faith, or hope, or knowledge, or courage, or wisdom; and it is vain to expect it. But it is certain that those who love Christ most will always enjoy most communion with Him. To know Christ is good; but to "know that we know Him" is far better (1 John 2:3).


1. "Mary stood at the sepulchre weeping." She wept when the angels spoke to her, and when our Lord spoke to her. And the burden of her complaint was always the same — "They have taken away my Lord." Yet all this time her risen Master was close to her. Like Hagar in the wilderness, she had a well of water by her side, but she had not eyes to see it.

2. How often we are anxious when there is no just cause for anxiety! How often we mourn over the absence of things which in reality are within our grasp! Let us pray for more faith and patience, and allow more time for the full development of God's purposes. Jacob said "All these things are against me"; yet he lived to thank God for all that had happened. If Mary had found the seal of the tomb unbroken she might well have wept. The very absence of the body which made her weep was a cause of joy for herself and all mankind.


1. The first surprise, and the reaction from great sorrow to great joy, was more than the mind of Mary could bear. It is highly probable that she threw herself at our Lord's feet, and made greater demonstrations of feeling than were seemly or becoming; too much like one who thought all must be right if she had her Lord's bodily presence, and all must be wrong in His bodily absence; like one who forgot that her Master was God as well as Man. And hence she called forth our Lord's gentle rebuke, "I am not yet ascending to My Father for forty days: your present duty is not to linger at My feet, but to go and tell My brethren that I have risen. Think of the feelings of others as well as of your own."

2. The fault of this holy woman was one into which Christians have always been too ready to fall. In every age there has been a tendency to make too much of Christ's bodily presence, and to forget that He is "God over all, blessed for ever" as well as Man (Romans 9:5). The pertinacity with which Romanists cling to the doctrine of Christ's real corporal presence is only another exhibition of Mary's feeling. Let us be content to have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and when two or three are met in His name. What we really need is not His literal flesh, but His Spirit (John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 5:16).


1. He bids Mary Magdalene carry a message to them, as "His brethren." All was forgiven and forgotten (Psalm 103:13, 14).

2. As He dealt with His erring disciples, so will He deal with all who believe and love Him, until He comes again. When we wander out of the way He will bring us back (chap. John 6:37; Psalm 103:10).

(Bp. Ryle.)

1. We little realize how much light goes out of the world with some lives. "There was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour," write Matthew and Mark in their record of the Crucifixion. This symbolized a great fact. We know how the vanishing of one life may be to us like the setting of the sun: many of us have passed through such an experience. After the Evangelists have recorded the burial, they pause and halt in the narrative. The record only moves again when the light begins to return. "As it began to dawn towards the first day" are the words with which Mark starts anew; so, too, in different phrase, the other Evangelists emphasize this new starting-point.

2. Again, observe the revealing power of a great trial. It takes great or trying events to reveal all the strength and beauty which otherwise lie dormant in some characters. The breeze of summer brings music out of the AEolian harp, but only the storms of winter can awake the mighty deep into harmonious symphony and make the trees of the wood clap their hands in grand accompaniment. So it required great tests to reveal the devotion of these grand heroic women toward their Lord.

3. This expression of devotion was very human, and supremely womanly. How significant — how full of strange amotion — the first visit to the grave where our dearest lie!

4. This was a very beautiful and expressive protest against mortality. Beneath all this anointing was the conviction that man was too noble to pass away into decay. In the proposed anointing of the Christ by the women, we find the mightiest protest against the corruption of the grave; but God would yet accomplish the same end in His own way. John, however, centres his narrative in one person: Mary's love was the most intense and the most persistent. "But Mary stood" (or Revised Version, "was standing") — stationed herself — words expressive of resoluteness. Up to this point there was a measure of companionship in sorrowful watching among the mourners, — now we reach the point of isolation. Others had accepted the theory that Jesus had been taken away, and had left with sorrow, but Mary was more persistent, since to her more had been forgiven. The sorrow of this little community now became Mary's, as if it were exclusively her own. "As she wept." According to the three Synoptic Gospels, the other women were afraid, or "affrighted." Mary wept. There is nothing new in weeping at the grave. It is the old place of weeping. More tears have been shed there than anywhere else. But the circumstances are exceptional in this case. Others have wept because the grave is tenanted; Mary wept because it was empty, and because the ministry of love in anointing the dead body seemed no longer possible. At length, by steady gazing, she found that the grave was not so empty as it had appeared. There was no dead body in it, but there were two of God's angels. Mary saw them. Peter and John did not. They were in two great a hurry. Men do not see angels in such a mood — they only see "linen clothes," and the like. "They say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?" Tears are a profound mystery to angels. But it was a misuse of the mysterious capacity to weep that perplexed them now. Weeping in this case they knew was out of place. "Why weepest thou?" are words of challenge. "Because they have taken away my Lord," was Mary's reply. These words reveal, among other things, the soul's power of appropriation — "My Lord." This is the greatest paradox of being, that finite man or woman can claim the Infinite God as his or her possession. "Thou art my God," said the Psalmist. But here, too, we have weeping inadequately explained. Mary's data are wrong. "They have taken away my Lord." How much more the angels knew about it than Mary! How inadequate our explanation of our grief when we are challenge! There is an impatience in the answer. She has silenced the angels with a false theory, and hastily withdraws, or "turns round," and waits not for the reply. It is a terrible thing when sorrow becomes reflective, and turns in upon itself. But as Mary turns there is another Presence near. Now it is asked by One who has Himself wept by the grave side. There is a tear in this tone of inquiry. Remember in passing, as a significant fact, that these are the first recorded words of Christ after the Resurrection — "Woman, why weepest thou?" &c. What a reflection for sorrowing ones! There is hero also the additional question which completes the first. "Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" Sorrow is stupefying. There was a danger for Mary to forget her search in the steady gaze, becoming more vacant as it was continued. The question of the angels threw her in upon her sorrow; the further question of Christ awakened within her the recollection of her quest. It aroused the spirit of search and of expectation anew in Mary. It is a sad thing when, in our sorrow, we forget the aim of life, and lose the inspiration of hope. This takes all the buoyancy out of life. Our Lord would ever save us against this. Observe Mary's answer as contrasted with her answer to the angels. To the angels she replied, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." This is sorrow in its reflective, despairing form. On the contrary, her answer to Jesus is — "Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." This is sorrow in its resolute and hopeful aspect. "I will take Him away." She could not have carried Him; yet she saw no difficulty. There is a frenzy of love which is well-nigh omnipotent. There is yet hope of Mary. It is a grand thing when sorrow has not taken all the courage out of us. The Christ can hide Himself no longer from her. He reveals Himself now through speech. Of all things about us, the voice is that which, amid the processes of change, retains its identity most. "Mary." How much Jesus compresses of tenderness and revelation into that one word! Her reply is equally brief — "Rabboni." Here we have a dialogue in two words. When feeling is intense, utterance becomes laconic. "Rabboni" is the word in which Mary's soul expresses alike its love and its wonder. We find here a passionate concentration of feeling. The spirit of loving discipleship is crystallized and perpetuated in that one word. There are times when the whole soul flashes forth and reveals its personality in an exclamation. The first impulse of the soul in the presence of the risen Christ is to worship. It is a moment of infinite surprise. It is the reaction from blank despair to boundless ecstasy. The gospel of the open grave is the story of the Resurrection and the prediction of the Ascension combined. "I ascend!" She had stooped and looked into the grave for the Christ; hence. forth she will look up and wait for her Lord from heaven. Thus is the story grandly progressive, and the past and present are made predictive of the yet more glorious future.

(David Davies.)

I. MARY'S MOURNING, or love's grief expressed (ver. 11).

1. Standing beside the vacant tomb — a hopeful circumstance. How much worse for her had it been tenanted!

2. Lamenting in mistaken sorrow. Most sorrow perhaps of this sort. Christians grieve when they ought to rejoice, e.g., at the graves of those who are for ever with the Lord. Continuing dejected without. Had Mary gone in she would have found it a habitation of angels. "No more a charnel house to fence, the relics of lost innocence," &c. (Keble).

II. MARY'S VISION, or love's attention arrested (vers. 12-14).

1. The advanced guards of the King.(1) Their nature — angels.(2) Their number — two, to correspond with the two robbers.(3) Their appearance — in white, or shining garments (Daniel 10:6; Revelation 10:1).(4) Their situation — at the head and feet, guarding the place from profanation.(5) Their question — to arrest attention and convey sympathy.

2. The person of the Risen Lord.(1) Near her, as always to His people (Matthew 18:20), especially in times of sadness (Luke 24:15).(2) Speaking to her. Christ still notes the tears of His people (Luke 24:17; Hebrews 4:15).(3) Yet unrecognized by her, as He often is by His sorrowing disciples (Luke 24:16).

III. MARY'S MISTAKE, or love's blindness discovered (ver. 15).

1. Great. Already she had committed several blunders — seeking the living among the dead, sorrowing when she ought to have rejoiced, &c., but none so great as mistaking Christ for Joseph's gardener.

2. Natural. The likeliest person at that hour was the gardener, and as to other disciples He may have had "another form."

3. Persistent.

4. Beautiful — love knows no impossibilities; and no passion is so omnipotent as that of a renewed heart for Christ. "At this hour millions would die for him" (Napoleon).

IV. MARY'S AWAKENING, or love's darkness dispelled (ver. 16).

1. The familiar voice. What a wealth of pitying love would be infused into the "Mary" (cf. John 21:15; Luke 22:48; Acts 9:4, 10).

2. The spell broken. No voice but One could say "Mary" like that.

3. The heart relieved — "Rabboni."

V. MARY'S PROHIBITION, or love's ardour restrained (ver. 17).

1. The restriction — "Touch Me not."

2. The reason — "I am not yet ascended."

3. The consolation. The restriction would only be temporary.

VI. MARY'S COMMISSION, or love's service claimed (ver. 17).

1. To whom sent-Christ's brethren.

(1)The condescension in it — God's Son calls them brethren.

(2)The honour in it.

(3)The love in it — they had deserted Him.

2. With what charged — a message concerning —


(2)His ascension.

(3)The Father.

VII. MARY'S OBEDIENCE, or loves willingness expressed (ver. 18).

1. With cheerful resignation.

2. With prompt execution.

3. With faithful repetition.Learn —

1. "Blessed are they that mourn," &c.

2. The eyes of Christ's people are sometimes holden (Luke 24:16).

3. "My sheep hear My voice," &c.

4. Truly our fellowship is with the Father, &c.

5. The ascended Christ is not ashamed to call His people brethren (Hebrews 2:11).

(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)

I. Piety in SADNESS. Notice here —

1. The intensity of her affection.

2. The greatness of her courage. Few of the bravest men care to walk through a churchyard after dark; and rough soldiers were guarding Joseph's tomb.

3. The imperfection of her faith (ver. 15). We often only see a gardener in the sublimest messenger of God.

II. PIETY IN RAPTURE (ver. 16). Note —

1. The rapidity of our mental changes. Mary passed as in a moment from anguish to ecstasy.

2. The power of Christ's voice. Neither Gethsemane, the Cross, or the grave had changed it. Thus by a word Christ can lift the soul into the highest bliss.


1. Christ's merciful identification with His disciples. "My Father and your Father."

2. The heavenward direction which their sympathies should take. Look upward — "I ascend," "Seek those things which are above."

3. The right direction of religious feeling. Action at once expresses and realizes emotion. Go and work.

(D, Thomas, D. D.)

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