Recognizing angels and God
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).”
—John 20: 11-17
My mind and my heart are flooded with thoughts about this Easter as I am reading the works of others and have new images from old readings like this one about the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. Bishop Jake Owensby of Western Louisiana suggests in his Easter blog this year “that Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus because “She is looking right at the risen Christ.. and yet she sees nobody. For Mary Magdalene the gardener is a nobody.” Owensby’s theme is that our vocation as people of the resurrection is to “find the risen Christ in every body, no matter what their physical appearance.” Christ is no longer in one body but in each and every one of us. No exceptions.
Frederick Buechner also speaks to this theme in The Faces of Jesus. Buechner writes that “it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence.”2
One more insight into Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb. Angels speak to her. There is no recognition that this is an awe filled moment. Perhaps she sees and speaks to angels all the time, but if we try to put ourselves into the scene, we may have been more like the other Mary at the annunciation, full of fear or astonishment or wonder. My best guess if I stay in the scene with Mary Magdalene that she may not recognize them as angels. We are reminded one more time about the difficulty in recognizing the Christ in our neighbor as well as the angels in our life who come to guide us at formidable times.
Mary Magdalene must have recognized all this later, as is often our case. Otherwise we would not know her story.
1Jake Owensby, “Every Body is Somebody,” Looking for God in Messy Places, Jakeowensby.com, April 19, 2019.
2 Frederick Buechner “The Cross as the crossroads of eternity and time,” in The Faces of Jesus (Paraclete 2005), p. 87.