But, although these things were in principle present in Mary’s heart, she did not at that moment perceive the pledge of hope contained in them. Her grief was too profound to leave room for introspection. It even hid from her vision the objective evidence of the resurrection that lay around her. Worse than this, she turned what was intended to help her into an additional reason for unbelief. But who of us shall blame her? Have not we ourselves under as favorable circumstances made the mistake of nourishing our unbelief on what was meant to be food for our faith? Do we not all remember occasions when we stood outside the grave of our hopes weeping, and did not perceive the hand stretched out to prepare us by the very thing we interpreted as sorrow for a higher joy? From Mary’s experience let us learn to do better. What the Lord expects from us at such seasons is not to abandon ourselves to unreasoning sorrow, but trustingly to look sorrow in the face, to scan its features, to search for the help and hope, which, as surely as God is our Father, must be there. In such trials there can be no comfort for us so long as we stand outside weeping. If only we will take the courage to fix our gaze deliberately upon the stern countenance of grief, and enter unafraid into the darkest recesses of our trouble, we shall find the terror gone, because the Lord has been there before us, and, coming out again, has left the place transfigured, making out of it by the grace of his resurrection a house of life, the very gate of heaven.
This was just what happened to Mary. Not forever could she stand weeping, forgetful of what went on around her. “As she wept she looked into the tomb, and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” It was a step in the right direction that she roused herself from her inaction. Still, what strikes us as most characteristic in this statement is its implying that even the vision of angels did not sufficiently impress her to raise the question, to what the appearance of these celestial messengers might be due. Probably this was the first time she had come in direct contact with the supernatural in that particular form. The place was doubtless charged with the atmosphere of mystery and wonder angels bring with themselves when entering into our world of sense. And yet no tremor seems to have run through her, no feeling of awe to have made her draw back. A greater blindness to fact is here than that which made her miss the sign of the empty grave. What more convincing evidence of the truth of the resurrection could have been offered than the presence of these two angels, silently, reverently, majestically sitting where the body of Jesus had lain? Placed like the Cherubim on the mercy-seat, they covered between themselves the spot where the Lord had reposed, and flooded it with celestial glory. It needed no voice of theirs to proclaim that here death had been swallowed up in victory. Ever since the angels descended into this tomb the symbolism of burial has been radically changed. From this moment onward every last resting-place where the bodies of believers are laid is a furrow in that great harvest field of Christ whence heaven draws upward into light each seed sunk into it, whence Christ himself was raised, the first fruits of them that sleep.
Let us not overlook, however, that Mary’s disregard of the angels revealed in a most striking form something good also, to-wit: her intense preoccupation with the one thought of finding the Lord. For Him she had been looking into the tomb. He not being there, it was empty to her view, though filled with angelic glory. She would have turned aside without speaking, had not the angels of their own accord spoken to her: “Woman, why weepest thou?” These words were meant as an expression of sympathy quite natural in beings wont to rejoice over repenting sinners. But in this question there is at the same time a note of wonder at the fact that she should be weeping at all. To the mind of the angels the resurrection was so real, so self-evident, that they could scarcely understand how to her it could be otherwise. They felt, as it were, the discord between the songs of joy with which their own world was jubilant, and this sound of weeping coming out of a world of darkness and despair. “Woman, why weepest thou?” Tears would be called for indeed, hadst thou found Him in the tomb, but not at a time like this, when heaven and earth unite in announcing: He is risen in glory, the King of life!
Mary’s answer to the angels shows that neither their sympathy nor their wonder had succeeded in piercing her sorrow. “She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” These are almost the identical words in which she had informed Peter and John of her discovery of the empty tomb. Still a slight change appears. To the Apostles she had said “the Lord” and “we know not.” To the angels it is: “my Lord” and “I know not.” In this is revealed once more her intense sense of proprietorship in Jesus. In that sense the angels could not have appropriated Him for themselves. They might hail Him as their matchless King, but to Mary He was even more than this, her Lord, her Savior, the One who had sought and saved and owned her in her sins.
Geerhardus Vos | Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI: The Reformed Press 1922), 94–96
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