Saturday, May 12, 2012

Marcus Loane on Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene

Sir Marcus Loane, (1911-2009) was the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney from 1966 to 1982 and Primate of Australia from 1978 to 1982. He spent nearly all his ministry in the Diocese of Sydney except for two years during World War II when he was an army chaplain in New Guinea. I have said before how a "literary hack" like me is reduced to wonder just by his turn of phrase. He was an artist who painted with the English language, a real wordsmith, precise and poetic at the same time. I loved hearing him preach. Indeed, I remember - as if it were yesterday - the sermon he gave at my Confirmation when he was still an assistant bishop. An old fashioned evangelical, his dislike of Anglo-Catholicism failed to diminish his real fellowship with and respect for those individual Anglo-Catholics he felt loved the Lord and preached the Gospel. The following is from his book Jesus Himself: The Story of the Resurrection

‘Jesus said to her, “Mary”’ (John 20:16) 

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one 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.’  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ 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 Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ — and that he had said these things to her." (John 20:11-18) 

English literature does not often excel the chaste beauty of this passage in language and feeling. Sentence follows sentence with scarcely a connecting particle until it reaches the end. 

Peter and John had left the tomb and the other women had already gone their way. But Mary had followed the two men back to the garden where she lingered near the tomb. The shock of that death on the cross had plunged her into a grief that was close to despair. Her tears were the only outlet for a sorrow that lay too deep for words. ‘But ... as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb’ (John 20:11). Her eyes may have been dim with tears, but she soon saw that she was not alone. It was not the grave-clothes nor the head-cloth on that cold ledge which held her gaze: it was the two angels in white, one at the head and one at the foot of that ledge where the body had lain. They had appeared to the other women after Mary had run on her errand to Peter and John; neither Peter nor John had seen them, but Mary at once became aware of their presence. 

Mary looked at them in silent contemplation: it was they who broke the silence: ‘They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?’” (20:13). A gentle query. They did not tell her what they had told the other women, but they spoke with gentle understanding. ‘Woman’, they said: that was neither cold nor aloof, but a term of courtesy and dignity. But she felt no wonder at the sight of angel faces nor the sound of angel voices: she was far too obsessed with grief because she did not know what had become of his body. She could only respond with a troubled repetition of her words to Peter and John (cf. 20:2). ‘She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’” (20:13). 

Those words had gone round and round in her mind until she could think of nothing else. There were only two slight variations, but they were not without significance. Now she spoke of my Lord rather than of the Lord, and she used the pronoun I rather than we: she was blind with sorrow; her loss was so personal that all thought of others was forgotten. 

That brief exchange came to an end, as a conversation which had nothing further to yield: ‘Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing’ (20:14). She had stooped down; then she straightened herself; now she turned around to the garden. What made her turn at that precise moment? The Greek text is emphatic. It was not the aimless movement of one whom the angels could not impress. Had she heard a muffled footfall? Had she even seen a fleeting shadow? Chrysostom imagined that some gesture on the part of the two angels caused her to turn around. It may have been so: nothing would have been more real or life-like. 

And turn she did: she turned right round; it brought her face to face with Jesus. Her eyes would look into his eyes: she saw him in his risen glory: but ‘she did not know that it was Jesus’ (20:14). One who had seen angels without alarm saw him as a stranger without concern; recognition failed her because she was in search of one who was alive, as if he were still dead. 

Mary had heard the first words to fall from the lips of the risen Saviour: ‘Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” (20:15). He did not wait to see if she would unfold her grief to him: he simply spoke to her as the angels had done. But he spoke in a way that went far beyond a mere expression of sympathy. His first gentle query was identical with that of the angels, but the next words went much further. 

But how could a stranger have known the real nature of her secret longing? She offered no answer to his question because a new thought had taken hold of her mind. ‘Sir’, she said, ‘if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him’ (20:15). Perhaps he was the keeper of the garden; perhaps he knew what had happened. Perhaps he had himself moved the body elsewhere once the Sabbath was past. The pronoun she employed simply assumed that he knew what she meant. Hers was only the strength of a woman, but if she could find him, she would ‘take him away’ (20:15). 

The Lord Jesus had time to mark her tears and read her mind before he spoke again. ‘Jesus said to her, “Mary”’ (20:16); only one word, but that word would tell her all she needed to know. He spoke in the familiar dialect of Nazareth and Galilee to awaken her memory; and he called her Mariam, which was the equivalent of the Greek Maria (see 19:25). But there was more, for the very accent of his voice had survived the pains of mortality and death: that name, spoken with that accent, was a word of exceeding tenderness. He had addressed her before as Woman, a term of respect such as any man might use. But that was like the voice of a stranger and it awoke no special response. Mariam was like the voice of a shepherd who knows his sheep and calls each one by name. Not a glimmer of hope had shone in her soul only a moment or two before. But the tender longing and the vivid accent in that word would tell her as nothing else could do who it was that spoke: for who else could call her by her name in her own native patois as he did now? 

Mary had begun to turn away when his voice caught her and made her turn again: 

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher) (20:16). 

The word Woman had failed to evoke anything more than the word Sir in reply (20:15). But her own name, Mary, spoke to her heart and called forth her ardent cry, Rabboni. Like him she spoke in the familiar dialect of Magdala and Galilee as in the days of old: and the Evangelist was careful to give the Greek equivalent for her form of address. The strict meaning of that vernacular term Rabboni was the word Teacher or Master, but that homely form of address was more personal than the ordinary term Rabbi. It was the only time this word was used as a form of address to him after that first resurrection morning, no doubt because it lacked the full sense of lordship which was afterwards understood. But it was the cry of one who had been rescued from the edge of despair, and she poured out all the pent-up love in her heart in that cry of rapture.


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