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Thinking it was the gardener...
Jn xx 15b NEB

by Rev. Antony W. Ball

The encounter between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ outside His empty tomb on Easter morning is bewilderingly believable.  Something utterly unbelievable is supposed to have happened – a man executed by the Roman authorities has turned up, apparently alive and well, two days later.  Scripture doesn’t seem to be trying to persuade us to believe the story – the Gospel accounts of the resurrection differ and only John mentions this encounter with Mary Magdalene.  According to John, other disciples have been and gone – they’d found the tomb empty (except for angels / youths in white), and had gone back to tell the others, leaving just Mary alone, sobbing inconsolably.  Just think how any good storyteller would handle this: Jesus appears and says her name; she recognizes His voice; she turns around, sees Him and rushes over to hug Him.  Told in that way it would make a wonderful story, but John is not telling a story.  According to John, Mary did not recognize Jesus, even after having a brief conversation with Him…

Jesus said to her, ‘Why are you weeping? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking it was the gardener, she said, ‘If it is you, sir, who removed Him,
tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’

It was not until Jesus said her name in a particular way that was peculiar to Him that she realised Who He was, and even then Jesus stopped her from hugging Him…

Jesus said, ‘Do not cling to me…’

If this were just a story, John could have done so much better, but he is trying to write down what actually happened, as Mary had described it to him.  We can imagine Mary’s embarrassment as she told John “I didn’t even recognize Him – I thought He was just a gardener” and instead of leaving out that detail (which doesn’t help the story) John faithfully recorded it.

We each encounter Jesus – in a whole variety of different ways – if we’re prepared to meet Him.  He may act through someone else: someone who can help us or someone who needs help from us.  He may implant ideas into our minds or feelings into our emotions.  He may speak to us through scripture or sermons, or even through dreams or visions.  Being prepared to meet Him involves living with Him by consciously, constantly keeping Him in our minds so that He never has to force Himself on us against our will.  Most important of all, perhaps, is ‘keeping in touch’ with Him through regular, daily prayer – not just formally at set times but as part of that ‘living with Him’ process by which we instinctively thank Him for good things as they happen and seek His help or comfort with bad things.  Mary Magdalene had lived with Him for years – may we come to share her experience..

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Isleworth Congregational Church - Twickenham Road - Isleworth - Middlesex - TW7 7EU - United Kingdom

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