Mary Magdalene “stood weeping outside the tomb” (John 19.11). Her tears were not just because Jesus was dead, but rather because his body had disappeared. The removal of a body from the tomb was a form of desecration – it was an outrageous abuse of the dead (see 1 Sam 31.9-13). In this context Mary’s tears are understandable – they are not to be portrayed as the tears of some ‘hysterical’ woman. They are rather the tears of a woman who truly loved Jesus.
In the midst of her crying she stooped to “look into the tomb” (John 19.11). There she “saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus’ body had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet”, guarding as it were the place where Jesus had lain. If Mary could but have realised, the angels were witnesses that God has been at work. But Mary did not seem to take particular note of their heavenly origin. In response to their question, “Why are you weeping”, she replied: “They have taken away my Lord away, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 19.13). The thought of God’s intervention does not cross her mind. Instead she was overwhelmed by her sense of loss. The Lord to whom she was so attached (“my Lord”) is missing.
Mary shed tears of unbelief. The empty tomb, which to Christians down through the centuries has been a source of joy and of assurance, was to Mary a cause of grief. In her bewilderment only one explanation came to mind: some enemies of Jesus must have stolen the body. If only she had reflected a little more deeply. If only she had looked a little more closely. But Mary wept, and in a weeping is a picture of all who believe only in a dead Christ. Where there is no belief in the risen Christ, there is no joy. Nor is there any hope (see 1 Thess 4.13). There are only tears.
Mary shed tears of love. She wept because she loved her Lord so dearly. Why was the Lord so special to Mary? Luke 8.2 and Mark 16.9 give the clue. Jesus had freed her from “seven demons” and in doing so he had brought an end to what must have been a ‘hell-on-earth existence’. Jesus had restored to Mary her own personality and made her whole. No wonder she loved him. She owed her all to him. Mary presents a picture of true love for Jesus; a love which is not to be confused with sentimentalism or emotionalism. Her love challenges us all. How much do we love Jesus? We may not have been freed from demon-possession, but we have been freed from the iron grip of sin and death. Jesus went through hell that we might go to heaven. How much do we love Jesus in return?
Mary eventually shed tears of joy. For as she wept in her grief, Jesus came to her. Mary may have found the empty tomb, but Jesus found her. He called her by name. The tears of grief were replaced by tears of joy. For Mary the words of the Psalmist came true: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30.5: see also Psalm 126.5) Mary presents a picture of the joy that can be known by those who encounter the Risen Lord. For the Lord who rose, is the Lord who is with us. The life he offered, he offers still today. “He will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces….It will be said on that day, ‘Lo this is our God; we have waited for him so that he might save us…. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25.7-9)