“Saying this, she turned back and saw Jesus standing but she did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ She thought that he was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you took him away, tell me where you have laid him; I will take him out.”
Now, many of us know this story well, but imagine for a moment that this is the first time you are hearing this story told. How desperate must Mary be? How confused and illogical is she acting? Think about it, even apart from the fact that this is the second time she has seen the angels and that she has already seen the risen Christ (but briefly) along the road, she is still searching for his body. And then, when she meets the man she supposes to be the gardener, she offers to carry Jesus’ body away. Peter and John have already left, how is she going to move Jesus’ dead body on her own?
I point this out not to poke fun at Mary, but to do just the opposite. She is distraught and she is being ravaged by her grief. Her devotion to Christ remains and she is still willing and ready to do anything to serve her master when the others have gone their separate ways largely still making sense of the events of the last few days (even if it meant taking his body somewhere to care for it). How easy it is for our devotion to wane when things do not match or meet our personal expectations. And though she is not thinking clearly in her grief (which of us does!), Mary sets the bar for us as to what devotion is to look like.
One of the curious elements of this passage deals with the fact that when Jesus appears, Mary does not recognize him right away. We see this again with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. There is a sense, with the resurrected body of Christ, that people do not recognize him until he is ready to be recognized. Or perhaps, to put it another way, we are incapable of recognizing him until he opens our eyes to do so. This is much the same as it was with the parables — no one can understand them unless the Holy Spirit were to open their eyes to the understanding. This is to leave the spiritually blind in their blindness and it is to give spiritual sight to the elect. It is God’s doing, not ours. The same holds true with recognizing the resurrected Christ.
The bottom line is that there is no faith to believe unless God first gives it — he initiates, we do not. And, since God initiates, it is God who determines in whom he initiates the work of salvation and of spiritual sight. Soon, he opens the eyes of Mary; in his time, he opens the eyes of all his elect. There is a praise song that goes, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord…” Perhaps a better way of singing it would be to sing: “Open the eyes of my faith, Lord…”