He spoke her name.
Twice that I can think of in scripture, God calls out to His created people in a garden. To the first people (shameful and guilty hiding like children from All-Seeing God) “Where are you?” and He asks weeping Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” There is a clear difference of circumstance, as Adam and Eve suffered for their own rebellion against loving God, while Mary Magdalene bitterly wept in grief, though perhaps her trust had faltered. I wonder if you’re suffering because you’ve knowingly gone your own way believing the wicked one was right, that God is withholding good from you, so you’ll go seek it on your own good outside of God. I wonder if your grief is that of profound loss like Mary, though your trust is shaky. I wonder if you suffer now at the hands of another person. I wonder if your reason for suffering is entirely a mystery to you.
Jesus had told his followers this would happen. Three times he foretold his death and resurrection “For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise,” Luke 18: 32-33. Wasn’t that mind-blowing enough to stop them for a minute on a dusty road, “Jesus, can you clear that one up for us?” Nope, it wasn’t. “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said,” Luke 18:34. Would God have such mysterious purposes as to have the Son of Man foretell his own death and at the same time obscure its meaning? This conversation was private among his twelve, so I’m not exactly sure what Mary Magdalene had understood when her dear Jesus died so violently.
My first inclination to grief is scolding my own soul for lack of belief. Don’t I know God is good? Always, ever, and only good? He promises! “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 When we have the assurance of belonging to Christ, we have also the assurance that any suffering, caused by sin or weakness or none of our own doing, is forced by God to do good to us. Why the struggle? True that my faith lacks often. But praise be to God that because He loves me with the same love of Christ, any scolding for lack of faith was satisfied on the cross. He is not angry toward me.
Neither does he scold Mary, chastise her for not believing, disappointed in her. Though he certainly has called people out for the smallness of their faith before. He loves her so kindly, doesn’t he? He engages her to draw out her longing for him. Of course he knows why she is weeping, whom she is seeking. Mary responds in plead for what remains of Jesus’ body so she can love him the best she knows how. She sits in deep despair. He holds the truth that will turn her countenance in an instant, into glorious hope. He mysteriously veiled himself for a time, and how did he call her gaze to himself?
He said her name.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary,’”
Do you believe God knows your name? If you are a daughter of God Almighty through Jesus Christ (what wild grace!), then believe it: you belong to Him. We are the sheep of his pasture, Psalm 100:3. He calls his own sheep by name, John 10:3.
His comfort to Mary was his presence, even though his identity was first concealed. He was with her, watched her as she wept, conversed with her, knew the moment of her joy was coming, and he pulled back the veil of his resurrected self by saying her name.
The day after I knew that God had closed the door on our life in Japan, I wept all day sitting in our tatami room. Wept for days before then and months after too. It was a historically bad rainy season in Shizuoka, but the weather just served to mirror my own heart. I couldn’t even get the words out, “I think God is closing the door for us to be here.” I sobbed.
Was this my own doing? Why the closed door when we were willing to be here? Why was He still opening the door for other people? What had been my blind spots? Where did this all go so wrong? What is so innately wrong with me that this is where my life is? God does not owe me an answer, neither would an answer necessarily be satisfying. The questions echo unanswered in my soul years later. But He brought this very passage to mind and I believed His nearness to me again. Right there in my tears, the eyes of my heart found quiet peace in His resurrected presence.
Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus. You are free to weep for your loss, to struggle in the mystery and broken ways of this world, yet never for a moment left alone in darkness. You are known by name by the God who spoke the universe into being. He is your comforting presence today and your coming joy for tomorrow.