George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Love and Grief
But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping...she turned herself back and saw Jesus standing .... Jesus saith unto her, Mary--Joh 20:11, Joh 20:14, Joh 20:16
In this beautiful and ever memorable incident I wish first to dwell on Mary's grief, trying to make plain to you the greatness of that grief; and the first glimpse we get into its deeps is that Mary shows no wonder at the angels. At all the crises of the life of Christ we read of angels. We read of them at His birth, His temptation, and His agony. At these great moments His attendant bodyguard breaks through the veil, as it were, and becomes visible. And now in this great hour of hard-won victory, when death, the last great enemy, is beaten, there is a vision of angels in the tomb. There are two of them, in the tenderness of God, who would not send one alone to a dark sepulchre. They are clothed in white, the uniform of heaven; they are seated, as in the calm of glory. Yet Mary, stooping down and peering in and catching a glimpse of these beings more than mortal, has not a fear and scarce a thought to give them, she is so brokenhearted for her Lord. There is nothing more absorbing than great grief. It banishes fear, surprise, dismay, astonishment, and from the utter absence of all such feelings here, we learn how terrible was Mary's grief.
The same intensity is manifest again when we notice how her grief embraced her world. Turning round in the dim dawn, she saw a man, and she supposed that it had been the gardener. Now she had never seen the gardener before; he was a stranger to her and she to him. The circle that he moved in was not hers; he had his wife and children, his home and joys and sorrows. Yet she offers no explanation or apology; never mentions the name of Christ, just talks of Him--her grief is so overpowering that she cannot conceive that others should remain indifferent in her sorrow. I think that many of us have had times when our feeling was akin to that of Mary. In seasons of overwhelming sorrow--when the golden bowl is broken--the noisy life out in the streets is like an insult. It is incredible how others should be laughing and going about their work with eager hearts, when for us there is not a star within the sky and not a sound of music in the lute. Now of course that is an unreasonable mood, and we soon outgrow it if we are strong in God. But whether reasonable or unreasonable, it is human--the sign and symbol of overwhelming grief. And it is when we see Mary so absorbed that everyone she meets must know her sorrow, that we realize her womanly despair at the loss of her Savior and her Lord.
Her Grief Made Her Blind
Then, too, her grief had made her blind. That also reveals the depth of her dismay. She heard the sound of a footfall, and there was Jesus standing, but Mary did not know that it was Jesus. Now there were many things to prevent that recognition; there was the dim and dusky light of early morning. There was the change that had passed upon the form of Christ now that He was risen in triumph from the grave. But the deepest cause was not in the morning light; the deepest cause was not in the face of Jesus; the deepest cause was in the heart of Mary. I have heard mourners gathered at a funeral say afterwards, "I could not tell you who was there." All the great passions in their full intensity have got a certain blinding power about them. But neither love nor hate nor jealousy nor anger is more effectual in sealing up the eyes than is the pressure of overwhelming grief. So she turned herself round when she heard the quiet footfall. And Jesus was there, and she knew not it was He. Does that tell you that Jesus Christ was changed? It tells me also that Mary was brokenhearted.
And the strange thing is that had she only known it, the cause of her grief was to be the joy of ages. It was for an absent Lord that she was weeping, yet on that absence Christendom is built. "They have taken away my Lord," said Mary; "let me but find His body and I shall be happy." But supposing she had found it, and been happy, have you ever thought what that would have involved?-no resurrection, no sending of the Spirit, no Gospel, no Christendom, no heaven. And so I learn that in our deepest griefs may lie the secret of our richest joys, that there may be "a budding morrow in midnight." It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth. That does not mean it is better to be melancholy. The evangel of Christ is tidings of great joy, and no one has such a right to be glad as a true Christian. It means that, like Mary, in our sorest grief we may light on that which all the world is seeking, and that everything may be radiant ever after because of the one thing that caused our tears.
So far, then, on the depth of Mary's grief. Now let us turn to the depth of Mary's love. And how intensely she loved may be most surely gathered from her refusal to believe that He was lost. "Then the disciples went away to their own homes": there was nothing more to be done; the grave was empty. They had examined the tomb and seen the napkin there; nothing was to be gained by aimless waiting. But Mary, though she knew what they had seen and had not a particle more of hope than they--Mary could not tear herself away, but stood without at the sepulchre weeping. There is a kind of love that faces facts, and it is a noble and courageous love. It opens its eyes wide to dark realities and bowing the head it says, "I must accept them." But there is an agony of love that does not act so; it hopes against hope and beats against all evidence. It is only women who can love like that, and it was a love like that which inspired Mary. No one will ever doubt John's love to Jesus. No one will ever doubt the love of Simon. "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? .... Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." But the fact remains that on that Easter morning Peter and John went to their homes again, and only a woman lingered by the grave. I have not the least doubt that they urged her to go with them. They had been too long with Jesus not to be true gentlemen. It was cold and raw there, and the grass was wet, and it was dangerous for a woman with these Roman soldiers. But Mary simply replied, "I cannot go." She must linger and watch in the teeth of all the facts. And I say that measured by a test like that, there is not a disciple who can match the love of Mary.
Mary's Love Brought Glad Obedience
The depth of Mary's love is also seen in her instant and glad obedience to her Lord. She would have flung herself upon His breast in her great joy, but Jesus said to her swiftly, "Touch me not." You remember what Christ said when He appeared to Thomas? "Thomas, reach hither thy hand, and feel my wounds." To that disciple, torn with the stress of doubt, says the risen Savior, "Come and touch me." But to Mary whose doubts had all been scattered and who was filled with the wild joy of recognition, the Christ who said to Thomas, "Come and touch me," said very swiftly and imperiously, "Touch me not." What He meant was, "Things are all different now. You are to walk by faith and not by sight now. Do not think that My death is but a moment's break and that the former life will be resumed. I ascend to the Father--old things have passed away--do not try to revive or recall these old relationships. Touch Me not, but go unto My brethren--tell them I am going home to God." That must have been a bitter disappointment to a heart so ardent and so intense as Mary's. The one thing she wanted was to be with Christ, yet that was the one thing which He denied her. And it is when I read how sweetly she obeyed, renouncing her own will to do Christ's bidding, it is then I realize how deep and true was the love of Mary for her Savior. There is a love that is loud in passionate protestations, but "methinks the lady doth protest too much." Mary says little--does not protest at all--one word "Rabboni," and then her Master's bidding. And it is in that immediate obedience, which cut at the very root of all her joy, that he that hath eyes to see and ears to hear can gauge the height and depth of Mary's love.
Christ's Revelation to Mary
In the last place, a word or two upon the revelation of the Lord to Mary. The unceasing wonder of it all is this, that to her first He should have shown Himself. Simon Peter had been at the tomb that morning, and "on this rock," said Jesus, "I will build my church." John had been at the sepulchre that morning--the disciple who had leaned upon Christ's bosom; yet neither to John nor to Peter had there been a whisper--no moving of pierced feet across the garden--all that was kept for a woman who had been a sinner and out of whom there had been cast seven devils. It is very notable that the first word of Christ after He had risen from the dead was Woman. "Woman, why weepest thou?" These are the first words which fell from the lips of Christ when He arose. And they tell us that though everything seemed different, yet there was one thing which death has failed to alter, and that is the eyes of Christ for those who love Him and the sympathy of Christ for those who weep. You remember how, when Christ was in the wilderness, He was tempted to cast Himself down from the Temple. He was tempted to reveal Himself in startling fashion as the Jews expected that Messiah would. But Christ resisted that spectacular temptation and showed Himself quietly to kindred hearts; and now after the grave has clone its work, He is the very same Jesus as had His home in Nazareth. There are some arguments for the resurrection of the Lord which I confess do not appeal to me. They are too elaborate and metaphysical; they always leave some loophole of escape. But there is one argument that is irresistible, and to me is overwhelming in its artless evidence, and that is the argument of this sweet incident. I could have believed the story was a myth if Christ had shown Himself upon the Temple steps. Had he appeared to Pilate and said, "Behold the Man," I could have believed it was an idle story. But that He should pass by Pilate and the people, and His mother and John and James and Simon Peter, that He should show Himself first and foremost to a woman who had nothing to her credit but her love, I tell you that even the genius of a Shakespeare could never have conceived a scene like that. The strange thing is that what Christ did that morning, He has been constantly doing ever since. The first to see Him in all His power and love have been the very last the world expected. Do not pride yourself on your apostolate. There are things that you may miss for all your privileges. And some poor Magdalene, to whom you send the missionary, may be the first to hear the footfall on the grass.
And then Christ made Himself known by a single word. One word was enough when it was the woman's name. Jesus saith unto her, "Mary," and she turned herself and saith unto Him, "Rabboni." When Joseph made himself known unto his brethren, he stood in their midst and said to them, "I am Joseph." There are times when Jesus acts as Joseph did and lifting up His voice cries, "I am Christ." But far more often when He reveals Himself, the first word that we hear is like this garden voice. It is not "I am Christ" that we first hear; the first word that we hear is "Thou art Mary." I mean by that, that we are drawn to Christ by the deep and restful sense that we are known. Here is a Man who understands us thoroughly, who knows what we most need and what we crave for. And it is in response to that--which is the Gospel call--that we turn our back on the grave as Mary did to find at our side One who has conquered death and who lives to be our Friend forevermore.
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