Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

As you may recall from “Following John,” Easter reconfigures time and space. The new time? It is the eternal Sabbath, the Eighth Day; it is resurrection time. The new space? It is Paradise; it is resurrection space.

Mary Magdalene is in Paradise, in the Garden of Eden. But she doesn’t know it yet, for it is still dark (John 20:1). She saw the empty tomb and ran to Peter and John. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (20:2). It is still dark in Mary’s heart.

We identify with Mary, probably more so than with John. John saw and believed (20:8); that’s all it took for him. Mary is different. She stands by the tomb, stoops to look inside, and sees two angels sitting there. Convinced her Lord is gone, she weeps. We are more like Mary, I suspect. We seek him, but often find him not.

Who is Mary? She is from Magdala, a fishing town on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus drove seven demons out of her, and then she travelled with him, along with the disciples and the other women, caring for his needs (Luke 8:1–3). She stayed with him until the very end, looking on as he died on the cross (Mark 15:40). Mary has come to love her Lord and has seen his life come to an end.

But Mary is also the Shulammite of the Song of Songs:

Upon my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
“I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me,
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (Song 3:1–3)

Like the Shulammite, Mary seeks and looks everywhere for her beloved. “Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its choicest fruits,” she calls (4:16). How does Jesus, her groom, respond? “I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gather my myrrh with my spice” (5:1). He gathered no less than 75 pounds of it, the previous chapter of John’s Gospel tells us (John 19:39). This groom is perfumed unlike any other groom before.

“O my dove,” she calls, “in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely” (Song 2:14). Mary stoops down, looks into the clefts of the rock, then cries in despair to the angels, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13).

Then she turns around and sees Jesus, but she does not know that it is him (20:14). “Sir,” she calls out, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him” (10:15). “Mary,” Jesus says to her. She turns around again (20:16). “Your voice is sweet and your face is comely.” “Rabboni! Teacher!” she calls out. Now she hears; she follows him, for she knows his voice (cf. 10:4).

“Turn around, turn around, O Shulammite, turn around, turn around, that we may look upon you” (Song 6:13). Mary, the Shulammite, turns around to Jesus. In his voice and face, she recognizes her husband, her Lord. Jesus is the groom; we ourselves are Mary, the Shulammite. Her grief is our grief, her tears our tears, and her despair our despair.

Let’s ask the question once more: Who is Mary? We know the time, and we know the place. The time is the eternal Sabbath; the place is Paradise. Who is this woman walking in the Garden of Eden, then, but Eve herself?

Two angels stand guard in Paradise—one at the head, one at the feet, where Jesus had lain (John 20:12). But they do not brandish a flaming sword, keeping Mary out. Instead, they gently welcome her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Then the gardener himself shows up. “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Why, indeed? “She is called Woman, since she was taken out of Man” (cf. Gen. 2:23)—the one who just woke up from a deep sleep of death (cf. 2:21). Woman, you are in the garden. The gardener is right behind you, and he is calling you. Why are you weeping?

Turn around, woman! “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (2:15). It is Adam! It is the gardener!

Mary, Eve—either name will do—is still confused. “Lord, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 19:15). Then he names her, like Adam once named his wife. “Mary,” he says. And Mary thinks: “Your voice is sweet, and your face is comely.” It has taken Mary a long time, but she has turned around in love. She has become a believer. Mary’s faith is resurrection faith.

Recall what Jesus said to Mary: “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (19:17). This is the one place in the story where things are different for us than for Mary. Mary may not hold Jesus, for he has “not yet ascended to the Father.” But where Mary looked ahead, we look back. Jesus has ascended. We, his bride, hold on to him, united to him in faith. Every Eighth Day, he comes to us in the preaching of the gospel; every Sunday morning in the breaking of the bread.

When we walk into church and the doors close behind us, we enter into heaven. Eastertide begins; time and space are reconfigured. It is the Eighth Day; we are in Paradise. Eve, the Shulammite, Mary Magdalene—we all join Jesus at the altar. Bread and wine show up. It’s a marriage supper. Our groom, our Lord, unites himself to us, his bride.

Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed
with fine linen, bright and pure—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev. 19:6–8)

Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Professor in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.

First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

Click here to make a donation.

Click here to subscribe to First Things.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles