How much can be said in a word?
Most preachers worth their salt have preached one or two sermons about the greatest word ever spoken. Scripture records that, as he hung on the cross (our cross!), Jesus powerfully proclaimed, “It is finished!” In Greek, this was just one word, but what a word. With that one word, our Savior pronounced the fulfillment of His mission to save, he pronounced our debt paid, he pronounced our sins forgiven, our death defeated, our hell emptied. What a word indeed.
A couple days later, he was alive again. With an open tomb as the final symbol of his triumphant death, what would the king do? Where would he go? He could march upon Jerusalem and demand obedience and worship. He could ascend directly to heaven, hearing the rightful joy of the angels.
But he stayed for a while in that garden, perhaps to pray. Without revealing himself to the apostles who came to investigate, he chose to appear first to his friend Mary Magdalene.
Says Geerhardus Vos:
Among all the voices that hailed his triumph no voice appealed to him like this voice of weeping in the garden. The first appearance of the risen Lord was given to Mary for no other reason than that she needed him first and needed him most. And what more appropriate beginning could have been set for his ministry of glory than this very act? Nothing could better convince us that in his exalted state he retains for us the same tender sympathy, the same individual affection as he showed during the days of his flesh.
The conversation that ensued was brief but more full of life than any other conversation in human history. Consider Mary’s grief, pouring her heart out to this gardener. Did she recognize him a little, perhaps wondering why this gardener looked like her murdered Savior? She had seen the open tomb, conversed with the attending angels, and now stood face to face with Jesus himself, but her grief was so great that it prevented her from hearing these three witnesses. She needed something more.
And so Jesus spoke what may be the second greatest word ever: “Mary.”
She knew that voice. It was simultaneously the voice of her dearest friend and the voice that created and sustains every living thing. It was a voice that creates life with every word. And it spoke her name, awakening hope in her despairing soul, bringing light out of darkness, once again creating life out of a formless void.
It happened all in a moment, and by a simple word, and yet in this one moment Mary’s world was changed for her. She had in that instant made the transition from hopelessness because Jesus was absent, to fullness of joy because Christ was there.
The conversation was just as simple from her side: “Rabboni!” A cry of faith, a statement of belief in his resurrection, a promise of life-wide dedication to him, an affirmation that she is his and he is hers. She rushes to take hold of him (of course she would! What else would she do?), but he startles her: “Don’t cling to me.” What seems like rejection is another source of joy: “Don’t cling to me now because I’m about to ascend and send you my Holy Spirit. With him beside you, you will never have to say goodbye to me again.”
Let’s rejoice more in the tenderness of our Savior, who is drawn more toward a weeping woman than the praises of angels.
Let’s praise more the power of his voice, and delight to hear him speak our name as one of his.
Let’s be amazed again that, through the Spirit, we can cling to our ascended Lord without ever letting go.
This is mostly a plea to get you to read Geerhardus Vos’ sermon, “Rabboni.” It may be my favorite sermon ever.
If you’d like a lesser version, you can listen to my recent sermon on the same passage. With apologies to the great Dr. Vos from whom I learned much in preparation.