Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:15-16)
In Turkey, Sufi mystics called whirling Dervishes, wearing white cassocks with immense skirts, perform a spinning dance to induce a trance-like state that will bring their souls into contact with the Divine. They base this practice on a line in their scriptures which says, “Everywhere you turn is the face of God.” They take a metaphor about God’s omnipresence and make it into a literal call to twirl. In the Easter passage in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene turns to the resurrected Jesus. Her literal turning can be interpreted as a metaphor for conversion.
Martin E. Marty explains the meaning of conversion: “We recall that the Hebrew word for ‘convert’ is shub, meaning to ‘turn back’ to ‘return,’ or that the Greek is metanoia, which also implies a 180-degree turning. Both indicate the involvement of the heart and not just the head—though conversion includes a change of mind or intellectual dimension.”
When Mary came to the tomb that morning while darkness hung over Jerusalem like a thick fog, she was not expecting to meet Jesus alive. Mary was a devoted disciple of Jesus, but like The Twelve she had lost hope. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, they did. Seeing the empty tomb, Mary assumed someone had robbed Jesus’ grave; they had stolen the body. The thought of the resurrection hadn’t crossed her frantic mind.
Mary thinks the man she’s talking to is the gardener. She says to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” As if she all alone is going to carry the dead weight of a full grown man! Love motivates us to attempt the impossible. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” At that moment, John tells us, “she turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” This turning was her conversion—her moment of faith. She turned from not-seeing to seeing, from confusion to recognition, from unbelief to belief, from despair to joy.
Mary was so overjoyed after she turned to Jesus that she had to tell others. So she went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Turning to Jesus changes you and you want to tell others what you’ve experienced. It’s like falling in love. When I was in college I had a roommate from Cambodia named Bun. He was a quiet and humble man. He rarely spoke in class. When he fell in love with a Cambodian girl named Angela, all of that changed. I remember one day he brought a boom box to class and before the lecture began he asked everyone to listen as he played a tape of his girlfriend singing in Cambodian. It sounded awful to my Western ears but he was in heaven. His experience with Angela changed him and he wanted to tell everyone. It’s the same with conversion. When Jesus changes your heart, you want to tell everyone.
I’m glad that Mary and the disciples told others about seeing the resurrected Jesus. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t know about it. And I’m glad someone told me about what it means to turn to Jesus. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t know about it. Now I’ve told you, and it’s your turn.
Easter can be a new beginning for you, if you turn to Jesus today.