It is important to emphasize that Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. This truth is likely a significant reason why the apostles and early church gathered together for worship on Sunday (e.g., Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:1,2).
Jesus did not appear to Mary until after: (1) She had initially left the tomb to go tell Peter and John that Jesus' body had been moved (she assumed such mistakenly since the stone had been moved), (2) Peter and John ran to the empty tomb, investigated it, and left, and (3) She arrived back at the tomb and looked into it herself for the first time.
"But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb" (John 20:11). Mary continues to grieve, thinking that Jesus' body has been removed. There is no mention of her looking into the tomb prior to this moment. Thus, it may have suddenly occurred to her that examining the tomb more closely was a wise idea. Mary stooped down to look because the entrance to the tomb, which was cut out of rock into the side of a hill, was evidently too low to stand upright and look inside.
"And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain" (John 20:12). Her grief at the loss of the Lord is so great that she forgets to be frightened by the angels, just as a mother in her anxiety for a sick child forgets to fear the illness, no matter how lethal or contagious. It is interesting (but perhaps only coincidental) that the angels were positioned in a similar manner as the cherubim were upon the ark. In a sense, the grave of Jesus was like a new mercy seat (cf. Exo. 25:17-22).
"Woman, why are you weeping?" (John 20:13). Once she understood what had happened, there would be no reason for her to weep because the victory had been won, Satan crushed, death vanquished, and salvation for humanity made possible! Mary replied - "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." Mary Magdalene continues to believe that Jesus is dead and that His body has been moved.
"Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus" (John 20:14). Why did she turn away from the angels? In her confusion, she evidently didn't recognize them as heavenly messengers, or she didn't realize that they might be able to answer her question. In either case, angels did not fill the void in her heart--only Jesus Himself could do that (such is still true today)! Why did she not recognize Jesus at first? There are a number of possibilities: (1) Perhaps His clothing was significantly different, (2) Perhaps her vision was blurred due to tear-filled eyes, (3) She was not expecting to see Jesus alive again, (4) She was focused on her grief and on her goal of finding His dead body, wherever it had been taken, or (5) Perhaps her eyes were restrained in some other way (e.g., Luke 24:16; lest the shock of His sudden appearance be too much for her, as it would be for the male disciples in Luke 24:37).
Jesus, like the angels, asked Mary about the purpose of her weeping. He also asked her about whom she was looking for. "She supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, 'Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away'" (John 20:15). Since it was still early in the morning, it was logical for her to assume that the man speaking to her was the gardener and that he would know where the body of Jesus had been moved to. Her pledge to take Jesus' body away was surely spoken under the assumption that other disciples would help her carry Him.
We will continue this narrative in our next lesson.