They have been so kind, thought Mary Magdalene as she and Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the other women from Galilee followed behind Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who were carrying the Teacher’s body upon a bier. They never did agree with the rest of the Council. Mary knew Joseph had been waiting of the kingdom of God. Especially last week Mary noticed both men always present when her Lord was teaching in the temple. But they had been reserved when it came to disagreeing with their colleagues. Nicodemus liked to ask Jesus questions and engage with him in debates, but unlike the others, he had a genuine desire to understand. He, like Joseph, was just too scared to stand against the power of the Council. On this point Mary could not say she blamed them.
But now they were here. Two secret followers and a handful of women were all that was left to bury her Lord. Joseph had gone to Pilate personally, asking permission for Jesus’ body. Mary was shocked when Joseph came to them with Pilate’s stamp of approval. Pilate was not known for concessions, particularly when it came to the Jews. Joseph had been so gentle with Jesus’ body as though Jesus was only badly bruised and not really dead. He wrapped Jesus in a fresh linen cloth and carefully laid him upon a bier. Now the tiny funeral procession lumbered toward the tomb under the ever-darkening sky.
When they reached the tomb Mary could smell its newness: fresh cut stone, fine dust particles and whiteness. With great care the men carried Jesus inside the tomb and laid him upon the center stone slab. They rearranged the linen cloth, smoothing every section, tucking the ends into place. Mary watched through the shadows from the tomb’s entrance. The Sabbath would be quickly upon them, they must be finished before nightfall. But as she watched Joseph and Nicodemus quietly care for the Teacher Mary forgot about nightfall, the Sabbath, or even her own grief. These two grieved as well and though they were silent in their sorrows, Mary wondered if they felt somehow responsible for Jesus’ death. Were they carrying the added burden of guilt for not publicly supporting him against the rest of the Council? Mary felt great sadness at this thought.
When Joseph and Nicodemus came out of the tomb they worked together to roll the massive stone against the entrance. The women stood on either side, unable to control their weeping as the sounds of stone scraping stone sent them reeling towards the finality of it all.
“Thank you,” Mary said to the men daring to reach for their hands – now stained with Jesus’ blood and scratched from the stone’s roughness. She looked directly into each ones’ eyes. “Your care for our Lord has been a great blessing.
The next day was Sabbath. Mary dutifully fulfilled her required rest, but her mind was on taking spices to her Lord’s tomb the next day. She had heard a rumor that the chief priests begged Pilate for a guard to stand watch over the next few days. Something about their continuing fears that Jesus’ rabid followers would rise up and try to steal his body under the cover of night and then claim he had risen from the dead. What foolishness, Mary thought. How could we possibly fake the resurrection of our Lord? Lord… Lord… Oh Teacher! And she burst into tears, forgetting about chief priests and secret plots and Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb. All she wanted was her Lord back from the dead.
Early the next morning Mary met several of the other women, all carrying jars of spice to anoint Jesus’ body. They had planned the small mission the evening of his death, accounting for every detail: time, meeting place, and type and amount of spice each woman would bring. They were within sight of the tomb when Salome stopped suddenly and asked, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Mary’s eyes widened as she looked first at Salome then around to the others as each one realized the implications of their mistake. There was no help for it now so they carried on, though Mary was heavy with worry over it. But when they looked up they saw that the stone had been rolled away. The rumored Roman guards were there, but they had the look of dead men.
As the women entered the tomb they saw a young man dressed in a brilliant white robe, sitting on the right side of Jesus’ stone resting place. The women froze in their alarm.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” he asked. “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!” The man smiled wide and his entire face turned to light and joy. “He is not here. See the place where they laid him,” he continued, picking up the linen cloth. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Mary stumbled out of the tomb first, trying to control her breathing. She held one hand against the tomb’s outside wall, steadying herself against her violent trembling. Finally she gave into the shaking, leaned against the hewn wall, and sobbed uncontrollably.
“Woman,” came a voice from behind her, barely audible through her heavy crying. “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Mary didn’t even bother turning around. Thinking he was the gardener she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
Shocked at the sound of her name being spoken in the voice of her Lord, Mary turned toward him. “Rabboni!” * she cried out and fell full into his arms, burying her face into the nape of his neck, smelling his aliveness.
Jesus laughed and held her tight then pulled her back enough to look into her eyes. “Do not hold on to me,” he said smiling playfully at her, “for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary hugged him tight again, taking one more deep breath in. Then she went to the disciples with the news:
“I have seen the LORD!”
HE IS RISEN!
*Rabonni means Teacher in Aramaic
Some things of interest:
- I wrote today’s story primarily using the accounts written in Mark 16 and John 20.
- At times, the Gospel accounts can seem contradictory in their ordering of events. For some, this is a sticking point in their belief, or lack thereof. Something I have come to understand even more deeply as I studied the Word to reconstruct this week’s stories, is that Jesus’ teachings and the events of His life are even more beautifully true when the Gospels are harmonized together. Furthermore, when taking into consideration each writer’s primary purpose for recording the events and stories as he did, the contradictions somehow evaporate.
- The fact that Jesus first revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene is so beautiful to me as a woman. I hold this truth very dear.
- My source for research and reconstructing each story was the Archeological Study Bible, NIV version, published by Zondervan (Consider this my unofficial bibliography).
Thank you for journeying with me through this Holy Week. May the Truth of His story, the Reality of His sacrifice and the Joy of His resurrection fill you with Hope in Christ Jesus – Hope for today. Hope for Eternity.