“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”
The First Easter Sunday
Mary kicked the dust as she stifled yet another sob threatening to break free from the depths of her broken heart. She was just a few short steps away from the tomb, a sight with which she was all too familiar. She’d spent quite a bit of time here since her Teacher’s death.
The rock intended to seal the tomb now rested to the side of an empty grave, reminding her that someone had moved the body of her Lord. She wondered where he was now. A single tear cascaded down her cheek at the thought of him, hanging on that rugged wooden cross, head bowed as his final breath escaped his exhausted body.
She pondered the thought of her beloved Jesus a little more, remembering the first time she met the Rabbi who set her free. When they met, her body was home to seven demons. They’d been there so long she had gotten used to the torment of their company. She succumbed to the idea that this was her lot in life: to be plagued by demons and tortured for the remainder of her days. If she was being honest with herself, she felt as though she deserved it. Misery needed company. But even still, as the spirits afflicted her, they left her more and more thirsty for relief, for water in the dessert that was her life.
The day she met Jesus was the day it all changed.
This good and compassionate teacher looked on her with compassion and allowed her to drink of goodness for the first time in years. She drank deep of the freedom he offered her and took hold of it nearly as quickly as he offered it. With one look, he told her she was worthy of the love of the Father and years of pain melted away. With one touch, he healed her brokenness and made her whole again. With one moment, He lit a candle of hope in the depths of her soul that had yet to give up its flame.
She smiled at the thought of her first breath of freedom, face to face with a man she knew had to be from God. It was a moment she’d hold close to her heart till the end of her days. She knew from that very day Jesus was the Lord whom she would follow to the ends of the earth.
And follow him she did. She followed him while He spoke of God the Father and of love and grace, of serving one another. She admired him as He cradled children and instructed His followers to have hearts like theirs. She watched Him heal many more just like her and perform miracles like she’d never seen before. With every fiber of her being, she knew Jesus of Nazareth was sent by God. Every day she spent in His company she thanked God for sending Him. Oh, how she loved to just sit with him and drink of the things of her Heavenly Father.
But His death had drained the life from her bones. Her well had dried up; she was weary and broken. And to add insult to injury, someone moved His body. Her blood boiled at the thought of it.
Why would anyone do such a thing? Hasn’t He already suffered enough?! Just leave Him be! She thought. Angry tears slipped out with a cry of frustration. She kicked another rock and continued to approach the tomb as she wiped the tears from her face.
Mere moments before, she had run to tell Peter and John what she had seen when she first visited the grave. The tomb was open and empty and His body had been stolen. Fury resurfaced in her heart as she neared closer to the exposed grave—but fury quickly gave way to sorrow. She fell to her knees as powerful sobs overtook her frail body.
Jesus was a good man. Good in every sense of the word. He was compassionate and loving and wise. He spoke the truth in love and never passed a needy hand without first filling it. He breathed life everywhere He went with the confidence and assurance she imagined was only matched by God at the creation of time. She did not think He deserved this senseless death, much less the indignity of having His body moved by a stranger. If He was no longer able to walk, alive, with her and the other disciples, He should at least be able to remain rightfully in His tomb. He deserved the dignity of a proper burial. But someone stripped that away too, along with everything else.
Mary’s heart was raw with emotion and she was overcome with sadness and despair. There was a hole in her heart where her Lord used to be. Now, all she could do was cling to the memory of Him. She stood up and dusked her skirt off and stared at the tomb once more. Tears continued to roll down her cheeks as she made her way beyond the stone to look one last time at the cave.
Perhaps the robbers had returned His body. Or maybe, just maybe, she would see her smiling Jesus sitting there once more. Oh, if she could just hold onto Him one more time, she swore she would never let go. If she could worship at His feet once more…she stopped herself at the thought and pushed her longing aside. The flame of hope He had given her flickered in the crisp morning shadows of an empty grave.
She took a deep breath, pushed a strand of dusty brown hair away from her face and peered through heavy eyes into an occupied tomb.
“As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’
‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’
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.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’’
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.”
I think what moves me so much about Mary Magdalene’s story in John 20 is the depth of love she has for Jesus. I mean, she is weeping at the thought of someone moving His body after his burial and is distraught when she finds the empty tomb. She is devastated by the loss of her Teacher. She journeyed with Jesus, followed him for many years, and watched as he was crucified, buried and resurrected. The woman knew Jesus and was broken by His death.
In Luke 8:2, Luke tells us Mary was possessed by seven demons, but Jesus freed her. Jesus looked on Mary’s life with love and compassion and set her free from her torment and she responded by leaving her life behind and following Him. In response to Christ’s love, she took ahold of it and never let go. Her response to Him mirrors what ours should be—leaving our old selves behind to unabashedly follow Him for the rest of our days. Mary models perfectly what it means to dare to follow Jesus.
But see here’s the good stuff: Mary loved Jesus because He first loved her. Jesus made the first move in this story and she fell readily into his steady embrace in response to His unconditional love. Ladies, that is the good news of the Gospel right there! He loves us so very much and He loves us first! His love is good and it is trustworthy and it is true and we have the opportunity to respond to it. We get the change to take hold of His love, like Mary did, and spend our days walking with Him.
Friends, if we dare to leave our lives behind and follow Him, and I mean really follow Him, we can experience the love that Mary had for her Savior. We can know our God who is all good, all love and all truth, apart from Whom there can be no good thing. His perfect and loving hand is extended toward us…if only we’d dare to take it.
Featured image by Allison Mims