Mary Magdalene. Apostle to the Apostles. Passionate friend & follower of Jesus. Much maligned & misunderstood, both in her lifetime, & certainly down the centuries since.
She stayed. How could she leave? She had watched every excruciating moment of his stumbling journey through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, staggering under the weight of his cross. The lashes across his back, freshly open & bleeding. Had stood & felt every blow of the hammer striking his flesh. She did not look away when they raised the cross and left him hanging in agony that went far beyond the physical. She could not reach him with her hands, but her eyes were locked on his face as he struggled to breathe, to speak. This man who had set her free, was held by cruel nails to rough hewn wood. Held by love that kept him there more than any rusty iron. She was helpless to ease his suffering, and that tore her apart, splintered her soul into jagged shards. He had given her back her life and now he was gone. Her mind was blank with grief, her limbs heavy with heartbreak. She had helped his mother wrap that beloved body in clean linen, flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood. Their tears had washed the blood and sweat from his too still, face. His extraordinary eyes dull and closed forever. Eyes that had looked deep into her being with recognition and acceptance such as she had never known. Eyes that had sparkled with laughter and wept with compassion, now dull.
Joseph and Nicodemus had carried his body between them to the nearby garden and tomb, hewn deep into the rock of the hill of death. Between them they laid him gently in that place of forever rest. Of quiet dark. Wrapped the grave clothes around his head and backed out on their knees. The men rolled the stone in front of the yawning dark that enfolded his broken body. It was finished.
They hurried away into the lengthening shadows of evening, but she stayed on. Keeping vigil. Watching as the darkness fell around her feet and heart. Waiting even as her world tilted and all hope extinguished. Remembering. Turning over in her mind the memories of being brought to life with grace and soul-lifting mercy, that had breathed new life into her beaten down being. This extraordinary man had changed her life forever beyond recognition, and now he was gone -violently ripped away from them by jealousy and fear. She could do nothing more for him, but she could watch, keep vigil through the long cold hours.
She returned early on the first day of the week. Her feet finding their own way in the darkness to the grave. She would pour out her love for him one last time. With no mocking words or sneering faces to watch, she would tenderly anoint his beloved body with precious perfumed oils. Her last gift.
Stopped in her tracks by the grave’s yawning emptiness, her heart plummeted at this fresh assault – they had stolen even this last goodbye. Removed/ desecrated? His body dumped somewhere? She daren’t begin to imagine. Fast flight with heart hammering, to Peter and to John, bearer of fresh agony that burned and seared. They ran too – looked and left. Unable to deal with themselves, and unable to deal with her.
She stayed. Rooted by grief, anger and confusion, she could not leave. Seeking the comfort of at least holding his grave clothes, she leant over to look into the emptiness of the open cave. Two men were sitting at where his head and feet had laid and her stupefied mind couldn’t take in who they might be, or why they were there.
They asked her a stupid and intensely irritating question. “Why are you crying?”
As if it wasn’t blindingly obvious! What else do you do at a grave?
She wanted to scream her anger at them –“ they have taken him away- they have taken away my hope, my life- my reason for being!”
There was a sound nearby, the sound of footsteps. She spun around conscious of another person approaching, and saw the figure of a man outlined in the radiance of the rising sun. Her tear filled eyes made no sense of what she saw.
“Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” The same question, but this time it didn’t make her want to scream. The questions found their way into the depths of her heartbreak, and somewhere in that deep and broken darkness there was the faintest shimmer of light.
Thinking him to be the gardener she stammered
“If you know where he is, if you have moved his body –please tell me!”
There was the faintest whisper of hope that she might find him after all. He didn’t answer, and she still couldn’t see his face through her tears. His expression obscured by the brightness of the dawn. Silence. A pregnant pause in which she breathed in hope despite herself.
No one else said it like that. No one else had ever put such unconditional love into the simple saying of her name. That beloved voice called her a second time out of a nightmare of darkness, bringing her back to life. It couldn’t possibly be – and yet it was. She had been looking for a corpse, and she had found a living Lord, who knew her, and called her by name. “Rabbouni!” was all she had breath to say. She fell at his feet. The feet she had anointed with her tears; the feet she had seen hammered to the rough wood of the cross. Reaching out to hold them – she wanted to stay in this moment forever. Be sure it was real. That he was real. That her teetering mind hadn’t tipped finally, over the edge.
Gentle hands lifted her up. His smile was as wide as the sea, and the eyes she thought had closed for ever, twinkled with life and laughter. A name, a smile. A smile that reached out and found all the shattered pieces of her heart, and drew them together again, into a new whole.
“ Now go– and tell my brothers who you have seen” he asked of her.
Be the one to tell them I am alive. Be the Hope Bearer. Turn their lives upside down, as yours has been”
She didn’t hesitate. No need to stay.
Carrying the Gospel – the good news- she ran with joy, in the glory of the rising sun, that was lighting up the world.