Sunday morning came. It was the first day of the Jewish week. Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James were up before dawn with the spices they had prepared. As the sun began to lighten the eastern sky, they made their way to the tomb with some of the other women. At some point in their journey, the ground began to shake. It was another earthquake. What could it mean? So often in the Bible, an earthquake was a sign that God had come.
But perhaps their thoughts were still too full of grief.
They couldn’t guess the stunning, amazing, unspeakably great meaning of the earthquake. God had come.
Jesus had risen from the dead.
When a glorious angel came to roll away the stone that sealed His tomb, the earth trembled. A new era had begun.
When the Roman guards saw the dazzling heavenly being, they shook with terror and fell to the ground, passed out in fear.
The angel hadn’t come to help Jesus out of the tomb. The Lord had risen, raised by the power of Almighty God (Eph. 1:15-23), based on the power of His indestructible life (Heb. 7:11-18). When the angel rolled away the stone, he was acting as a herald. It was a revelation, a declaration, a proclamation of what God had done! It was irrefutable evidence of the Great Happening.
But the women didn’t know that yet. As they walked along, they wondered to each other: How would they move the stone? Would the Roman guards let them go near?
When they arrived, they found that everything had already been taken care of. The bodies of the shocked Roman soldiers lay all around. What was going on? They crept their way inside the tomb, only to find that the body was gone. How could this be? Where had they taken the Lord? They turned to each other in their confusion and weary grief.
Suddenly, two angels appeared in clothes of brilliant white. The women fell down on their faces in fear.
One of the angels asked them, “‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead? Don’t be afraid; for I know who you are looking for. He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’”
Even as the angel spoke, the women remembered what Jesus said. The angel went on: “‘Go, quickly, tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead. He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.’”
The women were full of trembling fear and joy. They fled from the tomb, off to tell the disciples the amazing news. They didn’t speak to anyone along the way, for fear of what they might say about this astonishing news. They found the eleven and told them what they had seen. The words of the women seemed like utter nonsense. And to some degree, they were. Even Mary Magdalene’s report was confused. “‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him,’” she declared. In her desperation, she had only one care. The words of the glorious angels meant nothing to her. All that mattered was finding her Lord.
At first, the disciples refused to believe the women. But as the words sunk in, it finally hit Peter that it just might be true! He jumped up and went running off to the tomb. John wasn’t far behind. They ran with all their might.
John was younger and faster, and he reached the tomb first. He stopped at the entrance and stooped to looked in, searching for a body or an angel or a sign. There, in the place where Jesus was laid, there was only linen, wrapped up neatly and set aside. The face cloth was rolled up and set aside in a spot by itself.
Peter ran up and passed John, heading right into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings, too. John followed Peter inside, and they stood there, wondering what it meant. John believed, and yet wondered. Neither of them understood the fullness of what had happened. These new facts did not match anything that made worldly sense. They could not comprehend that Jesus had to rise from the dead. The disciples left the tomb and wandered back to their homes in wonder.
Mary Magdalene had followed on along behind the two, making her way back to the tomb. There she stood, weeping. For you see, she had nowhere else to go. The Lord Jesus had become her hope and her life. He has rescued her from the oppression of seven demons, and she had followed Him everywhere since then. She drew near to the opening and stepped inside again. Once again, two angels appeared before her. One sat at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus would have laid.
In the days that followed, Mary and the disciples might have wondered about this. For you see, this was the very same image that could be found on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant which was meant to sit in the Holy of Holies. The Ark was a large golden box designed by God with a lid made of pure gold. The lid was called the Mercy Seat of God. God instructed Moses to put statues of two, glorious, golden angels on either end of the Ark. Their wings stretched over the Mercy Seat. This was considered the throne of God on earth, kept behind the Holy of Holies. It was on this Mercy Seat that the blood of a sacrifice was sprinkled every year on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the nation. The Ark was the most sacred possession of the nation of Israel before it was lost because of their rebellion against God hundreds of years before, but its image was still burned into the hearts and minds of every Jew. Now Christ Himself had become the Mercy Seat of God, the great Atonement by which all men could be saved. As the two angels sat on either side of where His sacrificed body had lain, did the image strike a chord in Mary?
All of these rich, deep, beautiful things were glorious truths for the Church to realize in the years to come. The Apostle John made sure to point it out in his writing. But perhaps these things were not on Mary’s mind as she stood there, devastated in the presence of the angels.
“‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” they asked.
“‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do no know where they have laid Him.’” she replied. She still had no hope of His return to life, but her love was so great that she had to find Him. Even the sight of angels was not enough to distract her.
As she said this, she turned to go, but there was a man standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize Him. She thought it was the gardener. “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” Jesus asked. “‘Whom are you seeking?’”
She said, “‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”
How she loved Him! Can you hear her tender longing?
So could Jesus. “‘Mary,’” He said. The moment she heard Him say her name, she knew who it was. “‘Teacher!’” she cried out. She fell to the ground before her beloved and wrapped herself around His ankles.
“‘Do not hold on to me,’” Jesus said, “‘for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’”
Mary was filled with delirious excitement. Her Beloved wasn’t gone! He hadn’t abandoned her! Her great Love was alive! She ran off to tell the disciples the unimaginably Good News.
“‘I have seen the Lord!’” she declared. Then she filled them in on the details.
Can you imagine their shock and excitement?
Can you imagine the questions it raised?
And what in the world was going to happen next?
The Lord Jesus had made a stop on His way to the Father for the love of this woman who was so besotted with Him. Mary and the other women were the first humans to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus could have appeared to Peter and John. He could have showed up to all the disciples. But instead, He chose to give that honor to this woman who had been rejected by society, ravaged by evil spirits, and set free to love the Lord with all her heart.