We don’t know exactly what Mary Magdalene thought and felt as she followed Jesus and went through His death and resurrection. The Bible gives a few close pictures to help us imagine what she might have said. John the Apostle gave us a long version of her part of the story at the resurrection. Jesus accomplished great, grand, and glorious things and there were many epic events that happened as He turned Jerusalem upside down. But in the story of Mary, we see how the tenderness of Christ for His beloved ones was an enormous priority for Him. We also see how His relationship with His followers was far more than what can be the cold, distant relating of teacher and student. He was no cold deity giving out radical commands. Jesus loved, and they felt His love and yearned for it. And they loved Him in return. Here is a depiction of what that love might have been like for the person that Jesus chose to show Himself to first after rising from the dead:
When I heard about the arrest, I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t a total surprise. They had wanted to arrest the Lord for years, and somehow, He had always gotten away with seamless effort. It was a fact we rather enjoyed. But this time it had really happened, and it was hard to believe. John came to get Jesus’ mother and I. The city was in such an uproar. Many sided with the religious leaders…but many others were horrified at what was happening to Jesus. Where did all this malice come from? What had He possibly done? He had wandered around the countryside healing us. He healed me. It made no sense.
We stood in the crowd and watched it all happen. We were helpless. It was awful.
The soldiers hammered those dreadful nails through His wrists.
Poor Mary. She was wracked with His every pain. The blood was terrible. The jeering crowds, the horrid soldiers, and the nasty religious leaders just stood there. But somehow, John and Mary and I ended up so close, so close to Him, and everything else faded to the background.
How gentle and commanding was His voice, even as He hung on the cross. It is hard to explain to people that haven’t seen Him. There was majesty in Him, even as He hung naked and covered in filth and sweat and blood. His greatness was greater than all these physical things. The darkness that came was a mercy, and the earthquake that shook the ground was like a physical manifestation of my rage and loss. I wanted to shake the world with a violence they couldn’t ignore and cry out, “WHY?” I wanted to scream, “HOW COULD YOU….HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?”
But they did, and He was gone. But I couldn’t leave Him. I just stood there, paralyzed, as they took His body down. There He was, my Lord, limp and torn. How His mother wept. Joseph of Arimathea came to take His body, and still I could not leave. I followed along with Mary. I had to know where they were taking Him. I had to go where He went. I couldn’t let go.
How could everyone else let go? Where were they?
We sat opposite the tomb as they dressed Him in white linen, pure and clean. That was a comfort.
But when they came out and covered His tomb with a large stone, my heart cried out. “This can’t be the end!” There had to be something we could do. This was too quick, too short.
Where were the processions? All of Jerusalem should have mourned this death. The whole world should have stopped and grieved for a lifetime. So Mary and I did the only thing we could think to do. We went and prepared more spices for His body. How else could we honor our Lord? How else would we see Him again?
God forgive me, but that high and holy Sabbath was agonizing. It was like a huge barrier between me and my Beloved. I had to get to Him. I had to be near Him.
Jesus would tell stories about how the ones who needed forgiveness the most were often the ones who loved the most. I suppose that explains my desperation.
So many of the women that followed Jesus had come to Him in such honorable ways. They were married to men of power and wealth, and they used it to bless the Lord and supply His ministry. They had so much to offer. I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like.
My world had been so different. My family was the kind that invited Satanic bondage into the lives of their children. By the time I crossed paths with Jesus, I had seven demons that tormented me. The kind of humiliation they drove me to, the life of isolation…I was a pariah. It was shameful to admit any connection with me.
I had no dream of deliverance…but even if I was set free, I had no hope of love or acceptance. The memory of a village like Magdela is long. No matter what transformations took place in me, I would always be known for my shame. For some reason, I had been chosen for a life of condemnation. The hand of God was against me.
But then Jesus came, and everything changed. He sent my tormentors away. But far more than that, He gave me Himself. He loved me. And because of His love, I was drawn into a whole community of care. People who never would have acknowledged me all my life long were seeing me in the light of Jesus’ love. His own mother loved me. I was home.
So I made my way to the tomb in the wee morning hours, bringing Mary the mother of Salome with me. I think we both went out of a driving and a longing heart. I just wanted to grasp a few more moments with Him, to be by His side. To give Him the honor of a decent burial. We wondered how we would remove the stone once we got there. But when we arrived, we stood there in shock. Someone had already come and rolled the massive stone away. The Roman soldiers who were supposed to be guarding it lay all around as if they were in a dead sleep. We crept inside to look at His body. He wasn’t there. My heart plunged to the lowest, deepest despair of all. What had happened?
Suddenly, two men appeared in glorious, dazzling white. Mary and I fell with our faces to the ground. We had all read about what it is like to meet angels, but nothing prepared me for it until it happened. It was brilliant and terrifying and joyful all at the same time.
“‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead?’” they asked. I didn’t really catch what they meant, but they went on, “‘Do not 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.”’”
Suddenly, I remembered all Jesus’ words. How had I forgotten? Had this all been planned? The angels went on: “‘Go, quickly, tell the His disciples that He has risen from the dead. He is going before you in Galilee, there you will see Him, just as He said to you.’”
Then the angels were gone. Mary and I went running out of the tomb. When we got outside we were trembling, completely gripped with astonished joy and startling fear. Then we ran off to tell the disciples the unimaginably great news.
Of course, when we got there, the men thought we were talking nonsense. We probably babbled a bit in our excitement. But what we said lit a spark under Peter and John. They went running off to the tomb. I followed along behind. The words of the angels were slowly sinking in, but the tomb still seemed the best way to be near my Lord. I suppose the grief of the last few days was so overwhelming that I couldn’t quite process the turn of events. Peter and John came and saw the empty tomb, and then left.
I tarried. I just couldn’t leave. It almost didn’t matter what the angels said…He was still gone, and Galilee was far, far away.
My grief overwhelmed me again. I wept as I looked inside the tomb one more time. The two angels were there once again. “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” they asked. I must have seemed like a fool, but this was all much easier to understand on their side of eternity. I didn’t have it in me to care. “‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.’”
And then He came to me. I don’t know why I was chosen to see Him first. Perhaps because my need was the greatest. The funny thing is, I didn’t even recognize Him at first. This strange Man asked me, “‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you seeking?’” I thought it was the gardener. The angels must have been enjoying this moment. I said, “‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”
And then Jesus said to me, “‘Mary,’” and I knew…with everything in me, I just knew. It changed everything to hear Him say my name. I turned to Him and cried, “‘Teacher!’” Utterly overwhelmed with joy, I fell at His feet and threw my arms around His legs like I would never let go.
I think Jesus was smiling when He said, “‘Do not hold on to me, 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.’”
I could have held onto Him forever, but I knew I had to do what he asked. So I went to the disciples with the news. In the days and weeks to follow, we all got to see Him, and He taught us many things. It was so satisfying to be near Him again, and by the time He ascended into Heaven, I think we all understood that we weren’t really losing Him, even though He would be present with us on earth in a very different way. And one day, we will see Him again and live for all eternity in the brightness of His presence. On that day, I hope to find you there.