Three days and two night ago, Mary’s entire world came crashing down. The earth opened up and swallowed it into an abyss of darkness and confusion, leaving only soul crushing grief that compounded the darkness and confusion that threatened to swallow her up with it.
There was barely enough time to get him down from that tree on which he had died and find a place for body before the Sabbath began. (John 19:42)
The crash and whirl of those events that came upon them in a rushing torrent so quickly that they were overwhelmed, reeling, barely able to breath from beginning to end, ended with his death, leaving only an oppressive emptiness of profound grief.
All the men abandoned him as their world began to unravel. The petty squabbling that broke up dinner the night before left Mary confused about what Jesus had been saying. Jesus was trying to tell them something important, but she could only remember bits and pieces….
Something about a cup… and pouring out his blood and…. It was all so unreal. It was like Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. She could see it in his eyes. He was resigned to it.
Jesus wouldn’t even let anyone try to defend him. He just gave himself up.
And those men who were always arguing about who was the greatest: they didn’t do anything. Jesus asked them to stay awake with him and pray, as if Jesus really did know what was happening, and they couldn’t. They couldn’t even do that!
They were nowhere to be found when Jesus needed them. Mary even heard they denied knowing Jesus, but Mary and the other women would not leave him. They saw the whole unimaginable thing.
If it wasn’t for the Joseph, who knows where his body would have ended up. They barely had time to get his body down off that tree, no thanks to the guards. It’s a good thing that Joseph owned a tomb nearby and was gracious enough to let them use it. (Luke 23:50-53)
They had no time to prepare him properly. It was the Sabbath, and night was upon them.
The hours were a whirlwind. They seemed like an eternity. Jesus lay there through the night. It weighed so heavily on Mary’s heart. She needed to get to him.
Mary waited for the Sabbath to end before she prepared the spices and ointments. (Luke 23:56) She couldn’t sleep anyway. Tears came in waves. She could hardly see at times, wiping them away with the back of her hands, and in between they fell from her cheeks into the mixture of ointment and spices.
Mary remembered the day she was able to show the deep gratitude she felt for Jesus after he rescued her from the demons that tormented her nearly all the days of her life. She didn’t care what anyone thought. Nothing had been more precious to her than the ointments she collected… until Jesus set her free. She would have spent her entire life pouring her very self out for him…. It was the least she could do.
If only there was more time.
As the sun’s rays began to stretch out into the darkness of that long, dark night, and the birds chirped, as they always do, Mary’s grief overwhelmed all but her devotion to the man she loved. She needed to get back to him.
She remembered exactly where they laid him in their haste. The women went with her, Mary leading the way, carrying what she had prepared for his body, hoping the soldiers guarding the tomb would allow them this simple extravagance.
As they came upon the tomb in the early light, they found no guards, and dread welled up in Mary as she realized there was no stone in front of the tomb. It was standing wide open! (John 20:1; Luke 24:1)
Mary rushed into the cave and found the body missing. Overcome with grief and emotion she didn’t even see the men enter. It was all a blur to Mary through her tear-filled eyes and the whirl of thoughts in her mind.
She recalled in retrospect that the men seemed to wear robes of dazzling white, but what they said drew her attention:
“Do not be afraid…. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6)
“Remember how he told you… that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:6-7)
Could it be true?
What if it’s true!! Jesus did says things like that!
Wasn’t Jesus saying something like that when the argument broke out at supper a few nights ago?
With a mixture of fear and hope, weeping out of grief and joy, Mary ran as fast as she could back to where the men were. (Matthew 28:8) If only it could be true!
She tried to tell them. “He isn’t there! I think they might have taken him, but I think he may be alive!”
They didn’t believe her (Luke 24:11), and they wouldn’t even get up, except for Peter and John. Peter and John ran ahead and were inside by the time Mary got there. “I told you he isn’t there!”, she said. They practically ignored her, and they left her there standing there outside the tomb, weeping, now, more than before. (John 20:2-10)
How much more of this could she take?
She stooped to look back into the opening and quickly realized the men didn’t tell her there were others inside. One of them asked, “Why are you weeping?” Doubting against hope that Jesus might be alive, her brief hope overcome again by grief and despair, she begged the man who spoke to tell her where his body had been taken. Driven only now by her devotion, she still needed to find him and do as she intended. (John 20:11-15)
And then He spoke again. His voice broke gently through the haze of grief and confusion, devotion and tears, and she heard him say, “Mary”. (John 20:16)
She knew that voice!
The dark haze of grief and confusion, despair and hopelessness immediately vanished in that moment.
“Rabboni!”, she replied in Aramaic, as she had done hundreds of times before. (John 20:16)
And she turned to him and embraced him, as tears of grief turned to tears of joy. The other women who had followed behind her, recognizing him also, collapsed at his feet where they clung to Him and worshiped Him. (Matthew 28:9; John 20:17)
It would take a number of actual appearance by Jesus to the men, before they would believe, though John maintains that he believed as soon as he saw the linens and cloth lying there. (John 20:8) In all, well over 500 people saw Jesus after his death. Most of them were still alive some 20 years later when Paul recounted these things in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), though some people, like Steven and James, had been killed for having the audacity to claim it was true.
Mary was the first. She and the women who stuck by Jesus during the trial and crucifixion, helped lay his body in the temporary tomb, helped prepare the spices and ointment and followed her to the place where they laid his body a couple of days prior, all saw Jesus before any of the men did.
Mary knew, also, that Jesus planned it that way. It wasn’t Mary’s place to make a big deal out of it.
The most important thing was that Jesus was alive! He had conquered the grave. He had tried many times to tell them, but they didn’t understand. It was probably best that way.
The men who followed Jesus were forever changed. They no longer argued over who was greatest. It didn’t matter any more. Their shame at abandoning Jesus in that time of great need was also forgotten, as Jesus lived, and He forgave them completely. The fact that they abandoned them, though, was never forgotten.
They would live the rest of their lives doing all that Jesus had instructed them: denying themselves, learning to become servants of of the message Jesus left them to tell the world, dying to their ambitions and the sin that always crouches at the door, and pouring themselves out in self-sacrificial devotion.
Mary lived out her life as she had lived before those fateful events, devoting herself to pray, and study of God’s word and in self-sacrificial service to the cause of the Gospel. She served the men who preached the words Jesus taught them to say, and she carried with her the knowledge that Jesus revealed Himself first to her and to the other women.
People throughout most of history wouldn’t take much notice of that fact. Yet, it stands improbably remembered in the Gospels of the men who wrote them. In Him, there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female.