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, bewilderment, and emptiness.
She barely had enough time to get him down from that tree on which he had died. Fortunately, a very generous man offered a tomb for his body and helped her prepare the body before 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. The commotion of last minute burial gave way to the silence weight of yawning emptiness and overwhelming 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 surreal. It was like Jesus knew what was going to happen. She could see it in his eyes. He was resigned to it.
All the mysterious things Jesus said during the exciting and hopeful years traveling from place to place with the Jesus played in her mind like an epitaph that would not end. The mystery had seemed poignant and momentous, but ominous. Through the looming darkness, the slight flame of hope sputtered.
Jesus wouldn’t let anyone try to defend him. He just gave himself up. He utterly gave himself over to them. It was painful to watch, but even his weakness had nobility about it. She wept.
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, but they didn’t. It was like Jesus knew, but he couldn’t tell them. They were too dull to realize Jesus needed them!
They could have, at least, gone with him, but they left him! They knew what was happening, though, though they pretended not to know, not to care. Mary even heard Peter say he didn’t know Jesus! After all the time they spent with him!
Mary and the other women would not leave him. They saw the whole, unimaginable thing. And John, at least he was there.
If it wasn’t for Joseph, who knows where his body would have ended up. Mary was grateful that Joseph owned a tomb nearby and even more grateful that Joseph and the others helped with the body (Luke 23:50-53), though Mary couldn’t help but wonder where they were when Jesus needed them. Maybe they could have stopped it.
They had no time to prepare him properly. It was the Sabbath, and night was upon them. The hours labored by. It seemed like Jesus lay there for an eternity through the night. everything weighed so heavily on Mary’s heart. She needed to get to him.
Joseph and Nicodemus came through with the spices and ointments for Mary to prepare the body in the morning. (Luke 23:56) She couldn’t sleep anyway. She was up before the dawn.
Tears came in waves. She could hardly see at times. The tears she didn’t manage to wipe way with the back of her hands, and in between they fell from her cheeks into the mixture of ointment and spices. She remembered wiping tears from his feet with her hair, and she sobbed.
Mary could not adequately express the depth of gratitude for Jesus for rescuing her from the demons that haunted and tormented her from her youth. 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.
She desperately longed to wind the time back.
As the dawn began to stretch back the darkness of that long dark night, and the birds chirped faithfully, the contrast of lingering hope broke briefly through Mary’s grief that 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 other women went with her, Mary leading the way, carrying the devotion of ointments and spices she prepared for his body, hoping the soldiers guarding the tomb would allow them this simple extravagance.
As they arrived in the early light, they found no guards. The tomb was eerily still, and dread welled up. The stone in front of the tomb was rolled aside. (John 20:1; Luke 24:1)
Her thoughts raced. “Where did they take him? Why? It doesn’t make sense! What did they do with him? Why would they want to take him? I need to get to him!”
Mary rushed into the cave and confirmed her fear. The body was missing. Overcome with grief and emotion she didn’t even see the men enter. It was a blur to Mary through her tear-filled eyes and the torrent of thoughts in her mind.
The dazzling whiteness of their robes caught her attention. Then, they spoke:
“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!!” She remembered the mysterious things Jesus said. “Maybe 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, tears of grief and hope at the same time, Mary ran as fast as she could back to where the men were. (Matthew 28:8)
She tried to tell them. “He isn’t there! I think they might have taken him, but he may be alive!”
They didn’t believe her (Luke 24:11). No one would 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. But they ignored her, and they left her there standing there outside the tomb. She could only weep. And hope. (John 20:2-10)
That’s when something caught her eye beyond the veil of light and darkness at the opening to the tomb. She cautiously stepped, in wiping the tears as she went. The she saw a man in the tomb. Peter and John left, and they didn’t even say anything!
The man asked, “Why are you weeping?” Doubting against hope that Jesus might be alive, she begged the man 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.
She knew him! “Rabboni!”, she said in exited Aramaic, as she had greeted him hundreds of times before. (John 20:16)
She lowered her head, overcome by a flood of relief that overwhelmed her grief, and he embraced her. The other women were right behind her, now. They 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 appearances by Jesus, before the men 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. The woman saw Jesus, and believe, 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, but she knew Jesus chose to reveal himself to her and the women first.
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 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 the study of God’s word and 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.