(Inspired by Matthew 28: 1-10; Luke 24: 1-9; and John 20: 1-18)
Mary of Magdala was awakened by a hand lightly touching her shoulder. Looking up, she saw the Lord’s mother bending over her. The faint light seeping around the shuttered windows told her that it was very early. She was relieved to be awake. Mary’s dreams had been stressful and sad since Jesus’s death. She supposed those horrible images of the crucifixion would never leave her. Rising quietly so as not to disturb the many others sleeping in the large, upper room, she threw on her shawl and followed Mary of Nazareth out the door.
“Do you have the bags of spices Nicodemus gave you?” the Magdalene asked as they stood at the bottom of the steps. In answer to her question, Mary opened the folds of her robe and revealed the packages of myrrh that they planned to use to anoint the body of Jesus.
“Thank you for coming with me, Mary,” the mother of Jesus said as tears flowed down the familiar paths of her face. “I couldn’t do this by myself.”
The Magdalene gave no verbal answer but threw her arms around the grieving mother. The eastern sky was glowing an orange-red as the two women walked arm in arm toward the garden tomb. They had to exit the city to reach their sad destination. Approaching the gate, they were suddenly staggered by a violent earthquake. Clinging to each other in terror, they waited for the shaking to stop. When it finally did, the women hurried out of the city.
To reach the garden where Jesus was buried, they had to approach that horrible place where the dearest and most wonderful man in the world had been murdered. Both women averted their eyes from the spot.
When they finally arrived at the entrance to the garden, the women heard terrified yells and rapid footfalls. Just then four Roman soldiers, minus their weapons and some of their armor, came stumbling out of the garden in terror. As the first one hesitated in order to get his direction, the other three slammed into him, causing all four to crash to the ground. Cursing and yelling, the soldiers clawed over each other to escape back to the city.
Confused at the chaos they had just witnessed, the two women entered the garden and hurried to the tomb. When they arrived, the women gasped. They were shocked to discover that the huge stone blocking the opening of the tomb had been rolled away, and a being as white as lightning was sitting on it. As soon as both Marys saw the angel, they fell on their faces in terror.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the angel in a deep, resonating voice. The joy in his tone caused the women to look up. “I know that you are looking for Jesus Who was crucified. He is not here! He has risen, just as He said!”
After saying these words, the angel dropped lightly off the stone and pointed to the entrance to the tomb. “Come!” he said with a big grin. “See the place where He was lying!”
Stepping over dropped spears and a couple of Roman helmets, the women entered the sepulcher. Again they were shocked to discover another person in a brilliant white robe sitting on the right side of the slab of rock where the body of Jesus had been. The first angel followed them in and sat on the left end of the slab.
Jesus’s mother saw the linen strips that had been wrapped around her Son’s body still lying on the slab, deflated, though they were still in the shape of His body. It was like Jesus had come up out of them and left them all behind.
At this point Mary noticed that the Magdalene was shaking. When the mother of Jesus looked at her companion, she could tell that she was overwhelmed, and she hugged the younger woman close.
“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” the glowing figure on the right said to them. “Jesus is not here! He has risen! Don’t you remember what He said to you in Galilee? He said that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of wicked men to be crucified and to rise on the third day. Now go quickly and tell his disciples that He is risen from the dead and is going before you to Galilee. That is where you will see Him. And be sure to tell Rock.”
As the two amazed women exited the garden, the mother of Jesus turned to her companion and said, “Mary, you’re younger than me. You must run back to our friends and tell Peter and the others what has happened!”
The Magdalene just stared blankly at her with a confused and distant look.
“MARY!” Jesus’s mother tried again as she grabbed the younger woman by the shoulders. “I need you to run to the others and tell them that the tomb is empty! Do you understand?”
Focusing her eyes on the face of the pleading woman, Mary of Magdala nodded her head and quickly ran back to the upper room. When she burst through the door, the first people she saw were Rock and young John. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” the still shaken and confused woman cried, “an’…an’ we don’t know where they’ve laid Him!”
The two men looked at each other with shocked expressions and dashed out the door and descended the steps. They ran side by side down the streets of Jerusalem, heading for the gate nearest the garden tomb. As they raced, young John outpaced his companion and reached the garden first. Approaching the tomb, John saw the rolled back stone and the debris left behind by the soldiers, but no one else was there. The little hairs on the back of his neck stood up when he reached the dark opening, and he hesitated, stooping to look in.
He heard heavy footfalls behind him as the red-faced Rock ran up. The impetuous disciple rushed past his more timid friend and into the tomb. Following Rock inside, John was amazed at what they saw. The wrappings were lying there in the same position as when they covered the body of the Lord, but they had collapsed. The face covering was lying where Jesus’s head had been. It was still rolled up like it was wrapped around Jesus’s head and face, but the body of the Lord had simply disappeared, leaving them behind.
The two stood there for some time, trying to make sense of it all. Eventually they left to return to their friends and report what they had seen. As they were leaving the garden, they passed Mary of Magdala returning. She was sobbing and seemed to be oblivious to the two men as they passed her.
When Mary reached the tomb again, she stood outside weeping, consumed with a sense of deep loss and not knowing what to do. Suddenly a light seemed to be coming out of the tomb, and she stooped to look in. Once again the two angels were there and were sitting on the burial slab. They turned to look at her, and one said, “Madame, why are you crying so?”
“Because someone has taken my Lord,” she sobbed, “and I don’t know where they laid Him!”
Just then Mary was startled by a man’s voice right behind her. “Why are you crying, Madame? Who are you looking for?”
A little intimidated by the presence of this stranger, she kept her head down as she addressed him. “Are you the gardener here?” she asked. “Are you the one who has carried the Lord’s body away? Just tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take care of Him.”
“Mary!” the voice exclaimed.
On hearing her name, the distraught woman looked up and saw the smiling face of Jesus looking at her. With a gasp she cried, “TEACHER!” and fell on her face, clinging to the feet of the risen Lord.
“It’s okay, Mary,” Jesus said with a laugh. “It’s okay! I told you this would happen! Why didn’t you believe Me?”
All the shocked woman could do was to cry, “Oh, Teacher! Oh, Teacher! Oh, Teacher!” over and over again as she held on even tighter to His feet and legs.
“Stop holding me, Mary,” Jesus said gently as He stroked her head. “I’ve got to go to My Father. But I want you to go to My followers and tell them that you’ve seen Me and that I’m going to My Father. But He is your Father too. I’m going to My God and your God. For all of you who follow Me, everything will be different now. I have made all things new!”
“Please let me stay with You, Lord!” Mary pleaded.
“You will see Me again,” Jesus answered with a smile. “But go now to My brethren. They need to know what you’ve seen and heard.”
For the second time that amazing morning, Mary found herself running from the garden to the upper room. When she stepped into the large room, it was a buzz with animated discussions on what the discoveries at the tomb might mean. When she walked in, everyone turned to face her. They could tell by the radiate glow on her face and the fire in her eyes that she had news.
“I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!” she announced with joy.
By Alan W. Harris