The grief of Mary Magdalene must have been extremely intense. Though Scripture, history and archaeology make absolutely no testament whatsoever to Mary having been romantically involved with Jesus, it is quite obvious that she cared deeply for Him. He had rescued her out of the darkest pit; He was her Savior, her Lord.
Like the other disciples, however, it appears that Mary did not grasp what Jesus Himself had to say about His death and resurrection. Each of the Gospel accounts record that Mary and some of the other women who followed Jesus went to the tomb where He was laid on the third day (the second day being the Sabbath, and therefore travel of this sort being not permitted) to finish the job of properly burying Him. How they intended to get the guards to allow them in is anyone’s guess. What is clear is that Mary’s devotion to Jesus would continue on, even after His death.
In John 20, we read:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him! – vs. 1-2 (NKJV)
Imagine the horror and grief. If someone you loved dearly had died, and you wanted to go visit their grave, but you then discovered that the body had been disinterred, there is no doubt that you would be shocked. Angry. Stricken anew at the loss you were facing.
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) – John 20:3-9 (NKJV)
“The other disciple” here is John, who commonly did not identify himself in writing. It is interesting to note that these were the two of the now-eleven disciples who ran to investigate the truth of Mary’s astonishing claim. First of all, in Judaism, to touch a dead body or anything that a dead body had touched would be to make oneself ceremonianlly unclean for a certain amount of time. The fact that Peter and John were so willing to visit the tomb speaks of their devotion. Secondly, Peter had outright denied knowing Christ, while John, though initially abandoning Him, was the only male disciple recorded in Scripture to witness the crucifixtion. Peter, John and Mary all needed some specific answers.
Peter and John would get their answers later, on a beach, over a breakfast of fish.
Mary would get hers now.
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 1and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” – John 20:10-13 (NKJV)
She was lost without Jesus. He gave her a sense of value, of purpose. Though God had never given any command that made women second-class citizens, the surrounding culture, both Jewish and Roman, looked at her that way. Not only was she a woman, but she was a woman who had once been demon possessed. Two massive strikes against her standing. Jesus, though? He treated her with care. He restored her dignity and allowed her a place. She was healed, restored and able to learn at His feet. This was extraordinary.
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” – John 20:14-15 (NKJV)
Mary was so overwrought with grief that she actually planned to somehow carry Jesus to…where? She probably wasn’t thinking that far ahead. She just wanted to be near Jesus, in whom her entire identity was wrapped. Mary was not perfect, by any means. She was a sinner in need of the same continual grace as the rest of the world. She simply understood that, without Him, she was nothing.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus 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.”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. – John 20:16-18 (NKJV)
Mary, a lowly woman in the eyes of the world, was the first person to see the risen Lord, and the first person ever commissioned to tell someone else about it. The words of her lips reverberate all throughout history. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:
He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. – vs. 28-29 (NKJV)
I am not out to play the game that tries to prove that women are somehow better than men. This isn’t the point of Mary’s story. What I see here is a woman who was everlastingly devoted to the Lord. She followed Him wherever He went – through the crowds and acclaim, to the trial and the death, to the tomb and the miracle. I see in her the simple faith which we would all do well to emulate. Was she without questions, sorrows, disappointments, mistakes? No, certainly not. She just seems to have understood that the Source of healing and answers was to be found only in Jesus.
Only Christian faith teaches that women are equal to men. No other religious system on the face of the planet allows women such a place of understanding and honor. Yes, in the name of God and the Bible many people have gotten it wrong and tried to jam women into certain proscribed roles. That isn’t God, though. He commissions women just the same way He does men. He calls women to direct relationship with Him, through no other mediator than the Messiah. On the day of days, when those who are dead in Christ will be resurrected, it is His voice, and none other, that shall call all women and men forth from their graves.
This is the answer Mary received that first Easter. Why did Jesus have to die? Why didn’t He stop all those horrific things from happening?
So she could have life. Abundant life, joyful life.
Eternal life – found only in the saving grace of the Lord, as outlined in Ephesians 2:4-9 –
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (NKJV)