Based on the gospel accounts in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20.
I know Easter Day has come and gone, but there was one moment from the Easter story that wouldn’t leave me even after I’d picked all the plastic grass out of my carpet.
Every time I read the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the Sunday morning scene captivates me. Though Bible scholars disagree about the chronology presented in the four gospel accounts, Jesus’ resurrection rings true from every angle.
I imagined the short scene outside the empty tomb from Mary Magdalene’s angle. I hope you enjoy:
Mary Breaks Down
When Peter and John arrived at the open tomb, the guards Mary had described as dead men, the ones she had stepped over as she peered into the tomb, were gone.
Peter cast a sideways glance at John, and Mary felt her certainty evaporating.
“They were here.” She said as she searched the dirt for signs of them being dragged away.
Had the Romans retrieved their own dead as well?
The angels were also gone. The tomb was dim, but the burial cloths lay in the deflated form of a man, and the face cloth was still folded, just as she had told them.
Mary felt herself shivering as she watched Peter and John slowly walk away from the garden, shaking their heads.
She was still recovering her breath. The three of them had run the whole way. Sweat trickled down the middle of her back and caused a chill in the morning coolness. The sun had peeked above the horizon and warmed the stone she had worried about moving. She leaned against it, and her tunic soaked up the sweat.
Her neck stung where the strap of her spice-filled satchel had rubbed it raw as she’d fled this place hours ago. In terror and astonishment, she had run from this garden of bones with news from an angel that Jesus was not among the dead.
Mary was familiar with spirits. Evil spirits had once made death look appealing, like something to crave. But this spirit, this angel, reminded her that death was not to be craved but conquered.
“He has risen,” the angel had said. “Quick! Go and tell his disciples,” he raised a hand as if to stop her from rushing away and added, “and Peter. Makes sure you tell Peter too.”
And so she had. If the eleven disciples hadn’t been so paralyzed with grief and fear, they might have laughed her out the door. Instead, they chided, her.
“You’re not making sense, Mary.”
“You should have slept instead of visiting his tomb.”
“Have you been nursing a bottle of wine all night?”
When her insistence about what she had seen and heard began to sound like nonsense to her own ears, she finally burst into tears and said the only thing that made sense, “They have taken him away, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Thaddaeus burst into a rant against Rome. Peter jumped up from the bench , and it tipped over behind him. John was out the door, and Peter rushed after him.
Mary and the other women looked at one another, “I’ll go,” Mary said, and she rushed back into the morning.
Now, as she stood alone before the empty tomb, her bewildering account was disintegrating.
She unshouldered the bag and let it slide to the ground. When it landed, the jars clanked together. Fragrance wafted up from the bag, and she knew one had broken. She didn’t care. She buried her face in her hands and began to sob.
Friday’s nightmare had beaten her down with wave after wave of injustice and lies and irrevocable evil.
She had prayed and cried and pleaded with the executioners, following Jesus all the way to Golgotha. On the way, she had reached to pull a mass of thorns from his tangled hair, but the guard had drawn his sword, and she drew back. She begged him to let Jesus have a drink, and he ignored her. When she asked to wipe the blood from his eyes so he could see, the soldier threatened to have her arrested as well.
She could not relieve his suffering. As a consolation, she had wanted to give Jesus a proper burial, but now she couldn’t even manage to do that.
She wiped her eyes with the edge of her sleeves and inhaled. John and Peter were out of sight, surely wondering if she had the fever, or worse, had been reclaimed by the demons Jesus had freed her from.
She knew she must return to the house and reasonably, calmly explain what she had seen. She must witness to the truth, even if she didn’t understand it. She bent down to look again at the place where she had last seen Jesus laying. She wanted to burn the sight into her memory.
Sticking her head inside the tomb, she gasped, and a terrified sob came up. Two spirits, dressed in white, were seated on the ledge where Jesus’ body had lain.
“Woman, why are you crying?” one of them asked.
Mary trembled and defaulted to the answer that made sense, “They have taken away my Lord,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.”
She turned to grab her satchel to show them why she had come, that her intentions were good and holy, and when she did, she was startled again by another man standing outside the tomb.
In her fright, she jolted and bumped her head on the low ceiling of the entrance.
“Sir!” she said as she pressed her hand to her throbbing head. She opened her bag to explain to the graveyard gardener why she had come. The jostled jars stirred the fragrance again.
“Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” said the gardener.
“The man who was in here.” She pointed into the tomb, wondering if this man could see—had seen—the angels. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will get him.”
As soon as the words were out, she realized she’d made a false promise. How could she carry a body? Maybe John and Peter would come back if she could find out where they’d put his body.
She waited for his answer and rubbed her damp sleeve under her nose.
Then he spoke. “Mary.”
Mary froze. An invisible bolt of lightning coursed through her and stopped her heartbeat for a moment. She stared at him. His face was vaguely familiar, but the sound of her name on his lips was unmistakable.
“Teacher!” She rushed into his arms, daring to believe they were the solid arms of Jesus and not the vaporous limbs of a spirit. She squeezed him and began to cry again.
You are good. You make us recognize your voice when we can’t believe our eyes. When we can’t seem to believe what you’ve done, help us listen for your voice. May we find relief in discovering that what you taught has been true all along, even if we didn’t understand it in the moment. Thank you for letting us recognize your voice and for claiming us by name. We belong to you, and nothing can snatch us from your nail-scarred hands.
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