Mary Magdalen's Easter Story
I could hardly wait for the morning, and when it came, the morning laughed in light.
It followed a terrible night, which in turn had followed a terrible day. Throughout that day, my friends and I had been walking together, weeping together, watching together. We had seen the soldiers nail Jesus to a cross, and there was nothing we could do, absolutely nothing. I remember trying to pray as they raised the cross from the ground and rammed it into its socket, "O God, take him quickly. Only spare him the pain; I beg you, spare him the pain."
Just before dusk he died, and they took down his body. It was not him any more: he was gone; but it was all we had left of him.
With the gloaming coming and the Sabbath about to begin, there was little anyone could do. But Joseph and Nicodemus were marvellous. They carried the body to Joseph's own tomb, and the two of them were just strong enough to roll the stone over its entrance and seal it. We had no time to anoint the body, which we all wanted to do very badly, but at least the body would be safe until the Sunday morning when we could return with our spices and do the job properly.
All day Saturday the hours dragged past, slow as death. We got the spices and ointments ready, but we soon ran out of jobs, and we just had to wait. Nobody spoke very much: we all just went over in our minds the horrific scenes we had witnessed, hardly able to believe it had happened.
I for one couldn't sleep when night came, and very early on the Sunday morning, I slipped out alone. It was still dark, but I wanted to be at the tomb by first light. I knew there was nothing I could do before the others came, but I just wanted to be there by myself, alone with my memories.
When I got to the tomb, I sat down and waited for the dawn. As the sky lightened, I was able to make out shadows, and contours, and shapes. But as I gazed at the tomb I became aware of something odd. Try as I might, I couldn't make out the stone over the tomb's entrance. I began to be frightened. I sat transfixed, staring in the growing light at the place where the huge stone should be.
Sure enough, there was no stone over the entrance at all. I could now see quite clearly that it had been moved away, rolled to the side. And worse than that, when there was enough light to show me the inside of the tomb, I could see there was no reassuring bump of body: only a white sheet lying flat on the shelf.
Panic overtook me. I jumped up and ran - out of the garden, on to the road, through the city gates, along the streets, into the house. "They've taken away his body!" I panted, "and I don't know where they have put him." Peter was up and out like a flash, and John after him. I didn't want to be left behind, so, breathless though I was, I ran after them. But I wasn't able to keep up: my heart was pounding; my lungs were burning; I had to slow down, and walk, running in only short fits and starts.
I lost sight of them. When I arrived at the tomb, there was no sign of them. I had no idea where they had gone, or what they would do about the removal of the body. I stood outside the tomb, and wept.
I don't know how long I stood there, but all the pent-up misery of the past two days broke over me in great, heaving waves. I held my veil to my face to soak up my tears and blow my nose into, and soon it was a damp, sodden rag from end to end. I had nothing now to live for. I felt empty: nothing was left; everything had gone. Even the corpse had gone.
Before I left, I took one last look at the tomb and at the empty shelf. Through my watery eyes, I thought I could make out two men sitting there, dressed in white, one at either end of where the body had lain. They spoke to me, "Why are you weeping?" they asked. I was too distressed to wonder who they were or where they came from, and I blurted out, "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have laid him."
I turned away, but found somebody had come up on the other side. He asked me, "Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?" I thought he must be the gardener, and I tried to pull myself together, for I thought he might have been the one who had removed the body. "Sir," I said, to steady my voice, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." He said, "Mary!"
I can't tell you how, but I knew immediately who he was, impossible though it seemed. I turned round to see him, and as I turned my fear left me. It was as though I was turning from grief to joy, from agony to ecstasy, from darkness to light. I turned, and saw him: Jesus! Blinking away my tears to see him more clearly, I looked him in the face. Then I fell to my knees, wonderingly, gratefully, reverently, lovingly - anything you like! It was all so wonderful! "Rabbuni", I said; just the one word, but it was enough. It meant everything. It meant, "I believe"; it meant, "I am the happiest person alive"; it meant, "I will devote my whole life to you"; it meant - oh, it meant everything you can't put into words. But he understood.
I put out my hand to touch him, and he was as warm and as real as ever I had known him. But he said, "Don't cling to me". He caught my hand gently and disentangled himself, and said something about ascending to his Father. I saw then that his hand was wounded: there was a hole where the nail had gone through, but it seemed to cause him no pain. "Go to my brothers," he said, "and tell them what you have seen. Tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
Oh yes, he was the same Jesus all right, the same Jesus who never sent anyone away without giving them their own message to take to others. And what a message he had given me! I was the first, the very first, to see him again alive, and I got the job of telling the others the wonderful news. And you can be sure that I wasted no time!
I suppose that's been the way of it ever since: once a person knows for herself, for himself, that Jesus is alive, that person can't help but tell others. Do you find that too? That, at any rate, is how it was with me, in that quiet garden when the morning laughed in light.
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