Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." . . . But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20:1-2, 11-18, NRSV).
What do we know about Mary,
whom Luke says was called Magdalene?
Mary was one of the women
whom Jesus had healed and made clean.
We’re also told it was Mary
“from whom seven demons went out.”
Other than that she’s a woman
whose life we know little about.
“Magdalene” surely refers to
the town Magdala from which she
came. It was located on the
northwest shore of Lake Galilee.
Some commentators call Mary
a woman of sinful repute.
But their case for that conclusion
is easy enough to refute.
They say that she was the woman
who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair,
while he was dining with Simon.
But who can say Mary was there?
They cannot prove their assumption,
for false reasoning they have used.
Nor with the sister of Martha
is Magdalene to be confused.
Though we don’t know Mary’s background,
she plays a significant part
during and after the cross scene,
when we can look into her heart.
So faithful was she to Jesus,
that she was quite willing to bear
watching her Lord’s crucifixion,
and Jesus knew Mary was there.
She and the mother of Jesus
then went to the garden nearby
with Nicodemus and Joseph
to see where the body would lie.
Then they returned to get spices
with which they had planned to anoint,
after the sabbath, the body.
They felt only grief at this point.
But then came that Easter morning,
when Mary was first to arrive.
Though the grave stone had been rolled back,
she did not know he was alive.
Back she raced to John and Peter.
(Were they in that same upper room?)
Weeping and sobbing, she told them,
“They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb!”
This was a fair supposition,
for she had been there when he died.
And she recalled how the soldier
had thrust the spear into his side.
She saw the men bury Jesus
(for Mary that, too, had been hard).
Also, she knew, that the chief priests
had sealed the tomb and set a guard.
Mary had wondered this morning,
how she’d get the stone moved aside,
so she could enter the tomb and
attend to the body inside.
She was by no means expecting
that Jesus would rise from the dead.
Although the tomb was now empty,
that thought never entered her head.
Thus it is fair to say Mary
had reason enough to assume
someone had come for the body
and taken it out of the tomb.
So she looked for the disciples,
and told John and Peter. Then they,
hearing what Mary reported,
ran back to the tomb all the way.
When John and Peter had left there,
she stood weeping outside the tomb.
Finding the body was missing,
had only increased Mary’s gloom.
Peering inside she was startled
to see, John reports, that there were
two angels now where the body
had lain. Then the angels asked her,
“Why are you weeping?” She answered,
“They’ve taken his body away,
and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.”
She didn’t know what else to say.
Turning around she saw Jesus,
but she didn’t know it was he.
He, too, asked “Why are you weeping?
For whom are you looking?” Then she,
thinking he worked in the garden,
replied, ”If you took him away,
tell me and I’ll go and get him.”
But then when she heard her Lord say,
“Mary!” she knew it was Jesus
and said in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”
“Do not hold on to me, Mary,”
said Jesus to her, “because I
have to ascend to my Father.
But go to my brothers and say
I am ascending to my God
and your God.” She went right away.
“I’ve seen the Lord!” she reported.
She told them what Jesus had said.
John doesn’t say the disciples
believed her or didn’t. Instead,
John writes no more about Mary.
To see how they answered we must
turn to Luke’s Gospel, in which their
reaction is briefly discussed.
With Magdalene were Joanna
and Mary the mother of James.
Some other women were with them,
but Luke doesn’t mention their names.
All of the women bore witness
to what Mary told in detail.
But the men would not believe them;
it seemed a most unlikely tale.
Matthew and Mark in their Gospels
include other women as well.
But if the men were resistant,
these other two Gospels don’t tell.
Thus ends the story of Mary,
the one who was called Magdalene.
She was the one who was given
a role in that famed garden scene.
Those who had been Christ’s companions,
to whom he had given the word,
that he would die and be raised up,
refused to believe what they heard.
Though she was slow at first, Mary
believed when she saw him that day.
Maybe that’s why Jesus chose to
appear first to Mary that way.
Thus on that first Easter morning
the role Mary played will survive.
She was the first one to see Christ,
and tell them, “The Lord is alive!”