By Cindy Walker
Restless throughout the Sabbath night, drifting into the sweet escape of sleep only to awaken repeatedly with the sorrow of deep grief clutching her heart, Mary rose before dawn. Methodically and numbly she gathered up the jars of spices and oils that she, Salome and James’ mother had prepared before sunset on preparation day, the day before the Sabbath. A timid knock on her door made her jump, and fear rose in her throat before she recalled that Salome and the other Mary were to meet her here. She quickly pulled her garments close to her and slipped out the door into the shadows, where the other two women waited. They silently drew into each others’ arms briefly, hoping somehow to gather strength from each other for the sorrowful task ahead of them. Silent tears trickled down their faces as they each gathered up an equal share of the jars and quietly started toward their destination.
The pre-dawn light cast strange shadows into the cool mist that hung over Jerusalem and the women shivered, drawing their black robes tighter around themselves. Each was lost in her own thoughts, terrible images flashing through their minds; bitter accusations and insults hurled at One who only came to bring new life and hope to them. How could the crowds have waved palm branches one day, only to later have risen up and crucified the One who had such love in His eyes, such healing in His hands, such compassion in His heart for sinners? How could this be? It seemed impossible. It felt like a nightmare, and yet, the chill of the early morning and the reality of where they were going struck with a crushing blow. It was a nightmare…but it was a real one.
Mary Magdalene continued to replay scenes in her mind as she walked silently beside two of her closest friends. She recalled how different her life was since she met the Messiah. She grew up in Magdala, a village well known for its fish trade, wool and woolen dyes. Early on in her life she worked alongside her mother and quickly learned the skills of spinning wool and dyeing it, preparing garments that were sought after by many passing through the countryside. Mary’s mother was a wise woman who managed her household, servants and purchases with skill and confidence while her husband and sons spent long hours on the fishing boats, earning a denarius each for their labour, day after day. She was proud of her father and how he provided for them so faithfully. Her family was happy and comfortably well off in their home in Magdala. Everyone was healthy and rejoiced in the pleasure of a hard day’s worth. That was the ‘norm’ for her family. That is, until Mary became sick.
She remembered how she came home one day after several hours at the market selling the woolen garments her family was famous for. She thought she had been out in the sun too long that day. Her body felt weak and the pain in her head grew stronger even after she lay down. After a few days, Dr. Luke grew more alarmed when she began to describe times of collapse, when her muscles would give way, sending her to the ground. Also, of times when her heart and lungs seemed to suddenly cease their function leaving her gasping for breath moments later. The powders and herbs he prescribed did little to alleviate Mary’s pain or improve her condition as days stretched into weeks. The painful boils and scaly skin condition that came several weeks later added to the hopelessness and discouragement that had settled on her and on their home.
No longer were the sounds of laughter heard where once the joyous sound was a staple during their evening meals together. Not that Mary joined them for meals now anyway, she was too sick to take much more than broth and bread. Weeks dragged into months and then a year passed, with no improvement in her condition. Gone was the hope that every young Jewish girl dreamed of: the hope of a husband and a family. Mary was known in the village now as being unclean because of her illnesses. Some even said she was demon-possessed, that each malady she struggled with was a demon that plagued her. Mary’s mother, father and brothers tried to encourage her. They felt the stigma that rested upon her but felt helpless to remedy it.
Then one afternoon the village grew loud with excitement. Someone shouted that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by! Although many in Magdala had forsaken their worship of Jehovah, still they were anxious to meet this Man they had heard so much about. Was He truly the Messiah, or just a prophet, as some said? Mary’s family talked of it as they prepared to join the people waiting in the street. Mary wondered if the stories she had heard were true. He had been in other villages and people had been healed. Was that possible? If this Jesus really did heal people, could He heal her?
Her sicknesses had been with her so long that there was not much more than a flicker of faith that pushed its way through the pain of hopelessness and discouragement that pressed upon her. “Perhaps He is able,” she whispered to herself, “But would He be willing to heal me?” Many of the villagers believed she had demons that plagued her and they looked upon her with pity and distain as they moved away from her in the crowd. For this reason alone, Mary was able to move forward to the edge of the street to see the Man everyone pressed in to see.
Suddenly He was before her, and Mary gasped as He looked at her. She was so used to the looks of the villagers that she was shocked at what she saw in His eyes. She found she could not look away from the compassion, care and hope she saw shining there. No one had ever looked at Mary that way, especially since she had become sick a year ago. She saw Him smile.
Then as He stepped toward her, she saw Him rest His hand on the head of a little girl whose lifeless eyes suddenly sparkled, as for the first time in her life, she was able to see! She threw her tiny arms around Jesus’ leg and giggled. He beamed at her and patted her head before moving toward Mary. She stood in awe at what she had just witnessed and faith leapt in her heart. This was no ordinary man! This man was from God! Little Sarah was just healed of blindness!
Jesus reached out His hand toward Mary and she knelt to kiss it and bowed down in worship. She had seen Him heal and her heart rejoiced in gratefulness. She was in the presence of One who deserved her homage. Jesus rested His other hand on Mary’s head for just a moment and said quietly, “Arise, your faith has made you well.” Then He was gone in the throng of people calling out His name, begging for His touch. Mary remembered rising slowly from the ground, the noise of the crowd fading as they hurried to catch up with Jesus. She stood alone suddenly, staring down the street at the crowd. His words burned within her, “Arise, your faith has made you well.”
Mary trembled as her faith in the Healer swept over her. She looked down at her hands. The boils were gone. And the skin condition that had left her hands gray and scaled had been replaced with the creamy, golden skin of her childhood. Her heart began to hammer, but not because of the plague that routinely squeezed the life from her heart and lungs. In fact, she could breathe more freely than she had done in months! Her headache was gone. Mary realized that although she usually could only stand for brief periods of time without her legs suddenly collapsing, that strength surged through her body! There was no weakness…there was no muscle collapse.
Mary’s heart pounded with the realization of what had happened to her. She was healed. This man of God, with such compassion in His eyes, had known her needs and healed her without a word from her own mouth. She hadn’t time to call out to Him for healing when she witnessed Sarah’s; she had just bowed in worship of this God-man. And He had healed her too!
“Mary!” Mary was startled as she was brought back to the present. Salome had asked her a question. What was it she had said? “Mary! How are we going to roll the stone away?” None of them had thought of this when they started out for the tomb. “The Master will see to it,” Mary said quickly. Then she hesitated, looking into the eyes of the other two women as the reality of what she had just said and where they were going struck them with new grief.
How often had they said those words over the years as they had traveled with Him and the other disciples? As they helped, as they cooked and served meals and set out sleeping mats; as they moved from town to town, sometimes with abundance and sometimes with little provision, they had often experienced circumstances where questions and doubts would arise. And yet, each time, the food was enough, the lodging was enough, the provision was enough. They knew it was because of the Master. He was their Teacher, their guide and their God. He was Messiah. They saw the miracles, but more than that, they saw the kingdom of God through His teachings. There was hope! Messiah was here!
Mary looked at the women and tears streamed down their faces, mirroring hers. “The Master will see to it.” Those were the words that came from her lips. The words that came from her heart. But none of that was true now. The death of hope crushed Mary’s heart. She shuddered. Partially from the damp gay mist that hung heavy around them, but the real depth of her shudder came from her soul. What would they do? About the stone? About living life without Him? Mary’s heart cried out silently to Jehovah, “Please. Will You not grant this one last chance to serve my Master?” The cold chill of silence gave no answer to Mary’s spirit.
She lifted her head and gazed upward, her prayer lifted to the Father, silently seeking communion with Him. As she lowered her gaze, through the dim light of the pre-dawn she could see the tomb ahead of her. She blinked, then quickly turned her eyes to the other women. They stared ahead, eyes riveted on the scene before them. No one said a word as they grasped each others’ arms and ran toward the tomb. The stone was gone! It was not in front of the tomb, but pushed aside! With fear, the women moved closer, then began to weep. Someone had stolen His body!
There were no words to express the anguish dashing their hearts. With tears falling, the women turned to each other in fear. James’ mother and Salome gazed at Mary, grief overwhelming them, causing their eyes to grow large and dark. Mary saw the fear that she felt mirrored in their eyes. They wanted to go home. All this was too much to comprehend after the terrible days leading up to the crucifixion of their Master. Mary drew into their arms for a moment before urging them to return to their homes to rest. “I will tell Peter,” Mary said, “Do not worry. I will tell Peter. He will know what to do.” The women drew together one last time to gather strength and then parted to go their separate ways.
Peter and John and the others looked at Mary without saying a word, but their eyes showed a mixture of grief, disbelief and pity. Poor Mary. This was obviously too much for her. Peter sprang up and rushed from the door of the house, no longer fearful of who might see him or associate him with the King of the Jews. John followed, assisting Mary and talking quietly with her as they journeyed back to the tomb.
Suddenly, up ahead, Peter stopped still. John glanced at Mary and then over Peter’s shoulder. Mary was right! The stone was rolled away! They both looked at her and then back at the tomb. Peter bent to glance inside but John pushed past him and walked into the sepulchre. The grave clothes were there! And the special napkin that had covered their Teacher’s face was folded and set aside! What could this mean? There were few words exchanged between the three, Peter and John inside the tomb, and Mary sitting on a stone nearby. The sun was beginning to rise and melt the gray mist of dawn away, warming the grass and the tiny white flowers that fluttered now in the soft breeze. Mary noticed none of that.
“Where have they taken my Lord?” she whispered. Peter and John told her they needed to go back to the house to tell the others. Mary shook her head. “I just want to stay here,” she said. Peter and John looked at each other in concern. They didn’t want to leave her here. Alone. In her grief. And yet they must tell the others. They must come up with a plan of what to do next. They looked at her again, urgency flashing in their eyes, but Mary just shook her head.
“Come to us when you can,” John said softly, and Mary nodded as she starred off in the distance, tears glistening in her eyes again. She didn’t hear them leave, she was lost in her thoughts; her healing, His traveling ministry, His teachings, His righteousness, His arrest, His beating, His crucifixion, His death. Hope died within her. It was over. There was nothing left to hope for. He was gone. Her Master, her Teacher was gone. Her healing didn’t seem to matter now because now there was no one left to minister to. Was it all in vain? Had she put her hope, her future, her life into the hands of Someone who was dead? Weeping overcame Mary as she sat on the stone a short distance from the tomb. Turning sorrowful eyes to the tomb, Mary saw two men. She was not surprised by their presence as it was customary for the gardeners to be working in the early morning before the heat of the day arrived. The man said to her, “Why are you weeping?”
Mary thought it strange for one acquainted with this garden tomb to wonder at her tears but answered him saying, “Where have you taken Him?” She glanced to the far side of the garden to see if there was another tomb nearby.
“Mary!” The gentle, yet commanding voice was the only one like it! Mary quickly turned. “Teacher!”she cried out. A smile flickered through her tears as she bowed down in worship before Him, just as she had done many years ago. She reached for His hand. He gently told her, “Do not cling to Me, but go tell the brethren that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” His eyes shone with compassion and grace as He smiled at her faith.
Mary rose from the ground, her eyes fixed on the Lord, hope dawning within her at His words. He was alive! The Master was alive! Hope was not dead. Hope stood before her and promised eternal life. The Lord had risen! A smile started within her heart and burst onto her face! “Messiah!” she whispered. “Messiah!” His words were true! Because He lived, she would live also! She rushed off to join the other disciples. She had much to tell. The greatest news of all! She had seen the Messiah! The Lord had risen! “Death had lost and life had won, for morning had come.”1
By Guest Author Cindy Walker
First published April 2012 on SGM Radio website. For current features click HERE.
1. “Then Came the Morning Lyrics.” Lyrics.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. <http://www.lyrics.net/lyric/8442675>. Written by: CHRISTIAN, CHRIS/GAITHER, GLORIA/GAITHER, WILLIAM. Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.