Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” John 20:18
Mary threw open the door to greet the rising sun lighting her courtyard. The baked clay beneath her feet was still blessedly cool, though she knew that would quickly change. Stretching, she witnessed the glory of the morning and savored the delicious aroma of baking bread mingled with pungent spices, ripe fruit, and delicate honey. Mary lifted her voice to mingle her praise with the cooing dove’s worship, “I give thanks to You, Adonai, for the rest You provided through the night and for Your Spirit who breathes life into me this new day. Great is Your love toward me. Your faithfulness endures forever.” She wanted to linger, but Passover would be here soon, and there was much to prepare.
This was the first Passover celebration since her Lord ascended into heaven. Her home would overflow with friends all week. Peter, James, and John were coming along with Dr. Luke. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Joanna were already here. She could hear them laughing, and she rushed to join them knowing they would be sharing memories as they worked to clean the house in preparation for the special night. Never had Passover been more significant to her, never had she fully understood the meaning of the Passover Lamb and the cost of her deliverance.
She was known to the disciples and her friends as Mary Magdalene because she came from the fishing town of Magdala along the western bank of the Sea of Galilee. Magdala, meaning tower or castle, had not been her place of refuge, however. It had been her prison that no amount of wealth or influence could free her from. When Jesus found her, battered, bruised, and completely dominated by seven demons, she was as wild as a caged lion, snarling and clawing at anyone who tried to come close to her. The demons controlled her mind and her body, her ravings were wild and savage, her self-inflicted injuries oozed the poisons of demonic possession. Her body still bore those scars though the powerful word of Jesus drove the demons screeching and howling in agony as they left her body. She was grateful for the scars. She never wanted to forget His deliverance.
How could she, though? She remembered clearly looking up from the rough cobblestones along the wharf and seeing Jesus as He reached down his hand to help her up. His love and compassion, the first image her renewed eyes saw, seared her heart. She whispered aloud her first rational thought in years, “Messiah! Adonai! Lord!” From that moment on, Mary was desperate to be in His presence. She followed him, along with Joanna and the other women, serving Jesus and the disciples in any way she could. She became an attentive witness. Sheard Him teach, she experienced His miracles, she blossomed in His loving acceptance. With a heart awash in gratitude, nothing was more important to Mary than attending her Lord.
Putting down her cleaning rag, Mary gathered Jesus’s mother and Joanna to her side, and they rested on the warm stone steps, each woman lost in individual memories with the silken threads of Jesus’s love connecting their hearts. Each in her own way remembered the last Passover supper Jesus celebrated with his disciples.
Mary and the other women prepared the Passover lamb for their meal, and she remained hidden but within hearing as the men ate. Her heart broke as she watched Jesus wash His disciple’s feet. She understood, somehow, that He took the form of the lowest servant to demonstrate His love for them and to teach them to love others as He did. She watched Judas suddenly get up from the table and go out into the night, wondering how he could leave the Master when it was clear that His heart was heavy. Mary followed from a distance as Jesus went with the remaining disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane. She heard Him tell them to watch and pray, and she fell to her knees, cloaked in darkness, to do that herself. She was still there when the Roman guards entered the Garden. She saw Judas approach Jesus and kiss him in greeting just seconds before the guards seized Him. She saw Peter cut the ear off the guard closest to her hiding place, and she saw Jesus reach out, touch the side of the man’s head, and restore his ear. And she hid as the disciples ran away and the soldiers bound Jesus, taking Him to the Chief Priest.
Fear and horror paralyzed her for what seemed like hours, but love propelled her forward just moments behind Jesus. The love and gratitude that characterized her renewed life made her vigilant throughout that endless night as the priests, Pharisees, Pilot and even Herod interrogated her Lord. Her loving devotion bore witness to the mocking and beating and flogging that ripped His precious flesh from His body. Her grateful eyes refused to look away when the nails hammered into His hands and feet, pinning Him to the cross that rose between that of two thieves on the hill of Golgotha. Her body shuddered with grief as He cried out, “Tetelestai! IT IS FINISHED!” and blackness covered them, and the earth split open, and all heaven wept with her. She felt the demonic laughter of victory in her body’s remembered torture, and she crumbled to the ground in despair. She heard the guard’s confession, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” She knew that was true, she believed it, but she witnessed His death, and she did not understand, and she did not know what to do now.
She had followed Him for so long; she would not leave now. So, she helped them wrap His body and accompanied them as they laid Jesus in the tomb. She stood and watched the soldiers roll the heavy stone over the opening and seal it. Slowly, everyone drifted away in silent misery until only the guards at the tomb remained, and she curled up under a cypress tree as noiseless sobs wracked her body and she continued to keep watch. The Sabbath came and went; she remembered nothing except the overwhelming need to anoint His body for burial as soon as the Sabbath ended. She and Mary, the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome prepared those spices and hurried to the tomb at first light on the third day. Mary smiled now remembering, and looking at her friends, she knew they were also remembering that morning.
They worried about someone being there to roll the stone away, but when they arrived, a violent earthquake erupted beneath them. An angel, whose appearance was like lightning, dressed in a robe of pure white, came down from heaven and rolled the stone away from the tomb. Sitting on the rock, he said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’” The women ran then to Peter and John, panting in their haste and excitement, and told them. As Peter and John raced off to see for themselves, Mary rushed after them, not really comprehending what she had heard and seen.
Much later, after Peter and John went back to their homes, Mary remained outside the tomb weeping. All she knew was that someone had taken her Lord away, and she did not know where they put Him. Looking again into the tomb, she saw two angels sitting where Jesus’s body had been and told them why she was crying. Then she turned to leave and stumbled into someone she assumed was the gardener. He, too, asked her why she was crying and who she was looking for. When she replied, she heard the one word she would never forget, “Mary.” It was Jesus! It was her Lord! He was alive! Jesus, who witnessed her in her deepest dungeon of demonic possession, now revealed His glorious resurrection to her! And He called her by name with incomprehensible love. And she ran then, with all her might, shouting the refrain that now identified her, “I have seen the Lord! He is alive!” She was His witness!
Mary Magdalene was Mary the Witness now, the first one to tell this good news to others. They would celebrate Passover this week, together again, and it would be that good news that echoed in all their hearts. The Passover Lamb, whose shed blood delivered them from darkness into light, from death into life eternal, was ALIVE! Their Passover Lamb was their soon and coming King, and someday they would celebrate the feast with Him again in heaven. Mary was ready.