The story setting is early on that Sunday morning after Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:1-18). This time of year, Jerusalem can be just over 20°C (about 70° on the old scale) during the day. Early that morning it may have been about 10°C (50°F), so Mary probably wrapped herself up against the cool early air as she headed towards the garden tomb. At that hour on a Sunday morning the streets may have already seen a little activity as there were many guests in town for the 8 day Passover festival.
That Sunday was going to be the day of the wave sheaf offering, the only hint of Christ’s resurrection in the entire Old Testament festival tradition. Mary was still in shock and grieving the horrific death of Jesus. What she would soon discover sounds too good to be true, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Every now and then we hear of someone who does not like other people at church. But, the apostles did not get to choose who the other apostles were and we don’t get to pick who our church friends are. They are chosen for us by Jesus. If we had to choose, we may not have chosen someone like Mary Magdalene to be a part of our church at all. She grew up in Magdala near Lake Galilee, that’s why she is often called Mary the Magdalene or just Mary Magdalene. Magdala was like many towns that were heavily taxed by the Romans. To survive the poverty caused by the heavy taxation, brothels were commonplace.
Mary’s name also suggests that she was single, but there is no Bible proof for the popular legend that she was a prostitute. She has been confused with the Mary who wiped Jesus’ feet and was from Bethany (John 11:1-3) not Magdala. Some have suggested that she may have suffered some kind abuse at the hands of Roman soldiers and that is why she became crazy. She may have been called in our language names such as Mad Mary or Mary the Schizo. Insanity and demon possession may not be the same thing, so let’s just go with the Gospel accounts and leave psychological and demon speculation to the experts.
The story tells us that she was possessed and tormented by seven demons. Often times when we know someone in our community who is crazy, they have no friends. Perhaps Mary was like that too. Some people fear those with demons and mental illnesses. In Mary’s case, it was she who was living in fear every day and probably had a lot of sleepless nights as well. Perhaps she even thought of suicide at times to stop the torment and the pain. Rejected by family and friends, her only company may have been the demons which tormented her day and night.
Many of us are in some ways like Mary, imprisoned by the invisible bars of emotional pain, possessed by habits we can’t break, tormented by the memories of past sins.
Then one day, a wonderful voice broke into her dark and depressing nightmare. Mary heard the voice of Jesus call her. MARY! He told her he had driven the demons away. Nobody else had been able to help her. It seemed to her that for the first time in her life somebody really cared. Somebody actually loved her!
The dark cloud that had surrounded her life was gone. The pain in her body was gone. A new energy surged through her soul. It was a moment she would never forget.
From then on, perhaps morning became a special time for Mary. No longer did she awake after a nightmarish sleep to a dark reality. Now she greeted the sunshine with joy. Perhaps she wondered at first if the demons would return, but when Jesus heals someone they have life again.
She became a faithful follower of his teachings. While others followed him, she was all the more motivated. He had given her new life and she wanted to serve him in gratitude.
Other women followed Jesus too. Mary developed special friendships with Joanna and Susanna. Like Mary, these women too had pledged to support Jesus in any way they could. He may not have had finances left over from the gifts of the Magi. Jesus was not a wealthy man. He had an itinerant ministry where he walked everywhere. Luke 8:1-3 indicates that these women gave Jesus financial support, so Mary must have had some financial means.
Mary of Magdala is mentioned more often than some of the apostles. St Augustine called her the Apostle to the Apostles. She may have also taken care of some of the food, lodging and hospitality for the disciples in various towns. Jesus had met her deepest need and she was only too glad for him to do the same for others. Jesus healed many men and women of physical and spiritual sicknesses. Even the demons obeyed him. People were excited about Jesus and the kingdom that he preached.
Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and the excitement was enormous. People came out to see him. Crowds cheered and waved tree branches. They shouted “HOSANNA!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The disciples also joined in the celebration, with singing, dancing and cheering. They anticipated him freeing them from Roman oppression. Perhaps at Passover Jesus would announce himself as their king. They were so excited.
But then everything changed. Joy and celebration gave way to fear and crying. Women are often more able to sense a man’s mood. Perhaps they sensed Jesus’ sombreness in his eyes and voice. But like all the disciples, perhaps they too refused to believe what was about to happen.
Then Mary along with the other women heard that Jesus had been arrested. Perhaps they watched from a distance as they took him to be executed. Many Jewish leaders had been plotting this for months. They falsely accused him of treason and blasphemy and led him to Jewish and Roman authorities. The charges were just lies trumped up by those who just wanted to eliminate a threat to their own positions in the community. Jesus did not defend himself. Why?
Maybe the Romans would give him better justice than the Jews? But they were no better. Roman guards physically abused and mocked Jesus. They whipped him and spat on him. That was a crime. Jew or Gentile, they were all guilty of his suffering. Even the Roman leaders Herod and Pilate gave him no justice, nor did they even question the atrocities committed by their own soldiers. The Romans then turned Jesus over to a lynch mob to be crucified.
Mary Magdalene was there as they nailed him to a cross. Murderers crucified him next to other murderers. Yet, Jesus had healed the sick and the lame. He had performed great miracles and cast out demons. Even the wind and sea obeyed him. How could this the Son of God die?
The soldiers mocked him to save himself. Mary believed that he could, but he did not. Why? Jesus had delivered her from her demons, but he would not deliver himself. Why?
And he died...
The disciples died inwardly with him. His suffering ended, but their suffering under the Romans remained. What was it all about?
Mary walked with them as his lifeless body was placed in a tomb. Night was falling and the Sabbath was beginning. But that Sabbath was not a rest day, not inwardly, not in their souls. Perhaps many of them believed there was nothing more to live for. Sabbath was supposed to be a day of worship as well as rest, but Mary could not worship. She was too confused. What did it all mean. At the first hint of dawn’s light she headed for the garden tomb.
It was still too dark to see inside the tomb, but not too dark to see that the stone covering the entrance had been rolled aside. Mary wondered who could have moved it. Had someone stolen the body? She ran to the disciples, breathlessly explaining what she had seen to Peter and John. They then ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John looked inside and believed. The two men returned to their accommodations.
Then Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb and not sure what to think she began weeping. She was stricken with deep despair. Dejected and confused she could only cry.
She saw two men sitting on the long stone shelf where his body had laid. She was so grief stricken that she hardly noticed they were bright shining angels.
They asked her, WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?
It must have seemed like a stupid question to Mary. Had these two men taken the body? Turning left and right she answered that someone had taken her Lord and she did not know where. Turning, she saw Jesus standing there too but did not recognize him at first. Was he a caretaker?
The man asked her, WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING? Who is it you are looking for?
Who are these people? Don’t they understand Mary’s grief? She asked him if he had carried away the body. She was not interested in punishing him only in retrieving the body of the one who had released her from her demons. He had then mentioned her name and seven demons left her.
Then the man in the garden said one word, MARY.
She turned to him and cried out in her language, RABBONI! Teacher!
All it takes is one word from Jesus and all our worries are gone. Mary went from grief to joy in a split second. As he spoke her name before and released her from her torment, so again he spoke her name and her torment was gone.
She just wanted to fall at his feet and grab his ankles, but he cautioned her that he had not yet ascended to our Father in heaven. He commissioned her to go to the disciples and tell them.
Mary was the first to hear that famous phrase, He is risen. She was the first to bear eyewitness to the risen Christ. That is why she is sometimes referred to as apostle to the apostles.
Adapted from “No Reason to Cry” [Robinson, Haddon W.; Robinson, Torrey (2003-03-01). It's All in How You Tell It: Preaching First-Person Expository Messages (pp. 126-127). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]