She had watched him die. They had destroyed the man she loved more than life itself. After a mockery of a trial that was full of lies and false accusation, they had turned him over to the Romans who had beaten him mercilessly and then hung him on a cross to die a slow, excruciating death. She had been there. It was only the day before yesterday. Something in her died with Jesus on Friday.
All she wanted to do this morning was stay in bed curled up in a fetal position. She was devastated, heartbroken. She didn't want to move. She felt she might not ever move again. She certainly didn't think she would ever really feel alive again. But love can give you power to do the seemingly impossible.
Being a woman was hard enough. Being a Jewish woman living in Palestine was even more difficult. It was like being caught in the jaws of giant pincers – the Romans on one hand and the religious leaders on the other. The religious leaders pronounced tedious interpretations of the law that were considered binding. They made life difficult. It was why she was here at the tomb so early in the morning. She and the other women couldn't finish preparing the body of Jesus for burial because he died so close to sundown, which marked the start of the Sabbath.
But the real lingering national pain was was the presence of the Romans in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Especially at this time of year. Jerusalem and its temple were the center of national life for the Jewish people. They had just celebrated the Passover, their nation's birth day feast. It was one of the three feasts each year where all the males descended from the patriarch, Israel, were to go to Jerusalem and worship the Lord their God. The Passover marked their freedom, when they were born, so to speak, as a nation. It marked the night God crushed the stubbornness of Pharaoh's heart and brought his people out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. Passover was to celebrate their freedom. But there was no freedom now. The Romans occupied the city. Anything resembling trouble was crushed by overwhelming military might. That's why the Roman proconsul, Pontius Pilate, was in town. He came every year before the Feast to make sure things didn't get out of hand. The city was always so restless at this time of year.
It seems Jesus had made the tensions worse this year. He certainly tended to draw crowds wherever he went. He didn't honor the traditions of the religious leaders. He hung out with all the wrong sorts of people. All of this both made jealous and provoked the anger of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious establishment. They wanted him gone. Especially after the incident at the temple last week.
Jesus had caused quite the scene. He overturned tables and used a whip to drive out the animals and the money changers. He cleared out the court of the Gentiles that looked like a marketplace at this time of year. He acted like it was his house and the religious leaders were just servants in the house. Jesus kept referring to the temple as his Father's house. It drove the religious leaders nuts.
But Jesus wasn't afraid of them. He never seemed to be afraid of anyone. His love for everyone was so great it seemed to drive out fear and despair and hopelessness wherever he went. He had healed the blind, the deaf, the mute and the lame. He had healed lepers and paralytics and cured incurable diseases. He had fed multitudes who knows how and given quite the lavish gift of wine at one young couple's wedding feast. He had even raised from the dead a girl, a young man, and, most recently, Mary and Martha's brother, Lazarus.
And.... he could also drive out demons. One at time or multitudes, didn't matter. He said “go,” and they went. That was her story with Jesus. She didn't know exactly how or when it started. But it was like a growing darkness, an internal claustrophobia, a sense of being a passive observer of herself, of being lost within herself. She felt trapped and paralyzed, in a constant state of dread. She certainly wasn't living. She wasn't even herself.
And then Jesus came. The darkness cleared away and she was released from whatever dank interior cellar that her soul had been crammed into for who knows how long. And there was peace. She felt well, whole, sound. And there was joy. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt that. But she knew without a doubt that she had just been given this new life and peace and joy by Jesus. And she also knew that she would follow him all her days. Life was with him.
But then he was dead and she felt the darkness pressing in on her again. Not within, but pressing from without. She forced herself to get up, gather herself and gather the spices. She walked in a daze toward the place where they had laid his body, joined by the other women. They spoke of how they might roll back the large stone that had been placed across the mouth of the tomb. When they arrived, that was no longer a concern, for the tomb stood open.
Distraught at what further abuse they might have heaped upon the body of Jesus, Mary forced herself to look within, only to find the small cave apparently illumined by a man in a bright white robe. He told them that though they were seeking Jesus of Nazareth, they wouldn't find him there because he had risen – just as he had said he would. The man told them to tell Peter and the other disciples to go to Galilee where they would see Jesus.
Not sure what they had just encountered, trembling with fear and astonishment, they hurried to find the disciples. When they arrived and tried to explain what they has found at the tomb, the disciples clearly didn't believe them. They thought that they had been so overcome with grief that they had lost their minds. Who knows? Maybe they had. But Peter and John nonetheless started running back toward the burial site. Mary followed at a distance. Peter and John inspected the linens that had wrapped Jesus' body and then left again. She stood there weeping and then wandered back to the entrance of the tomb. When she stooped to look inside, two – they must be angels she thought – angels asked her why she was weeping. She didn't answer but turned back from the opening and saw a man behind her. He also asked why she was weeping.
She blurted out in her anguish, “Sir, if you have carried his body somewhere, please tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
And then that voice. That voice that had once said her name just like that. “Mary...” And she felt the darkness go and the rush of joy come again.