"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body." (Mark 16:1)
Golgatha was quiet and unoccupied. Shouting ceased. Mockers silenced. All that was left was the clean up. Jesus was crucified on the eve of a special Passover Sabbath so the preparation of his body for burial that should have taken place was put on hold. Early Sunday morning, three women set off before daylight to attend to Jesus. Preparing a body for burial was a thankless job, women's work. The eleven were nowhere to be found. Hiding, most likely. It had been a difficult three days.
The women reached the tomb expecting to see Roman guards and having to listen to their jeers. What they saw was a a young man in a white robe proclaiming that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, but that he had risen. Being as dead is generally considered a permanent condition, the women were understandably confused and more than a little freaked out. They run to tell Peter and John, who come to investigate. Sure enough, the body is gone, grave clothes neatly folded and organized.
After the others left, Mary Magdalene stood alone in the garden staring at the empty tomb. Her mind raced with thoughts. The guards must have stolen him. That's it. It's not enough that they killed him, now they're desecrating his body. Is there no depth to what the Romans and the Sanhedrin will do to him? When will it end?
She steps toward the tomb to see inside for herself. Inside the tomb she sees two angels seated where Jesus' body should have been.
"Woman, why are you crying?" they asked.
"They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they've put him."
Maybe it was the smiles on the angels' faces. Maybe it was the sound of footsteps behind her, but something made Mary turn around. Behind her stood Jesus, but she didn't recognize him until he said her name.
She watched him endure a flogging that should have killed him. She watched the Roman soldiers mock him with a crown of thorns and gamble for his clothes. She sat at the foot of the cross with his mother for all those agonizing hours and watched him die. He did die. Every last detail of it was seared into her memory. She saw his suffering every time she closed her eyes. And now... now he was standing in front of her... alive... smiling. How could this be?
She reached for him. Who could blame her? I would have grabbed him and held on for dear life.
In that era, a woman's testimony was not admissable in court, not even eyewitness testimony. How ironic then that Jesus first appeared to a woman and told her to report what she saw to the disciples. The culture wouldn't take her testimony seriously, but the Lord of all creation trusted her with the most important information in human history. Coincidence? I don't think so. Mary Magdalene wasn't just in the right place at the right time. She was willing to do a thankless job for God and was rewarded with the gift of a lifetime. What was true then is true now.
In my personal experience, the amount of spiritual reward I receive is generally in direct proportion to amount of whining I do before actually undertaking the task in question. It's the stuff that I dread the most that almost always seems to have the greatest payoff. Mary Magdalene was willing to do a thankless task as an act of love for Jesus, but more than that, it was an act of obedient service that placed her where Jesus would be.
It's not surprising. When we serve others, we are in the place that Jesus would have us be. It's rarely glamorous. There are not a lot of accolades to be had. But in the grand scheme of things, would you rather have accolades or an opportunity to see Jesus in a new and glorious way?
(c) Sandra Perry 2005
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AMEN! Jesus had the lowly heart of a servant Himself. No surprise that we are not only expected to have hearts for servitude, but we are rewarded by the knowledge of His sure presence when we do. Very, very well done.