Her name was Mary Magdalene, and she was one of the social outcasts that Jesus healed. At one time, seven demons had controlled her body, but Jesus drove them out (Mark 16:9), restoring her sanity and self-control. She followed him from Galilee, taking care of Jesus’ every day needs, along with the mother of James (the younger) and Joanna, the mother of James and John.
A week ago, she followed him into Jerusalem. He rode an untamed, yet completely docile, donkey colt into the city. People who heard of Jesus’ presence outside the city ran to meet him, spreading palm fronds and even their own cloaks on the ground before him in a sign of reverence. What an amazing day it was! Never, in her worst nightmares, could Mary have imagined the horror that would follow that parade of praise for the Lord she served.
In a matter of days, her world was turned upside down. The high priests of Israel conspired to kill Jesus. Judas, one of Jesus’ twelve chosen disciples, betrayed him—betrayed them all, really—for a handful of silver coins, then killed himself. There was a mock trial, with an outcome that was far from just. The crowd that had worshipped Jesus mere days before now called for his death. Pilate, the Roman in charge of occupied Jerusalem, went along with the crowd’s wishes. Jesus was condemned to die, by crucifixion.
His appearance as he struggled to carry his cross to Golgatha, “the place of the skull,” was gut-wrenching. The Roman soldiers had beaten him so badly that he was virtually unrecognizable, and he faced a slow, torturous death. Nailed naked to a cross of wood, he would suffocate due to the weight and position of his body. The only way to avoid suffocation was to push his body up from nail-pierced feet or pull himself up on nail-pierced hands in order to catch a breath. It could take hours, even days, for Jesus to die.
He was crucified between two common thieves. Passers-by hurled insults at Mary’s Lord. They taunted him, and laughed at the sign above his head which read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19) They challenged him to save himself.
He could have saved himself. Why hadn’t he done it? Waiting with Jesus’ mother through the long hours, watching as he struggled for every breath, Mary wept. How could the people not see what she knew—that he really was the Son of God?
The sky turned black. For three hours, there was not one ray of sunshine to light the day. When he cried out, “It is finished,” the very earth shook in protest. The frightened people around her wondered aloud that Jesus might actually have been the Son of God, but it was too late. He was dead.
Three days later, Mary Magdalene felt as though she was still in the middle of a nightmare. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut from crying, but she got up early and, along with two other women, went to rub spices on Jesus’ body. It was a simple thing, a sorrowful chore left to the women, but it was the least she could do. He had saved her life. She would give him the respect that he deserved, even in death.
When they reached the tomb, the women found the Roman guards were gone, and the stone that sealed the tomb rolled away. Dazed, Mary listened as a man with a face like lightening told them that Jesus had risen. Excited, yet terrified, she raced back to the disciples to share the news.
The disciples didn’t believe the women, and dismissed their vision as “nonsense.” (Luke 24:11) Peter and another man ran to see for themselves what was going on, and then returned to their homes. Mary stayed in the garden, uncertain what to do next. Bone-wrenching sobs threatened to turn her inside out. Nothing made sense. Who had taken Jesus’ body, and why? All she wanted was to show one last measure of respect to the one who rescued her from demonic possession, but she couldn’t do that if she couldn’t find his body.
Overcome by despair, Mary looked into the tomb one more time. She saw two angels there, dressed in white. Did she dare trust her eyes, or was she losing her mind? She turned to find a man standing behind her.
“Woman, why are you weeping,” the stranger asked. “Whom are you seeking?”
Thinking he was the gardener, Mary pleaded with him to tell her where to find her Lord. “Sir, if you have him away,” she answered, “tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
That’s when He spoke her name.
It was one simple word, but when Jesus called her name, Mary knew him. She turned and cried out, “Rabboni!”
Jesus could have scolded Mary for her disbelief, but he didn’t. He could have revealed himself first to Peter or one of his other disciples. He could have strode into Pilate’s home, or tossed the high priests out of the temple, but he didn’t. Mary stood before him, her heart breaking under the weight of her grief, and Jesus reached out in compassion to take away her pain.
She must have moved to embrace him, because Jesus had to warn her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.”
He hadn’t even taken the time to renew His body for the days that would follow, yet Jesus stopped where He was and called out to one broken-hearted woman. He swept away her anguish and filled her with joy, then sent her off to share the good news of his resurrection.
Reading of that miraculous moment fills me with such awe that I cannot hold back my tears of joy for Mary Magdalene, and for myself. You see, the same Jesus who revealed himself to Mary continues to call each of us by name. His voice is the one we hear in those lonely hours, when everything has fallen apart. He calls to us and waits, hoping we will turn and recognize Him as the only One who can make sense of our broken lives.
And unlike Mary, we can cling to Christ. He waits with open arms, always willing to welcome us into his loving embrace. He longs to introduce each one of us to His Father. He paid the price for our sins. Now it is up to each individual to turn toward Christ, to recognize Him as the Son of God and embrace the personal relationship He offers.
Have you heard and answered Jesus’ call? If not, today is the day. Open your heart and mind. Answer His call, and He will reshape your life. He’s calling to you.