Darkness wraps around me like a cloak, forcing me to slow down on the uneven path to the tomb. Still, I’m grateful for the lack of light. Too many hostile eyes have watched us lately. Too many mocking tongues have hissed insults—first at him, then at us. At least now, before sunrise, we walk unseen and unhindered.
I think back to the strange darkness that had cloaked the land as Jesus hung on the cross. The tongues had stopped their mocking then too. The very people who had shouted Crucify! had slunk away in fear, allowing us to edge closer. Close enough to hear Jesus speak his dying words. It is finished.
At the memory, fresh tears sting my eyes. I had thought my well of tears depleted, yet they flow again at the realisation that I will never again look into those eyes brimming with love. That I will never again hear his voice calling Mary or his deep-throated laughter as a healed leper leaps for joy. I danced with delight on the first day we met, the day he drove my inner darkness away with a single command. And he had laughed with me.
It is finished. Forever that voice has been silenced.
“Mary.” I stop at Salome’s soft call and turn to wait for her. She has brought an oil lamp to guide her steps. In the lamp’s glow I see the worry etched on her face. “Who will roll the stone away for us?”
I think of the tomb stone that Joseph, Nicodemus and John had wrestled into place just before the start of Shabbat. Roman soldiers had lurked in the shadows, not lifting a finger to help. If it is true that the soldiers are still guarding the tomb, will they help us today? I doubt it.
“Should we turn back and wait for the men?” Our friend Mary has caught up with us. The woody, warm smell of her embalming spices wafts towards me.
I shake my head. I am going. I need to be close to him, even if death and a slab of stone separates us.
On the horison the black sky is lightening to blue. Now I can make out the skull-like silhouette of Golgotha, hill of death, and the gentler lines of the hill holding the tomb. Holding him. Walking a little faster, I arrive before the others. I stop. Where the tomb stone had been, a black hole now gapes at me like a screaming mouth.
I edge closer. Who has been here? Did the soldiers do this? I take another step forward and another, bending down to enter the tomb. Inside I straighten, breathing in the dank, cold air. Almost no light spills through the entrance, so I go down on my knees and slowly feel my way over to where Joseph had lain the body. My fingers finally touch the course grave-cloth. It lies shapeless on the ground.
Only when Salome’s light finally falls into the cave, do I fully comprehend the truth. The Rabbi’s body is gone!
I burst from the tomb, past the two older women, and run through the grainy morning light, rage and sorrow swelling inside me into a silent scream. Is there no respect, even in death? Was it not enough to steal his precious breath? Did they have to steal his body too?
By the time I find Simon and John my throat burns and my breath is ragged. “The Lord’s body is gone.” I force the words out between sobs and gasping breaths. “We don’t know where they’ve put him.”
The two disciples take off without a word. For a while I try to keep up with them but dizziness assaults me, slowing me. I trudge on—blinded by tears—and eventually make it back to the tomb. There’s no sign of Simon or John. I bend down to see if they are inside. Two men sit where the Rabbi’s body had lain. I start to say Simon’s name before I realise these men are strangers. More than that, they are…
“Dear woman,” one of them speaks before I can make sense of just who they are. “Why are you crying?”
I wipe the tears away and take a deep, shuddering breath. “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him.”
The men do not answer, although something passes between them—a smile perhaps—so I turn and leave the tomb.
A new man stands a few paces from the tomb’s entrance. I do not want to speak to another stranger so I keep my head down. But he speaks to me.
“Dear woman, why are you crying?”
Perhaps he is the gardener and has had to move the body for some reason. I sense compassion in his words and feel emboldened to say, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me, and I will go and get him.”
He speaks again—just one word—and the breath catches in my throat.
It’s the voice I thought I would never hear again. The voice of life and laughter and love. His voice.
“Rabbi! “I stumble towards him and fall to my knees, clutching his ankles—warm and alive. I do not understand how Jesus stands before me but he does, and nothing else matters.
He bends down and strokes my hair, then lifts my chin so that I am looking into his eyes. Eyes brimming with love.
“Don’t cling to me, Mary,” he says gently, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father.”
Reluctantly I let go of him and rise to my feet, my eyes never leaving his face.
“It’s really you. But how…? I saw you die. I saw your body.”
He nods and says, “Go, find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
I do not want to leave him. I want to stay by his side. Forever. He knows my thoughts, as he always has, but he smiles and nudges me forward.
I cannot disobey, so once more I walk the familiar path, casting one last look back at Jesus as he stands beside the tomb that could not hold him in its cold grip.
Somewhere along the path I begin to run again. This time what rises up in me is not a cry of rage and sorrow, but rather a joyful song of praise.
I had suspected it before, but now I know it for sure: Jesus is the son of God himself, the Messiah, for what man can conquer death the way he has? And I, Mary of Magdala, am one of his loved ones. Oh, the joy!
I find the others in the Upper Room, some weeping, some in deep discussion. When I burst through the door the conversation hushes and every eye turns to look at me.
“I have seen him,” I shout, and I wish my voice could carry to all of Jerusalem. “I have seen the Lord!”
This story is based on John 20:1-18 and is from the book Journeys: On Ancient Paths of Faith.
Some of my other Easter stories are Murderer in the Crowd (Journeys Collection) and The Kiss, the Strike and the Touch (from Encounters: Life Changing Moments with Jesus).
Image by Jeff Jacobs (Pixabay)