We watched him die—Salome, Mary and I—who had followed the Master from Galilee to care for his daily needs as the end drew near. On the day he was crucified we could do no more than stand as spectators, aloof from the hostile crowd that pressed closely about the three crosses.
An awesome darkness covered the city. The elements seemed to share our grief.
About three o’clock in the afternoon a stillness settled over the crowd. Those who had come to mock and jeer now stood uneasily with the rest, waiting.
Suddenly the silence was broken by a loud voice from the figure on the center cross:
“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”
And the head—marred more than any man’s—dropped to the tortured breast. It was finished.
When the crowd had dispersed, a man from Arimathea by the name of Joseph claimed the body, having received permission from the Roman authorities. We followed the little procession down the hill to the garden cemetery and watched as they prepared the body for burial, and placed it tenderly in a new tomb carved in rock, in which no one had ever been laid. Then a great stone was rolled across the entrance.
How can I tell you of the long day that followed? Forbidden to stir from the household, yet pacing the floor many times “a Sabbath day’s journey,” I tried to stamp out the dreadful image of the hilltop crosses—and the tragic form of that One, rejected of men, bereft of God.
When the Sabbath had finally passed—very early in the morning—I took spices and returned to the garden with the hope that the Roman guard would roll back the stone and allow me to anoint the body.
To my amazement, the stone had already been rolled aside! Inside the tomb the grave clothes lay—all in place—but the body of Jesus was gone. Alarmed, I ran back to the city—to the house where the disciples had spent the Sabbath. Awakening Peter and John, I told them someone had taken the body of the Lord.
I couldn’t keep pace with them as they ran through the early light of dawn to the cemetery. By the time I had reached the tomb, my strength was gone, my grief uncontrollable.
Looking about for Peter and John, I suddenly became aware of an earthly glow coming from the sepulcher. Stooping down I looked inside, and to my astonishment saw two figures in white, one sitting at the head of the grave clothes, the other at the feet of the place where Jesus’ body had lain.
One of them, seeing my tears, asked, “Why are you crying?”
I said, “Because they’ve taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”
I turned from the dazzling brightness of the angelic beings, sensing another’s presence behind me. It was the gardener—or so I supposed.
“O Sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you’ve put him and I will take him away.”
The figure spoke a single word. My heart leaped within me.
“Mary,” he said. And suddenly my grief and loneliness vanished.
“Master,” I cried, and flung myself at his feet, clinging desperately to that body so ravaged on the tree.
“No,” he said, gently disengaging me. “Do not hold me now. I have not yet gone up to the Father. Go and tell the disciples that I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
I watched him go, through blinding tears of joy—then marveled at how quickly I returned to the Upper Room to tell the others that I had seen the Lord—that he had risen as he said.
It was not until much later that I learned something I shall always remember—and treasure: That morning he rose from the dead, the Lord appeared first to the least worthy of all his followers. A woman who once walked the streets—possessed of devils—she was the first to hear the resurrection news. And to her was given the privilege of telling all the others.
Such love—such compassion—such forgiveness.
Do you wonder that I—that woman—Mary of Magdala in Galilee—call him Master?