Easter Zero: Mary Magdalene and Peter on Easter Morning
The Gospel of John, chapter 20:
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
My name is Mary Magdalene. I am a devoted follower of Jesus of Nazareth, later called the Christ. I knew Jesus very well. I owed my life to him - he cast out seven demons from me, serious disorders that would have killed had Jesus not intervened. When he healed me I decided to serve him for the rest of my life.
After Jesus healed me I became deeply aware and remorseful of my sins, which were many. Jesus told me that my sins were forgiven. It was outright blasphemy for Jesus to say that because only God can forgive sins. I started to protest, but then my entire mind and body was transfused with a sensation of holiness I had never known before, and all at once I knew my sins really were forgiven.
Looking back at Jesus' ministry I can see that his conflict with both the Jewish and Roman high authorities was almost inevitable. By the time Jesus went to Jerusalem, he could gather large crowds with no difficulty. After Jesus raised Lazarus from his tomb after Lazarus had been dead for four days, you can bet that large crowds were routine.
Everyone knew that the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, was deeply suspicious of large crowds of Jews. He had already sent his cavalry riding through crowds with swords swinging. The high priest and most of the Jewish high council became alarmed that Pilate would conclude that Jesus was a budding insurrectionist and the crowds would become Jesus' mobs. If Pilate then acted like, well, Pilate, his troops would kill thousands of Jews.
Because Jesus was so popular with the people, the council tried to figure out how to silence him without causing a riot. So they arranged for him to be sent to Pilate under accusation as a political insurrectionist, so that Pilate would have him executed. However, Pilate simply sentenced Jesus to receive forty lashes. Then the Council stirred up their own followers, gathered outside, to threaten to report to Caesar that Pilate was disloyal to him. So Pilate sent Jesus to Golgotha to be crucified.
I was beneath the cross when Jesus died. Several of us women disciples were there, including Jesus' mother. I have never known greater despair. Imagine how his mother felt. After Joseph of Arimathea got custody of Jesus' body and laid it in his own tomb, we women had to wait until sundown Saturday to prepare the ointments for Jesus' body and so we went to the tomb very early Sunday morning to finish the burial rites.
We wondered along the way how we would remove the very heavy stone sealing the tomb. So we were very surprised to discover the stone was gone. When we went inside the tomb Jesus' body was not there. I ran to see Peter, whom I found with the disciple named John, whom Jesus loved.
I told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
The Gospel of John:
3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
I am Peter. I had a well-deserved reputation of being one who usually didn't look before he leaped. On the night when Jesus was arrested by the Temple police in Gethsemane, I had a sword. I drew it and cut off an ear of a fellow named Malchus, a servant of the high priest. This was rather foolish – we disciples had only two swords among us, certainly not enough to make a stand against the Temple’s troops.
Jesus told me to put my sword away and said that if he chose, he could summon thousands of angels to protect him. Then he let the Temple troops lead him away while the rest of us ran away. After a while I screwed up the courage to follow. I knew that they were taking Jesus to the High Priest's house for arraignment. That was routine, but I didn't know he would face a mock court there right away.
There were a lot of people outside. I did not dare risk being identified as one of Jesus' disciples. I was not afraid of being arrested myself. If that had been true, I would not have gone to the high priest's house in the first place. Only John was with me because he had the other sword. We hoped that we would have a chance to grab Jesus from his captors and make a run for it.
That was why it was crucial for us not to be recognized and why I denied three times that I even knew who Jesus was when someone said that I was one of Jesus' followers. My Galilean accent had given me away.
Jesus had told me early that very evening that I would deny him three times before a rooster crowed near dawn, and right after I denied him the third time a rooster did crow. It was like being hit with a hammer. I wept bitterly because I had failed to rescue my Lord, but mainly because I suddenly realized what a worldly man I was. Jesus was Messiah and knew it, but he was a suffering Savior, not a conquering one. He never called for an army, he never tried to raise any troops. The idea that he wanted to overthrow the Romans by force was idiotic. But all night I had been acting as if I was a foot soldier in a worldly “Jesus army.” I had failed to rescue Jesus and I had failed to live and act according to his standards rather than my own.
So when Mary told me that Jesus' body was missing, John and I stared at one another a moment and then we ran to the tomb. John was faster and got there first, but he stopped at the entrance. I bounded right by him into the tomb and then John followed. Jesus' grave wrappings were lying there just as if they had collapsed when his body was taken, which was very odd. The cloth covering his head was lying where his head had lain. Why would someone disrobe his body before stealing it? It made no sense.
Mary had said that Jesus' body was gone and so it was. We had to believe her. Frankly, it did not occur to us that Jesus was raised because we didn't understand the Scriptures about that yet. Later we did, but not that morning.
The Gospel of John:
10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
After Peter and John saw that the tomb was empty, just as I had told them, they went home. But I couldn't take it anymore. I just broke down and cried. I peered into the tomb again, tears falling down my cheeks.
And there were two figures seated on the stone platform where Jesus' body had lain, each sitting on one end. They were dressed in pure white. I just stared because I could not figure out how they could have got inside without Peter, John or I seeing them. We had been standing either inside the tomb or right at its entrance. It was only later that I realized they had to have been angels.
They asked why I was crying and who I was looking for. Well, obviously, I was looking for Jesus. Why else would I be looking inside his tomb? But a direct question deserves a direct answer. So I said, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” They said nothing more.
Peter and John had gone home and I thought I should, too. I turned away and saw a man there who looked like one of the groundskeepers. Maybe he knew why Jesus' body was gone. "If you have taken him," I implored, "tell me where and I will reclaim him."
And then the man spoke to me. "Mary," he said.
My heart melted. It could not be possible! I had helped prepare Jesus for burial! I had handled his battered body and had seen the holes in his hands and feet and the deep gash in his side made by a Roman spear. And yet there Jesus was, standing before me! I could hardly breathe. I could only gasp out, "Teacher!" and reach out to him before I fell from shock.
Jesus pulled back a little. "Don't hold on to me," he said, and then told me to go tell the disciples that he was returning whence he came, to the presence of the one God of us all.
I felt I was about to burst! I ran back to Peter and John.
Mary came blowing through the doorway out of breath, face flushed, eyes glistening and with a face utterly transformed from infinite sadness to stunned, radiant joyfulness. We didn't move for a moment and then thought that someone must be chasing her. She placed her hand on her throat and exclaimed, "I have seen the Lord!" and then told us what had happened at the tomb after we had left.
Well, we didn't really believe her. We didn't exactly disbelieve her, mind. Mary had always seemed level headed. But her story was just too incredible. Dead men, you see, do not ordinarily rise from the dead. But then, we'd seen Lazarus do it by Jesus' command. So we could not dismiss Mary's tale out of hand even though we knew that women generally were not reliable witnesses. That's why their legal testimony was worth only half of a man's.
On the other hand, she had just before then told us that Jesus' body was missing and it proved true. So we reserved judgment on her claim she had seen Jesus risen from the dead. But it certainly was the main topic of our conversation for the rest of the day. That night all doubt was put to rest. We were all together except for Thomas. Later, Jesus appeared to us and showed his wounds.
We were overjoyed!