How does your garden grow? Poor Mary Magdalene. Maligned through the centuries as a prostitute because she dared to be a woman with money and faith and the commitment to be at the tomb at sunrise on the third day.
I really love this story. It’s a fun one to immerse myself in, imagining Mary leaving the house where she was staying, alone in that predawn blackness that’s so terribly opaque, slipping through the uneven streets of Jerusalem. Did she have a torch, or did she make her way using eyes accustomed to the dark? What were the disciples doing? What drove Mary to go to the tomb?
Love, I believe, and a terrible, sleepless grief. Powerful emotions drive a woman unaccompanied into the dark. She walks out of the gates, across rough terrain to the tomb, arriving as dawn breaks. Have you been outside when night becomes dawn, then day? The sky goes a really pretty lavender-gray first, then light rings the horizon. The stars dim and color leaches from the world before the sun actually rises. Imagine expecting a rock in front of the tomb, expecting only the blankness of stone between you and the man you call My Teacher, expecting only to pour out grief and ask why? Why? What do I do now?
Imagine finding the rock rolled away, the tomb empty, the cloths stinking of a broken and putrefying body. Imagine finding no body, an indignity heaped upon the brutal indignity of death on the cross. No body to wash and anoint and bury, the last acts of love and tenderness we can give the dead.
In the middle of this the other disciples provide a rather comic relief. Mary runs to get them. They follow her back to the tomb, and then say something like, “Yup, he’s gone.” Then they GO HOME.
But Mary doesn’t go home. Mary stays past all reason or hope, mourning what’s no longer there, and she’s rewarded. She sees angels, and then someone she doesn’t recognize. It’s another lesson in humility, because she has no idea who this person is, but she’ll beg the body from whomever will listen. “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
I will get him. A woman begs to be told where a dead body is so she can pick it up and carry it God only knows where, or how far. Not “I will bring my big strong man friends to carry him away” but “I will get him.” I. Will. Get. Him. That’s her teacher, her Lord, and she will get him.
Jesus says not to hold onto him, and at this point, Mary’s quest for the body disappears because she gets the point: holding onto the physical person of Jesus prevents us from encountering and walking with the resurrected Christ. From now on, Jesus truly lives outside our expectations. He’s not alive…except in our hearts and in the Body of Christ that is the church. He’s not easily recognizable. Mary knew him, then didn’t know him…until he spoke her name. But she had guts and faith and an ear to hear. Good night vision, too.
If only we all had the faith of Mary of Magdala, the most contrary of Marys, searching for death and finding impossible, glorious life in the process.