Have you ever noticed that most of the participants in the events of Sunday morning were the women? I am a bit ashamed to say it, but the men did not look good in those early hours of the day.
It was the ladies who went to the tomb even before it was light. They first went there simply with the purpose of paying homage to Jesus by anointing his body with spices.
It was the ladies who discovered the open tomb, the empty grave and the missing body. It was the ladies who saw the angels. It was the ladies to whom the angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” It was the ladies who then ran back to tell the disciples the news of the missing corpse, and about what the angels had told them.
Where were the men during all of these events? They had locked themselves inside their homes, afraid of the Jews.
It was not that the women had no fear. Although they later told the disciples about the missing body and what the angels had said to them, it seems that at the beginning, the women said nothing of this at all. When they first heard these words, the gospel writer Mark tells us that the women ran away, “trembling and bewildered.” In their fear they at first did not say a word to anyone.
But Mary Magdalene, even if she at first did not believe the words of the angels, returned to the tomb. Before she did however, she decided to tell Peter and John about what she had seen and heard.
Peter and John overcame their fear enough to check out what Mary was saying. They ran to the tomb to verify her story. The two men even entered the tomb to see if what Mary had told them was correct, but then what did they do? “They returned to their homes,” John admitted when he later wrote his gospel.
Sometime during the early morning, the rest of the women also got over their fear enough to tell the disciples, but the disciples had a hard time believing them. To the disciples, what the women were saying “seemed like nonsense.”
After Peter and John had left to lock themselves safely in their homes, Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb. She could not go home. She knew what the angels had said, but she still had a difficult time believing that Jesus was alive, and she wondered what could have happened to his body. After the brutality that she had witnessed at the crucifixion, she could not bear the thought of what further mutilations the people might do to the body of Jesus.
Remaining at the tomb after Peter and John had left, Mary first bent down to look inside. Through the tears in her eyes, she saw two angels, both dressed in white and sitting on the slab of stone that once held the dead body of Jesus.
Why are you weeping?” they asked her.
She responded, “Because they have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him.”
The angels apparently said nothing, and the scripture does not say this, but I like to think that they probably looked at one another with slight, knowing smiles on their lips.
Mary stood back straight on her feet. She was still crying. As she turned around, she noticed a man who had been standing behind her. He was rugged in appearance, so she assumed that he must be the gardener.
The man asked her the same question as did the angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Then he added, “Whom are you seeking?”
Mary explained to him why she was there and then said, “Sir, if you have carried him off, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
The man then spoke her name. He simply said “Mary!”
It must have been something in his voice or in the way that he said her name, but when the man said it, she recognized that this man was no gardener. If she had been looking at him while she had been speaking, she may have recognized him earlier, but out of respect and in the custom of the day, she averted her eyes and did not look at him directly as she spoke to him.
But then this man said her name. “Mary!” Perhaps he had used the Aramaic version of her name, “Maryam.”
Whatever it was, when she heard him say her name, she turned and responded to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
It was because of Mary’s persistence to find out what happened to the body of Jesus that she was rewarded, not with finding a dead body as she expected, but a living and risen Savior!
That is a summary of the account given in the Gospel of John. As I have read this account in the past, I have often wondered if John, as he was telling this story, inwardly scolded himself for not staying at the tomb with Mary Magdalene.
Did he inwardly ask himself, “Why did I go home and lock myself in my home? Any kind of a man would have stayed with the woman instead of leaving her alone. Then, simply because he was afraid, go and lock himself safely away from danger!”
Of course I do not know if he thought those thoughts and neither do I know all of the extenuating circumstances. There may have been more factors involved that we do not know about. Perhaps the closest disciples of Jesus had been singled out for a punishment of some kind. After witnessing the fury that the Jewish leaders and the Romans brought upon Jesus, it was for good reason that they hid themselves behind locked doors.
These are questions for which I have no answer. Nevertheless, the fact is that it was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom Jesus once cast seven demons, who was the one who stayed at the tomb, wondering how she could find Jesus. And as a result, it was Mary Magdalene who received the singular honor of being the first to see Jesus—not the dead body of Jesus that she was seeking, but the living and resurrected Jesus.
It is a fact that fear can be a crippling emotion. I cannot say that the level of fear that the men had was not greater than that of the women, but the women also were afraid that morning. Nevertheless, they did not allow the fear to paralyze them.
Mary Magdalene overcame her fear because of the depth of her love for Jesus. Perhaps it was partially because of witnessing these actions in Mary that John was able to learn so much about the power of love.
Again, I do not know, but somewhere along the line, this “Son of Thunder,” as Jesus one time called John, spoke and wrote so much on the power of love that he actually became known as “The Apostle of Love.”
Mary’s love for her Savior was so great that she overcame her fear.
John later wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:18-19)