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"I Have Seen the Lord"by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Alexander Ivanov (1806-1858), "Appearence of Christ to Mary Magdalene" (Noli mi tangere, 1835), oil on canvas. The State Russian Museum, Moscow. Larger image.
Mary Magdalene watched numbly. The good and gentle man who hung on the center cross had been her friend. She'd thought he was the Messiah. Now, what could she believe? He was dying.
The thief crucified next to Jesus turned to him. Mary strained to hear as the man murmured, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus' words to the condemned man echoed clearly across the hilltop: "Today you will be with me in Paradise." A chill tingled down Mary's spine. Even at death, Jesus kept on forgiving. Her thoughts surged back to the first time she had met him.
She had grown up in the village of Magdala, seven miles south of Capernaum, along the sea of Galilee. She was wealthy, her family's fortune made in the local wool-dying industry. Yet she was unhappy.
Mary was no stranger to the oppression and torment of the demonic. Often driven to compulsive, destructive acts, she despised herself, hated her deeds, but couldn't seem to stop. Her fragile life finally fell apart. Disgusted and impatient with Mary's erratic behavior, her husband had sent her back home to her father.
Mary's money did relieve her from household chores, however. She roamed the lakeshore as she pleased. When a village lad told her of the Nazarene teaching in the fields north of Capernaum, she was off to investigate.
This man radiated such good news. The kingdom of God was right here, he said. He talked of forgiveness, of cleansing, of wholeness. The sick and maimed were healed when he touched them. God seemed to be all around. Even the tormented like Mary were being set free. At Jesus' command demons would come out screaming, yet lives were liberated, transformed.
The strange drawing Mary felt warred with a nameless terror within her. Could she trust him? Mary had to force herself to join the group that crowded around Jesus. Her turn came at last. She looked up in panic. He looked down in love.
Then his eyes narrowed and seemed to pierce right into her soul, his words hard: "Come out of her, you foul demons, and let her go!" Her body stiffened, her chest tightened. She thought she would burst. She wanted to scream. Perhaps she did.
Then it was over. Her muscles began to relax. She saw his gentle smile. "Mary, you're forgiven," he said, "and you're free." She was free, too. She felt so clean, so light. She wanted to dance, to sing. She jumped up and started hugging all the startled women who stood nearby.
She almost skipped home that night. Even her father marveled. His little Mary, so long tormented, was finally happy. She spent her days with the multitudes around Jesus, using her money to purchase food for Jesus and his disciples. Her compassion and hope overflowed, especially to the women and children who came for help. Sometimes she would introduce these desperate ones to the Lord.
An aching cry from the cross jerked her back to the present. Her Lord was dying.
Mary listened through her tears. The voice that once proclaimed God's kingdom on the hillsides of Galilee now shouted hoarsely, "It is finished!" His head dropped to his chest.
Thunder clouds which had been gathering ominously all afternoon now cracked. Lightning flashed across the gruesome hilltop. Jesus' body hung limp; the others writhed. Around her she could hear the sobbing of Jesus' mourners. She took one long last look, then buried her face and wept.
Whack! An ear-splitting scream from one of the thieves pierced the eerie darkness. A soldier had shattered his legs with a club to make sure he died before Sabbath began at sundown.
They came to Jesus. Oh, no, dear God, spare him, she prayed. He's already dead. The centurion knew, she could see, but to make sure, he motioned to a soldier to thrust his spear into the Teacher's chest. Bloody water gushed out, then slowed to dribble for a time. Surely he was dead.
A soldier began to loosen the nail that fixed Jesus' feet to the cross. Two others on ladders unlashed the crossbeam from the upright and carefully lowered it — Jesus' body still attached — to their compatriots below. A couple minutes more were needed to pull the spikes from splintered holes in the crosspiece where countless other hands had bled.
Now Mary recognized Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two new disciples, carrying a stretcher onto which they lifted the body. Mary steadied the litter until they came to Joseph's nearby tomb.
In the courtyard outside the sepulcher, Mary carefully washed the pale body, removing every trace of dried blood from his mutilated back.
Night was falling. Nicodemus and Joseph worked quickly now, binding the body with long strips of linen, enfolding what few spices they had with them as they wrapped. Finally, they tenderly lay the body on a limestone niche in the new tomb. Mary watched while they heaved the massive stone into place across the opening to the tomb. It was dark when they turned to leave.
The Sabbath seemed to drag on endlessly. Despite the pain the thought evoked, Mary determined to go back Sunday morning to finish anointing the Master's body with spices. She owed him that.
Saturday's sun finally dipped below the mountains; Sabbath was over. She hurried to the spice merchant's shop and pounded on the door until he came downstairs and let her in. Spices for a burial, she insisted. No, she couldn't wait till morning.
Sleep that night came in brief snatches. Long before sunup, Mary was dressed to meet two other women she'd asked to help her. Gray dawn streaked the sky as they set out. Hurrying along, Salome whispered, "Who'll move the stone?
"Oh, the stone!" Mary said. She hadn't thought of that.
As they came in sight of the tomb, she gasped. The stone had already been pushed aside. "Grave robbers!" Mary cried. "Can't they leave him alone — even in death?"
Mary ran and ran until she found Peter and John. "They've taken the Lord's body out of the tomb," she said breathlessly. "We don't know where they've put him!"
Peter and John took off sprinting. Mary, too tired to run any farther, trudged slowly back to the garden tomb. Where else could she go? By the time she arrived, Peter and John had come and gone. The other women had waited. Now together they peered into the dank tomb.
Only coiled shroud-wrappings remained where the body had been. Suddenly the dim tomb was lit by the dazzling appearance of two men. Instinctively, the women shielded their eyes from the brightness and bowed in terror. One of the angels spoke: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
What does he mean? Mary wondered. What is he talking about?
"You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen as he said."
The women were dazed, even after the angels departed. "Risen?" said Salome finally. "We've got to tell the disciples what we've seen."
At the garden's edge, Mary stopped. "Please wait," she begged. "I need to stay here just a few more minutes. She sat down by herself, trying to make sense of it all. How could Jesus be alive? She had washed the corpse herself. Wasn't it just too good to be true? Could she cling to something this wonderful only to have her hopes dashed once more?
But if it were true, Mary thought, if it were true, then Jesus' whole life had meaning. If it were true, then he was the Messiah after all. If it were true, then the One who healed her tormented spirit had conquered death itself. If it were true....
The sound of footsteps intruded on her thoughts. Mary glanced up. It must be the caretaker, the gardener.
"Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
Didn't he know who had been buried here? "Sir, if you took away his body, please tell me where you've put him, so I can bring him back." No answer. So he didn't know....
It was Jesus! She whirled and looked up into his face. "Rabboni! Teacher!" She dropped to her knees and embraced his feet. Jesus, her Lord, was alive. Very alive. Alive forever.
"I have seen the Lord," she told the disciples.
Lenten study book Resurrection and Easter Faith
They were cynical. "Sure, Mary. Why should the Lord appear to you, anyway — a woman. And one with your history?"
Why indeed? Mary wondered later. Oh, he had appeared to his disciples
later the same day. But she had been the first. Maybe to show
that he really accepted her. Or maybe to prove his forgiveness
was forever. Why, she was never sure. But one thing Mary did know:
her Messiah lives!
Copyright © 1985-2016, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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