In church, we sing a song that recounts the story of Mary Magdalene’s finding of the empty tomb. We have sung this song before, but somehow, suddenly, on one Sunday, I saw the whole scene in my mind’s eye. And it has stayed with me.
I thought about how it must have felt for Mary Magdalene to watch Jesus as He went about preaching and healing—how amazing and inspiring, the long awaited Messiah! She personally knew the power of Jesus, because He had cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2). After that, she and several other women, traveled with Jesus and the Twelve disciples, throughout His ministry. Luke says that Mary Magdalene and these women “supported them out of their own means” (Luke 8:3). She was there when He was tried, and whipped, and beaten. She was one of the few that stood with His mother and saw Him crucified (John 19:25). Just devastating.
And Mary Magdalene is the first person to go to the tomb on Resurrection Day; in fact, it is still dark when she sets out (John 20:1). Can you imagine that slow and lonely walk? I see her: head down, eyes on the path, remembering His life and the awful way He died. When she finally arrives at the tomb, she is dismayed: His body is not even there. Shock, disappointment, and ultimate defeat. What now? It did not occur to her that He had risen.
I can imagine her sounding so forlorn as she tells the angels she meets, but does not recognize: “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put Him.” (John 20:13). What a devastating feeling. Not for long, though. Soon after, she hears Jesus speak her name and she sees her Master. What a pivotal moment for her! Amazing.
Some people believe that Mary Magdalene was the woman who’d had a brush with death herself. This woman had been caught in adultery, and she was on the verge of being stoned to death, the accepted punishment for adulteresses at the time. But Jesus, the Holy One of God, said to the crowd, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:7-11).
I am sure this was the last thing she expected. He turned the hour of her death into new life.
Mary & Martha
And there was another Mary, and another encounter with death. Mary and Martha, loved by Jesus, sent for Him because their brother was very ill. But Jesus delayed two days before beginning his journey to meet them. Once he did arrive, their brother Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. Both sisters said the same thing to Jesus:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (John 11: 21, 32).
Was this said in resignation, or as an accusation? Such a dark hour for this family. But it is always darkest before the dawn. Because then Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb and back to life.
Mary, Mother of Jesus
In His own life, from the beginning, there was a Mary. A very young girl accepted a call that could have brought unbelievable shame on her — an unmarried mother was a pariah. In fact, answering this call could have been her death sentence. Yet her response was this humble offering: Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word (Luke 1:38).
Like mother, like Son. Thirty-three years later, He would answer the Lord’s Call in a similar way, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). His obedience led the way to Calvary. On that barren hill, Mary stood with the few who had not been run off by fear, and watched His agony and watched His death.
As He left this world, Jesus bequeathed His mother to John, the beloved disciple. How did it feel to watch the One she had brought into the world, go out of it? To see His Light extinguished? She must have felt like her life was over. Then, three days later, this same Jesus rose from the dead. He resurrected Himself and made it possible for us to join Him in fellowship with the Father.
His life, death, and New Life inspired the apostle Paul to write these words, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
In each of these, there is a woman, who thinks she has lost it all. But Jesus creates life out of death. He reverses tragedy, ushering in greater victory. Looming defeat leads to inexplicable joy. All of this in order to demonstrate Who He is: it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it (John 11:4).
If we look at our own defeats and tragedies…this is where the Lord is demonstrating His steadfast love for us. At the darkest moment, He is the Light. When all seems lost, He steps in and He brings a Hope that no one else can. This is the Hope that does not disappoint.