She must have been one of Jesus’ closest disciples, known by others for her deep devotion.
She was there at the foot of the cross as Jesus died (John 19:25). When Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and laid it in his own family tomb, she followed, and thus knew where the tomb was (Matt 27:61; Mark 15:47). She and her companions wanted to bring spices and perfumes to treat their crucified Master’s body with the proper honor, but had to wait until the Sabbath was over (Luke 23:56).
And early Easter morning, she went. We don’t know how many women went with her. But she is the only one whose name appears in all four gospel accounts.
We know very little, unfortunately, about Mary Magdalene. She probably hailed from the town of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. Luke 8:2 tells us that Jesus had cast seven demons from her. She and other women who had been similarly healed sometimes travelled with Jesus and the Twelve, supporting them as they could (Luke 8:3). Some believe Mary is also the “sinful woman” of Luke 7 — but if this were the case, it’s hard to understand why Luke wouldn’t tell us so, when he identifies her by name shortly thereafter. Better to go with what we know: Jesus freed her from her demons, and she gratefully gave of her devotion and resources in return.
And perhaps most significantly: in John’s account, she is the first person to whom the risen Jesus appears. Not Peter. Not the beloved disciple. Mary Magdalene, a woman, someone who may not have been considered a “real” disciple in the traditional sense of the word, because she wasn’t one of the men.
Mary had been to the tomb and found it open and empty. Distraught, she ran back to Peter and the beloved disciple. The two men ran to the tomb themselves, went in, and saw the linens lying where Jesus’ body had been. The beloved disciple believed on the spot, while Peter may still have been a bit bewildered.
Mary, apparently, had run back with them. We are not told of any conversation between her and the men. No, “There, there, Mary, everything will be okay.” No, “Gee, Mary, what do you think happened here?” Not even, “Well, thanks for letting us know.” They just went back the way they came, leaving her to weep where she stood, just outside the tomb.
She bent down to peer inside the tomb, and there she saw two angels sitting on the stone ledge where Jesus’ body had been laid. One sat at the head, the other at the foot, as if to highlight the fact that there was no body between them.
“Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13, CEB), they asked gently.
“They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him,” she replied. The possibility of resurrection had still not occurred to her. She was still stuck in the same tragic storyline of death and desecration.
And the only person who could get her unstuck was the same one who had given her the gift of spiritual freedom in the first place.
We’ll continue the story on Tuesday.