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If I could paint and I mean really paint like an Old Master or even a very lowly brand new one, then I would want to paint the picture of Mary Magdalene and the other women on their way to the tomb. There would be, on this first day of the week, a gently breaking dawn on the horizon and in the left of my canvas, the women bent close, huddled together for comfort, perhaps whispering to one another, with a lantern casting a soft glow around their somber mourning clothes. Over their arms are hanging the bunches of herbs and aromatic spices which they are going to lay over Jesus’ body. I would not show the tomb in my picture for I want to capture the mood of the departure. This has been a terrible, terrible time for all of them. However, Mary Magdalene has lost a teacher, a friend and almost certainly the only person who ever really cared for her and the loss was sudden, unexpected, unimaginably public and violent. She is about to do all she can, to take the first steps in coming to terms with it all and so, risking being caught by the authorities, who are themselves rather nervous and jumpy and of whom everyone is afraid, she and the others set out at dawn secretly to make their way to the place.
Imagine then, the thoughts that go through their minds when they find the stone rolled away and discover that the tomb is empty. I don’t know if any of you have lived through a period of unremittingly bad news, when each phone call, each message, each letter through the door brings news of fresh troubles, so much so that you almost stop wanting to open the envelopes; well this is where Mary is. Her immediate reaction is of horror and despair: “What have they done? Is it so that my Lord is not safe even in his tomb can they not leave him - O what have they done now?” and so she rushes back to the disciples no longer worried about being seen and when she arrives you can hear her distraught breathlessness: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
When Peter and John have been to see, Mary stays by the grave weeping, inconsolably. She sees the angels and, as we do when struck by grief, she repeats the one thing she knows, the only thing of which she is certain and that has filled her mind :
“They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him!”
This is such a perfect account of how she is feeling that we are not surprised that her grief continues to blind her to the first sight of Jesus and that it is not until he lovingly says “Mary”, that he is revealed to her and she can see him as the risen Lord.
Just as Jesus’ birth was announced to lowly shepherds on a hillside so his resurrection then is first shown to Mary Magdalene, a woman and by reputation at least not so respectable either. title hough the Rabbis in Palestine honoured women, that was only so as long as they functioned within the law as mothers wives or daughters. Any women outside this framework were considered a source of chaos and disorder and lower even than shepherds.
There is consistency here. Jesus’ love for the poor, the dispossessed the down-trodden and ordinary people is there throughout, from the very beginning to the very end. It is the voices of these people that give life texture and truth to the story of Jesus’ ministry and no voices more so than those of the women he meets.
We can sense the hole in Mary’s stomach as she discovers the empty tomb and we can share the joy, the ecstasy, the amazement and the wonder of discovering Jesus there and alive! We can run with her to tell the disciples.
“I have seen the Lord”
The message, the news of God’s great love for us was and is deliberately and particularly and specially given to the ordinary person, the humble, the simple men and women of the time. The message of this Easter and of every Easter is that the good news is given to us; each one of us and even if I cannot paint worth a jot, I can receive and share and live the joy of this Easter day and so can all of you.