Mary from Magdala stood outside the tomb, weeping.
She had gone there as the first light showed in the east, to anoint his body. Some say she had gone with the other Mary, and some with Mary his mother, and some say that Joanna was there, and some say Salome. But this Mary came in all tellings of the story.
The body was not there. Small point saying the concept of resurrection was present in early Jewish thought. Her sole thought was of the violation of the tomb – his tomb, whom she had loved in life, and to whom she had come to minister now in death.
The grave itself is a tangible symbol of death. In our burial places today it stands above the spot where a body has been laid: the marker of the final place where the dead one is put. In our time, Mary would have stood beside the grave pit and thrown her handful of soil with those of the others on to the lid of the coffin – a visible resignation to the fact of death. And, in due course, a slab or headstone would have found its place there, with whatever words of comfort or record the family deemed appropriate.
Jesus’ tomb, above ground and sealed with a heavy stone, was an even more visible reminder of the finality of it all.
The brutal fact remained. The body which they had laid inside with tenderness a day before was gone; the stone was moved, the mausoleum empty. The wrapping cloths alone remained.
Her tears, of course, were not alone for the removal of the body, but also for the pain that that poor broken and twisted thing had born in its last hours, and also for the dashing of the hopes that had been built up within the community of disciples, that the kingdom was indeed near at hand.
And part of the pain that he had born with him on the cross, was the knowledge of how they all had felt at the ending of a dream. And yet it needed to be done – for only in the dashing of their hopes was there a path possible into the future – his future.
Mary was strong. She had no fear, though she was in the garden by herself. But she was startled.
The man who appeared beside her must have moved silently, for she did not hear him approach, so wrapped up was she in her thoughts, her loss.
She did not look at him: it would have been improper for one in her station to look a man openly in the face, nor did she recognise his voice when first he spoke.
It was only when he called her by her name, that the familiar inflexions – for so often he had spoken to her in that tone of voice – penetrated her consciousness.
How did she feel at that shock of recognition – for no other man had ever spoken to her quite that way? She reached out and touched his hands, his feet.
He would not let her cling to him – how dearly must she have yearned for that embrace. But she did what he asked without thought and without question.
There is one stands by us now. How does he look at us? Is there tenderness in his eyes for one to whom he has is so close – the sometimes errant child, who still always turns up at the meal table?
He came silently: he often does that – not that he creeps up hoping to take us by surprise – just that we are so busy with our thoughts, we do not hear his coming.
He speaks. At first we do not recognise his voice. How often does that not happen? The failure to recognise the voice in the distortion on the phone – the call across a crowded room (whose voice was that?) – or the voice in our ear as we walk along the street.
How often – especially when we are busy or distracted (and there’s cause enough for that) – do we fail to hear at all the voice of the one standing beside us? Has he gone already? Perhaps he’ll come again tomorrow.
And does he now not speak again to us, calling us by name? And do we like Mary now light up at the sound of his voice?
Or do we find that the word is hard? Perhaps we got the message wrong. Perhaps it was the gardener after all.
What was the message we wanted to hear? Do I have Mary’s strength to do without question my Lord’s behest?