Over sixteen years ago, I had cancer (and have been blessedly cancer-free since then). Walking within sight of the valley of death is a pretty scary place. But I believe in angels. So I looked for an angel during each chemo treatment, each medical procedure, each visit to the hospital. I expected to find one, and most of the time I did. Twice I was disappointed.
Once the angel was a cleaning women. Other times they were nurses or doctors; sometimes, other patients. They all had one thing in common: they understood pain and fear. They weren’t hothouse flowers; they knew about dark places.
And so did Mary Magdalene.
In John 20, my favorite account of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene has the courage to peer into the darkness of the tomb because she has known darkness herself.
Two angels are there, and ask why she is crying. (This bit of scripture has always struck me as odd, by the way….as in, really? After all that has happened, they don’t know WHY she’s crying? Are they “slow learner” angels, unable to understand the gravity of the situation or have they just been flown in from another part of the universe…not knowing what has happened on earth???) At any rate, she answers, “They took my Master, and I don’t know where they put him.”
Next we hear her frustration, speaking in somewhat of an irritated tone, with the one she supposes to be the gardener: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away!”
(As in, how many idiots do I have to talk to here? Just tell me where you’ve put him and I’ll take care of it!)
Whatever turmoil she may have been feeling, it did not hold her back from entering into the darkness to find answers. Others were too scared to come. Peter did not see anything and went home. Yes, she was grief-stricken. Yes, her stomach was most likely upended. Yes, the darkness threatened to surround and engulf her.
But she went ahead anyway. Perhaps what gave her the strength to move ahead was the knowledge that she had already faced much so darkness within herself–and would not leave unfinished the relationship with the One who had healed her. She was loyal to Jesus in a way the others weren’t: she would see things through.
In the first century, emotional and physical maladies were seen as demons. We don’t know the details. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, leprosy, epilepsy, eating disorders…there could have been a combination of many things. Certainly her distress would have been overpowering, her isolation unbearable. Certainly she had indeed known solitary confinement within her soul.
What mattered was that Jesus had healed her. Her long sentence of turmoil-filled heartbreak was ended. For the first time in years, she was a free, fully integrated person—with a new group of people to love and a reason to live: Jesus. No wonder she was so loyal to him.
And perhaps that’s why he loved her. She was strong, rugged, and grounded. No dandelion in the wind she; no being puffed away by the first wind to come along. Both her feet and heart were strongly rooted–most likely because she had known her own demons and had been healed. For those who remember the Velveteen Rabbit, Mary Magdalene was an exceptionally strong such rabbit.
I do not believe it’s a stretch to say that Jesus depended on her. He expected to see her at the tomb; he knew that she would be there. Jesus must have been within earshot when Peter looked in the tomb, but he chose to make himself known first to Mary Magdalene, the outcast.
She showed up. She was there for him—and he for her.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Barbara Dundon Photo, Morris Arboretum
This lovely fern reminds me of Mary Magdalene: exquisitely beautiful and strong; with perfectly ordered new growth after a long winter.