Mary has slept and eaten little for the last 48 hours or so. Friday was a blur. Her best Friend, her Teacher, her Lord was crucified as a common criminal that day. Her thoughts tumble one over another in wild disarray. He had hinted at his death. That’s why she had bought that expensive alabaster box of spikenard. But then the people had welcomed Him into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, as the prophet had foretold. They had welcomed Him as Messiah. And her heart had nearly burst with happiness – and gratitude.
Jesus had pulled her out of the depth of degradation so many times. Seven demons He had cast out of her. Too many times she had invited the demons back in. She remembers how the people had all despised her. No no one would talk to her. No self-respecting man would ever marry her.
But He had shown her respect. When He came to dinner at the house she shared with Martha and Lazarus, she had thirstily sat at His feet to absorb the words that fell from His lips. Words of purity. Words of promise. Words of power. Something had stirred within her – maybe these Words could change her life too! And then Martha had called. She was busy in the kitchen and complained to the Teacher that she, Mary, was not helping. Guiltily, she had started to get up, but He said, “Leave her alone. She has chosen the better part!” Tears had welled in her eyes, because He understood how much His words meant to her. They were life! They were hope! They were redemption!
She loved this Man! No, not as she had loved other men. She could never think of this Man in the same way. He was so … so above them all. She adored Him. She worshiped Him as Someone from above. A Teacher sent from God. The Messiah! She followed Him wherever He went. That’s how she happened to be in the crowd that shouted, “Hosannah to the Son of David!” In elation, she had shouted with them. This was He!! This was the Messiah for whom they had waited so long! Soon He would reign in Jerusalem, and all things would change. Could she dare hope that life for her would change too? Could she dare hope that others would respect her? No matter. He respected her! He knew her. He would look after her – one way or another.
Then there was the reception at her Uncle Simon’s house – the respected leader Pharisee despised her. He despised her because he had used her for his own selfish reasons. She, who had no protector because her father was no more. He had used her, when he should have protected her. It had been the beginning of her slide into the abyss where the demons were waiting for her. She had been used by them for too long.
And then the Master came, and He cast them out. Seven times. Because she kept sliding back to the life she had been used to. But no more! She had sat at the Master’s feet. She knew He respected her. She knew He loved her.
When she was sure that He would be crowned king, she thought of that expensive alabaster box of spikenard with which she had thought to anoint His body at death. But He would not die. He would be King! Soon. That ointment kept calling out to her. It was for Him. She picked up the box and, without thinking, her feet drove her toward Him. In Uncle Simon’s house. Her heart overflowed with joy and gratitude, but no one else would understand.
Her sister served at the table, and perhaps she could blend in. She moved in silently and broke the alabaster box to pour the perfume on his head from the shadows behind him, hoping no one would notice. Then she bent down quickly to reach His feet. She would pour the rest of the ointment over those beloved feet. The feet she had stared at when the men had dragged her out to stone her. The feet she had stared at when she was about to die. But the Man with the feet had stooped down and written something. Then He had stood and said. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” She shrank within herself, waiting for the stones to rain on her as she saw only those feet, hoping that the first stone would knock her unconscious. Then she would feel nothing more.
But there were no stones. She sensed that people were leaving. Then there was silence.
Hesitantly she lifted her eyes from the feet and glanced sideways. She saw no one. She raised her head a little to look around. No one. They had all left. She was alone with the Man. She looked up at His face and saw only love.
“Where are they? Is there no one to accuse you?” He asked.
“No one, Lord,” she had replied. Then she thought that the one who could cast the first stone was this Man. For He was surely without sin. She waited, looking at Him. Gently He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” (2. John 8:11) Her heart skipped a beat as her body was washed with relief.
But He said more, “Go your way, and sin no more!” No one else had ever suggested that this was possible! She was the fallen woman. Worthless. Her uncle had said so. She was the dregs of society. No one would associate with her. She was a condemned sinner.
But He said, “Go and sin no more!” Was it possible? Surely it must be, if He said so! He said it with such power. Surely He would make it possible. His very words electrified her with a new sense of purpose. She would not go back to her old ways. Never! Simon or no Simon. Loneliness or no loneliness. He had said to go and sin no more! And He was confident that she could sin no more! He would give her strength! She clasped those feet in worship.
That was so long ago but still seemed like yesterday. She was again looking at those feet, but from a different perspective. She had not fallen again. Instead she had followed the Man. Everywhere. She helped take care of His needs, along with the other women, but she had sat at His feet as a disciple whenever she could. She thrilled at the thought of the Kingdom He would establish – the Kingdom in which the meek would inherit it the earth. It would be soon now …
She anointed those feet tenderly, as tears of gratitude spilled over them. She could not help but kiss those feet, as she wiped away the tears with her hair. Absorbed in her task of adoration, she did not notice the silence descend on the group of men as they all turned towards the source of that powerful fragrance.
She became conscious of a murmuring in the group. Unfriendly murmuring. Then she recognized the words, “Why was not this ointment sold for 300 pence and given to the poor?” Mary trembled, sure that Martha would scold her for extravagance. In truth, it had cost her everything. Even the precious ornament which was a memento of her mother. Even the Master might consider her wasteful. Embarrassed and distressed, she started to creep away. She had no words to explain what she did.
But the Master spoke, “Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a good service for Me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can do them good whenever you want. But you will not have Me with you always. She has done what she could; she has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.” 1
A silent joy stole over Mary. He understood her act of devotion! He appreciated it! But what was He saying about burial? A cloud of apprehension settled on her heart with those words, but it could not hide the sunshine of His smiling presence. She had slept well that night.
She thought of her brother Lazarus. He had become ill and died so suddenly. The Master had not reached their home in time. If He had, surely Lazarus would not have died. But He did die. And the Master called Him back from the dead, and Lazarus walked out of the tomb! This was no ordinary Man! This, their friend, must, indeed be the long looked-for Messiah!
But then on Friday, He had allowed Himself to be crucified! The Pharisees led the crowd in shouting taunting cries. “He saved others!” they shouted. “Let Him save Himself!”
Oh, why did He not save Himself?! They needed Him so! So many people needed Him! Why did He die?! She lingered at the cross, riveted, watching the Master suffer and finally die. She saw the soldier thrust a spear in His side. Yet she stayed, dazed and past weeping. Nothing made sense any more. Then she saw the two great men – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – take down the body. She followed them furtively to the tomb where they placed the body. It was nearly Sabbath, so the men did not have time to anoint the body.
Now there is one last service she can do for her Master. She can help anoint His body and prepare Him for burial. All the intensity of her heart yearns towards touching Him once more, even though He is dead. She rises very early on First Day to go to the tomb to anoint His body. She knows the other women will come too, but she goes alone.
Her feet know the path well, and she enters the garden without much thought. The air is chilly in the pre-dawn darkness. And now the ground trembles. An earthquake! Just like the earthquake when she had waited by the cross! Is that a flash of lightning?
Her feet continue to carry her towards the garden tomb. As thoughts continue to crowd one another, her eyes are nearly blinded by tears. Then she sees it. The tomb. The stone is rolled away! She runs to look inside. Someone has stolen away the body! Even this last service of anointing His body is denied her. The tears flow faster. Her only thought is to tell the others. Peter. John. Her feet fly towards the house where they are staying. She bursts in on them. “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him!”
Peter jumps up and dashes past her, with John following. To the tomb. From a distance, she sees that John, the fleet-footed, passes Peter on the way and reaches the tomb first to see if what she said is true.
Her feet have long since slowed. But she is drawn inexorably to the tomb. Weeping, she stands, then looks again into the tomb. It is no longer empty. It holds two men in white, one at the head and one at the feet of the rocky bed where the body had lain. One of them speaks, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Too dazed to wonder who these men might be, she sobs, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I d not know where they have laid Him.”
She turns from the tomb and senses a man. The gardener probably. He also asks, “Woman, why are you weeping?” then adds, “Whom are you seeking?”
Thinking he might have moved the body, she pleads, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
That voice! That voice she loves so well! “Master!” she cries and flings herself at His feet, clinging to His ankles. It is truly Him! She knows that voice. She knows those feet. He is alive! Alive! He has risen, just as He said! His words come flooding back into her mind, as bright beams chasing away the dark shadows. Her body is electrified. But still she clings.
Gently the Master says, “Stop clinging to Me, Mary, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I ascend to My Father and your Father and My God and your God.”
And then He is gone.
Her spirits have risen with the sun. It is a glorious morning, and she finds herself running again. Not desperate this time, but energized. He is alive! The Messiah has risen! And He has given her a message to carry. The good news of His resurrection. The risen Savior has entrusted the message to her. A woman. The fallen one. The lifted-up one. Her. Mary. She carries the message that nearly bursts her heart with joy. The message that will electrify the world for thousands of years to come.
Jesus Christ is not dead. He has risen. He is alive!
When she meets the disciples, they see the radiance in her face. She simply says, “I have seen the Lord.” She needs say no more. Her body carries the message.
Jesus Christ has arisen from the dead, and the world will never be the same again.
- See John 12:1-7 ↩