April 12, 2015

Magdalene's Story

You ask me how it was that first morning? I have to go back to the beginning. I was a woman in a man’s world. That I was a girl was a disappointment to my father even though he raised me to take over the prosperous trading center in Magdala. After he died I continued to manage and enlarge the business. Traders from the Decapolis and even Damascus and Jerusalem knew of the honesty and fair deals I offered. Mostly they quit looking at me as a woman, and accepted me as an equal.
Perhaps it was all the years working with men, I did not hesitate to join the crowds that listened to the rabbi from Nazareth. I was not intimidated by the looks of surprise and yes, condemnation, that greeted me when I abandoned my business to follow Jesus. It was in good hands. My cousins were well trained and honest young men.
The days and weeks that followed…what can I say about them. There was laughter and comradery. We were amazed by the miracles of healing we saw. The Master was never impatient, even with stupid questions. For the first time in my life, I was part of a community. The other women-Joanna, the mother of James and John, and Suzanna who also accompanied us accepted me, as no other woman had done. We all were joined in a grand adventure.
Of course there were hints of danger. Many times the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem challenged the Master. He found their incessant legalism appalling and challenged them to be more open to God. The God of Jesus was not a God who demanded sacrifice and following every iota of the Law. The God we learned about cared and even loved each one. Jesus showed us that God had always been guiding, protecting, even loving the people like a father or lover. It was amazingly liberating.
I suppose it was foolish of us to believe we could go on wandering the countryside with Jesus forever. There were glimpses of some deeper purpose at work. Peter, James, and John had an experience with Jesus at Horeb that they never spoke of but they were changed by it. When he cast the demons out of the man in the tombs, I knew that this was no ordinary man. Lazarus, dead and buried and then alive again, made us all wonder exactly who this rabbi was.
The day he entered Jerusalem riding a donkey we were all sure that the prophecies were to be fulfilled and the kingdom of God had come. The crowds shouted welcome, calling him ‘Son of David’ and the one who ‘comes in the Name of the Lord’. I saw the religious leaders frowning at the exuberance and noted the Romans at the gate tighten their grip on their spears and swords. It made me shiver as if in warning.
When he strode through the Temple market spilling coins and freeing animals, I wanted to cry out ‘Stop!’ because I knew that the chief priest would not let such an act go unpunished. It was the only time I saw Jesus really angry. “You have made my Father’s house a den of thieves!” His words would be reported to the Caiphas. I held my breath all the next day, but nothing happened.
We kept the Passover in a friend’s home. From the doorway we women watched the Master do the work of a servant. He washed the feet of each of his 12 chosen disciples. “I have come to serve”. Midway through the meal Judas left the room and the house. It was very odd. “Where could he be going?” we asked each other. The market was closed and it was dark outside. We trailed along when Jesus led the men to the olive garden just outside the gates. It was where we had spent the previous nights. This time, he did not lie down with his companions but paced back and forth. “Stay awake and pray you do not enter into temptation,” he said cryptically before striding away from us all.
I followed quietly, sensing Jesus was distressed. I witnessed him in deep, anguished prayer. “Let this cup pass from me,” he begged. After what seemed like a long time, he heaved a sigh and held up his hands in surrender. “Not my will but Yours.”
Almost immediately there was the sound of footsteps and the rustle of armor and clank of swords. Jesus stood up and walked back to the men who were sleeping. “Could you not watch an hour?” I had never heard such sorrow in any voice. Peter, startled from sleep by the approaching troops, grabbed a short sword and swung wildly. It connected with the head of Malachis, a servant of the high priest, who cried out in pain. “Put away your sword,” the Master told Peter even as his touch healed the wounded ear.
Judas stepped forward and embraced Jesus. “Will you betray me with a kiss?” The words were said with more disappointment than sorrow. “This is the man,” our erstwhile friend told the soldiers. They grabbed and bound him and led him away. The disciples scattered in panic and I crouched low in the bushes as the soldiers passed.
We heard there was a trial and that our Master was condemned by the Roman governor to be crucified. At the news I heard his mother cry out as if in pain. I echoed her grief in a cry of my own.
“I must go to him,” she said. I gripped her hand, nodding. It felt necessary to be there as he died.
John tried to dissuade us. “A crucifixion is not a sight for women.” When we would not change our minds, he went with us. The crowds were vicious. The beaten, hanging, naked bodies were awful to behold. Mary and I clung to each other while John protected us from the pushing and shoving as well as he could.
As we huddled together, the man on the cross looked at us. In the midst of his gasping agony he addressed Mary and John. “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” Mary’s wail pierced my ears and my heart. The dying man had relinquished his ties to her and given her into the care of his friend.
Eventually he ceased struggling to rise and breathe. Then, almost triumphantly Jesus arched upward to inhale. “It is completed!” In contrast to the labored gasps of the two others dying on their crosses, the statement sounded triumphant. He did not raise himself again and when the soldiers were given an order to hasten the deaths of the condemned, they jabbed a spear into his side. The blood did not spurt like from a living wound by trickled out in an odd looking flow. I sobbed into Mary’s shoulder and she wept into mine.
When the dead were removed from their crosses, we moved forward to claim our loved one. With surprise I saw one of the Sanhedrin talking to the centurion.
“Pilate has given permission to bury this one in my tomb.”
The words startled us. We followed Joseph of Arimathea to his gravesite. Gently, even lovingly, the man wrapped the broken and bloodied body in grave cloths with a small portion of spices. “It is the best I can do at this late time as the Sabbath is coming on,” he explained. 
Numb with grief, we watched his servants shove a massive stone over the entrance to the tomb. It would keep out robbers and wild animals.
“I will come after the Sabbath and anoint him correctly,” I promised myself and the others present.
Joseph nodded. He looked much older than only a couple of years earlier when he sought out Jesus with questions. I was sure I also had aged in the past few hours.
The Sabbath passed in sorrow and not a little terror. Every sound at the door made Peter and the other men look around nervously. Early on the day after the Sabbath I crept from the house. I had a stock of oils and spices for the proper burial cleaning. It was only as I approached the garden tomb that I began to wonder how I would get the stone moved.
When I rounded the corner I saw that the stone was not covering the opening. Silently I thanked Joseph for thoughtfully sending servants to open the tomb. However, when I looked into the dark hole, it was empty. Immediately I fled back to the house.
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” my panting announcement was met with astonishment. Peter and John raced ahead of me back to the grave. I followed, weeping and when they left I went to the doorway again. It was then I saw 2 figures in white.
“Why are you weeping?” I was never sure if the beings spoke or if I heard the words in my heart.
“My Lord is gone!” I wailed. “I do not know where they have laid him.”
I backed out of the tomb, reeling with grief and loss. Turning to return to Jerusalem, I saw a man nearby. I thought he was the gardener, or maybe one of Joseph’s servants. He asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
“Sir, if you have moved him, tell me where he is and I will take him.” My tears welled up again and choked my request. I drew my veil up to dab my eyes.
“Mary.” That one word changed my world. I knew that tone but I could not believe it. I spun in a complete circle trying to find the speaker. There was only the stranger who had first spoken. I gasped as I looked closer. Then I fell at his feet reaching toward the one I recognized, although I could not comprehend how Jesus was standing before me, alive!
“Do not hold me. I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brethren and tell them.”
I did not want to leave his side. The words spurred me to action, however. Still weeping, but with joy now, I raced back to the eleven men and the other women. “I have seen the Lord! He is alive!”
The world will never be the same. The Crucified Lord is alive! Nothing can stop us now. 
(c) Cynthia Davis 2015

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