I know that I haven’t written to you in some time, but life has been so busy and so full. Please forgive me for not writing, but you must know what has transpired lately. I will explain as much as I can, but I must warn you that what I write may sound strange and unbelievable to you.
This should have been a wonderful and joyous festival weekend – the annual festival of Passover. While it can be a busy time of year with lots of preparation for the national religious festival, I have looked forward to this time of year for the last three years – since I first met Jesus of Nazareth. He had released me from the demons which once controlled me, giving me my life back and assuring me of God’s endless love. For this gift from God I will be forever grateful.
The re-telling and the re-experiencing of our people’s miraculous release and escape from bondage in Egypt and the gift of our land from God has always been a holy time for us, a time of great joy, a time of praise and thanksgiving to our loving and ever present God. I wish that you had been here to experience it with us.
This year – this difficult Passover – has been troubling and so very painful. Our Rabbi, our Master – Jesus of Nazareth – the one we believed to be the Messiah, was arrested, tortured and put to death by the cowardly Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of our religious and civil authorities. I witnessed the horrific execution with His mother, Mary, one of His disciples, John, and some other women who followed Jesus as I did, as our Master was crucified and died a slow and agonizing death. We all tearfully accompanied Jesus’ body to a borrowed grave, given in love by Joseph of Arimathea, where our Master was hastily buried before the Passover feast began.
There was no time before the feast to give the proper honor to Jesus’ body, to wash away the blood and dirt, to anoint His body with herbs and spices and wrap it in fine linen. Instead a sheet of fresh linen was placed under His body, large quantities of myrrh placed onto His body and the remainder of the sheet of linen used as a cover. A cloth was placed over Jesus’ bruised and battered face. Then a stone was rolled in front of the borrowed tomb just as the Sabbath and the Passover feast was beginning.
I have been in awe of Jesus’ mother Mary for some time, as I have walked next to her as we accompanied Jesus during His ministry to God’s people. I have spoken with Mary often, enjoying her company, laughing at her jokes and being amazed at the life which Mary has led. Mary’s peace and strength with all that has transpired during the three years of Jesus’ ministry gave all of Jesus’ followers the courage and determination to “walk faithfully” with our Lord. The days were long, the journeys and roads we traveled often dusty and rough. Mary became our role model as she was undaunted in her desire to follow and to serve her Son no matter the physical cost to her. As you must have guessed, Mary is no longer young, but she is still physically strong.
But this week – these few days before Passover – once we understood that Jesus would be put to death, our beloved Mary summoned all of her courage to follow her beloved Son through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha while He carried the cross on which He was to die. Mary then witnessed His humiliation and pain as her son Jesus was stripped of His garments and nailed to the cross. I could tell by Mary’s facial expression, her tears and her silent, fervent prayers that Mary suffered greatly along with her Son. I will never understand how Mary could stand there beneath the cross so resolute and determined, never flinching from the commands of the Roman soldiers to move away, for she knew that her presence would give her son Jesus some small comfort in His final hours. After a time even the Romans realized that Mary would not be moved, and they relented in their commands.
When it appeared that Jesus was dead, a Roman soldier thrust his lance through the Heart of Jesus. Mary then collapsed into the arms of John, who took Mary to his own home after Jesus was placed in the tomb. I believe Mary is still staying with John and the other disciples since her son’s death.
Once the required time of rest for the Sabbath was completed, my friends and I began the lengthy preparation of materials to give to our beloved Jesus the respect that was due to Him at His death. We purchased the spices to anoint His body, prepared water containers and clean cloths to properly wash His body – all of which we carried with us – and linen strips to wrap His body for burial as is our society’s custom. It was all we could do to finish these preparations given our grief and pain at His loss.
Our tears came so easily – we sobbed and cried all through the Sabbath day of rest. Nothing could assuage our grief and sorrow or help us to understand why our religious authorities were so hateful of Jesus. We all wondered how we would have the courage and strength to complete these final tasks for our beloved Lord, and even more, how we would live out the rest of our lives without Him.
We began our sorrowful journey to our beloved’s gravesite just as the city gates were opened, moments before dawn. It was still dark as we set out, but small rays of light were just beginning to appear over the horizon. The road to the grave is not long, but each step which we took was in great emotional pain, as we remembered and re-lived what had transpired and the difficult task which lay before us. We were in silence as we walked, keeping our deepest thoughts to ourselves. So much pain and desolation and yes, even anger at what had happened, those feelings which came from the depths of our hearts.
What had Jesus done to deserve this evil treatment – that question replayed over and over in our minds. Our Master was kind and helpful to everyone; He healed all who asked for healing of their infirmities – Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus tried to teach us God’s way, a way subtly different from that taught by our religious authorities, who had made Moses’ Law so difficult that the common man could never follow it.
As we grew close to the tomb, we finally broke our silence and wondered if we would be able to move the stone which was placed in front of the opening. We realized that we should have brought some of the men, some of His disciples, with us. Perhaps the Roman soldiers will assist us in moving the stone, or we thought, we may find someone else who is visiting the gravesites this morning to assist us.
As we arrived at our Master’s grave, we noticed that the Roman soldiers – mysteriously – were gone – this should not be! Roman soldiers never desert their posts, as it means a sentence of death to them. There was no one around whom we could see, but the huge stone which once covered the entrance to the tomb had been moved away.
Where was everyone, we wondered? The sun had now risen, though it still was not far above the horizon. The air was so still. There was an eerie silence around us – nothing appeared as it should. I was frightened, as were all the women who accompanied me. Should we run to find help? To whom should we go? Finally, shaking with fear, I was able to summon my courage to approach Jesus’ tomb and look in. What I saw I will never forget, not if I live forever.
When there is time, I will write more. For now, dear friends, may God’s peace be with you.
Mary of Magdala