John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”
This verse was part of my scripture reading for today and I was caught off guard by five little words sandwiched between two commas: while it was still dark. While it was still dark? Why did my mind fixate on that phrase? Maybe it had to do with the early hour at which I was reading, maybe the words dredged up nocturnal fears from my childhood, maybe it’s indicative of the darkness that hangs over our world, or maybe the Holy Spirit just needed me to do some reflecting.
So I have been pondering.
Scripture tells us a few things about this woman. Mary is her name. Not to be mistaken with Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, or any of the “other” Marys, this Mary is known to those around her as Magdalene. Her identity was tied to the town where she was from—Magdala. We know little of her past, her family, or her age, but we do know that she had a transforming encounter with the Messiah. Luke 8:2 informs us that Magdalene had been delivered from evil spirits, seven to be exact. The details of that event are not revealed to us, but the effects are crystal clear. Jesus had set her free and she committed her life – time, resources, energy – into following Him.
According to other Gospel accounts, we read that Magdalene, along with some other women, accompanied Jesus as he went through the cities and villages, not as a crazy fan club, but they provided for the Rabbi out of their own pockets. They traveled together, ate meals together, listened to Jesus’ teachings, and grew closer every day. And when it came to the unfolding events at the cross, we see Magdalene present from beginning to end. She stood helplessly by, watched as her Savior was nailed to a cross, listened to his anguished cries, observed his final breath, and didn’t leave until she saw where his body was laid.
So when I reflect on “while it was still dark”, I see a woman overcome with grief, tossing and turning through the night, waiting for daybreak so she could go and honor her Savior. But she just couldn’t take it anymore. Her heart yearned for her Lord and not even the darkness could hold her back.
And maybe she was accustomed to the dark. In her days of being held hostage by evil spirits, maybe the dark of night was her safe place that shielded the stares and remarks of others. She had experienced such darkness in her past, and then this strange darkness for three hours in the middle of the day while Jesus hung on the cross, and now the darkness had no hold on her.
And she was confident that daylight was coming.
Magdalene is rewarded for her faithfulness. In the midst of the trauma of seeing the stone rolled away and the body of her Beloved missing, she turns around to see Jesus standing behind her. Her eyes are blurred with tears and she doesn’t even recognize him until he says, “Mary”. Maybe Jesus was one of the few people who called her by her first name while they walked from town to town, or maybe there was such a familiar tenderness in his voice, that even in disbelief, she knew her Savior stood before her. The darkness around her disappeared, her grief was erased, her tears wiped away, and she ran to the disciples with the exclamation, “I have seen the Lord!”
Are you grieving? Are you weeping? Are you experiencing a dark night of the soul? Does there seem to be no light at the end of the tunnel? Turn around. Do you hear Jesus calling out your name? Do you know his voice? I pray that even in the midst of this dark hour we can proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!”