The fear, uncertainty, and dashed hopes of Friday hang in the air for all followers of Jesus. Peter, John, the other nine disciples, his mother, all are devastated by what they had seen and heard. But one in particular is distraught by what had happened, Mary Magdalene.
Notice how we find her mentioned on that Friday on Golgatha:
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56 NIV)
She is listed first among the women at the cross. Not only that, but after Jesus dies, Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body for a proper burial. And we read:
Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61 NIV)
While the Sabbath would not allow anyone to be at the tomb, notice who is there immediately after the Sabbath ends.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:1-2 NIV)
Continuing the narrative in John’s Gospel (John 20:1-18), while she and others see that the tomb is empty, Mary is the first one to actually see the resurrected Jesus. When Jesus calls her by name, she recognizes that it is indeed Jesus standing before her!
And her response? To cling to him. Who wouldn’t! After all, before Jesus, Mary had been an outsider, a prostitute with seven demons.
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. (Mark 16:9 NIV, see also Luke 8:2)
She had no hope, no friends, no value as a human except to those who wanted to use her and abuse her. Everyone knew Mary, and even raised an eyebrow at the mention of her name. But Jesus changed all that. Not only had Jesus cast out the demons, he continued to treat her as one of the family followers, as a follower equal to others.
But with Jesus’ death, that was all changed. Imagine the fear that seized her. Would I go back to being the Mary of old? Would anyone even look at me again? How can I go back to that? Yet, without Jesus, how can I go on? And so she clings to Jesus, her new life, her only hope.
It sounds almost cruel on Jesus’ part when he says to her:
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, 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.’ ” (John 20:17 NAS)
But is it cruel? Or is his response far different? What Jesus had done for Mary was life changing for her. But Jesus was not yet done with his work for her (and everyone else). If she were still clinging only to the Jesus of his earthly ministry she would miss out on the greater thing. By saying “My Father and your Father, and My God and your God,” Jesus invites all his followers into a new relationship, adoption into God’s family. The family that Mary needed and saw with Jesus in his earthly ministry is now expanded.
As the Great Shepherd, he called her by name (John 20:16). Jesus had not forgotten her; he had not abandoned her. Rather Jesus enters into a new relationship with her, one that will sustain her for the rest of her life into eternity.
Mary hears about this new relationship first, even before Peter and John, even before Jesus’ own mother, Mary. The wonderful news that by Jesus ascending into heaven, what she had known of this new life was not taken from her, but continues to all eternity. Jesus’ life and ministry had changed Mary. But His death, resurrection, and ascension open to her the promise of His presence forever.
Now, no matter what happens, Jesus will be with her. Jesus’ Father is now Peter’s Father and John’s Father — and Mary’s Father. Jesus’ God is now Peter’s God and John’s God — and Mary’s God. As Paul wrote later to the Roman Christians,
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24 NIV)
Sin was the great leveler to destruction, and Mary knew that well. Jesus was the great leveler in grace, and Mary was justified freely by God’s grace, her Father’s grace.
So, Mary needed to cling to Jesus, but not as she had known him in his earthly life, but even more so as the resurrected and ascended Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The resurrection (and ascension) really did matter to one, Mary Magdalene!
Does the resurrection matter to you?