It had been the longest night of her life.
The previous night she had slept out of exhaustion, too wrought with anguish to do more than eat a few morsels of bread and fall asleep in Mary’s arms. Even His mother had been worn, her face stained with tears, the disciples too upset to meet her gaze. Most had returned, trailing in from the darkness like lost lambs returning to the fold… all but Judas. He had hanged himself and though none of them spoke of it, Magdalene knew it was on all their minds. That night had followed a long and terrible day in which she had watched the man she worshipped nailed to a wooden cross. She had remained there throughout, clinging to Mary and straining to see him through the stifling darkness.
When it had ended at last, they had not known what to do with the body, but a wealthy friend had gone to Pilate and requested permission to take it to a garden tomb nearby. The request had been granted and on his return said had that the governor had been in a singular frame of mind, much quieter and more subdued than usual. The battered, bruised body of their Lord had been carefully wrapped and the thorns removed from around his head; Magdalene had deliberately crushed them with her hands. Marks still remained in her skin, wounds that did little to ease her suffering. She would not have them preserved, passed among the others, a relic stained with his precious blood. His cloak had been lost in a game of lots. She had watched in horror as the insensitive guards had bartered away what little he owned in the presence of the others.
She and the other women had hurried home to gather spices and linens for a proper burial, but it had been too late by the time they had bought what they needed; they had lost the light and were forced to observe the Sabbath. So the little jars full of precious, expensive perfumes waited on a nearby flat surface and although she had participated in all the familiar rituals, Magdalene had continually glanced toward them and wished the long hours would end. How she missed his presence among them, the sound of his laughter, his gentle voice, the eyes that saw everyone at once yet seemed to focus on them individually. Her mind would not be silent that night, for while the others slept, she had rested on her side staring at the jars and thinking of him. She remembered when first they had met, when she had been possessed by multiple demons. The others had been repulsed by her terrible appearance and snarls, frightened of her, but not him. No one had approached her since it had happened, and no one had spoken to her. They were ashamed of her, afraid of her, threw stones at her and shouted for her to leave the village.
The fire had drawn her and something else she could not explain, a kind of curiosity that originated within the demons, the desire to meet this “messiah.” He sends his son to live among us as men, vulnerable is he… we will kill him! Pathetic, weak, human forms they are, knowing nothing of our ways or the ways of their so-called master!
Even Peter had been frightened of her at her first appearance on the outskirts of the gathering, for night had fallen and she came among them in silence, creeping in with unnatural movements as the demons had not quite figured out how to move as men. He and others had scrambled back from their former places, tripping over one another, for she made a fearsome sight in her torn garments, her hair and eyes wild. Jesus had merely sat there, staring into the fire. “You risk much in coming here,” he had said, not to her but the writhing mass of demons within.
They had hissed at him, using her vocal cords. “We wanted to see him whom they call the messiah,” many voices had answered through her.
Frightened faces looked on from the darkness, the women clutching at one another, all but Mary. She had been calm. Jesus handed the bread he had been eating to the nearest child, for there were a few that traveled with them, and stood. He was tall and muscular, well-shaped from work and tanned by the sun. Magdalene had felt drawn to him, humbled in his presence, hopeful as she had cried out inwardly, Help me. If you really are the messiah, help me!
“We see he is not so special after all,” the demons snarled, but she knew they were frightened.
He did not move, made no attempt to approach, but still they flinched. “Come out of her,” he said.
It felt as if something was pulling on her, but the demons resisted; they squirmed and she did too, like a child’s toy contorted into unpleasant shapes. “No,” they hissed as one. “She is ours.”
“She is not yours. Come out of her.”
For years they had been her constant companions and they did not go willingly; it had felt as if she were being torn apart from within and her anguished screams pierced the darkness as at last they were drawn out of her. Their shadowy forms had darted into the flames and it burned higher and hotter as she had collapsed to the ground, drained of all emotion and weakened in their absence. It had been so long since she had been without them that at first she did not know herself; the hand she lifted was foreign to her, to at last have control of her own limbs filling her with overwhelming gratitude. No longer would they torment her, slamming her into rocks and ravines for the sheer amusement of it; no longer would they cut and burn her. No longer were they in her head, whispering foul things to her. All the horrific thoughts she had endured were gone, though her body was still scarred with their abuses, pale white reminders of the fury and the flames. They had enjoyed torturing her, making the most profound things come out of her mouth; she had been trapped among them, enslaved, incapable of controlling what they did with her.
For years she had lived in imprisonment and now she was free.
His fingers, rough from a life of carpentry, had rested on the top of her head and in a quiet voice he said, “Mary, arise.”
No one had touched her since her possession. She had looked at him for the first time without demon eyes and felt none of the fear and repulsion they had in his presence; instead she had fallen on her face and wept as she had kissed his sandals. So this was the messiah she had heard about, the one rumored to be the Son of God. He had come to fulfill all the prophecies. He had come to save them. He had come to save her.
“All that I am and have ever been, all that I will be, even unto my very life,” she had promised him, “is yours.”
She heard him say, “Peter, find her something to eat. We are one more tonight…. come, Mary.”
He spoke to her, offering her his hand. And as she took it, the scars that covered her arms, visible through her torn garments, scars from cuts and burns and other injuries, faded until her skin was as beautiful as the day she had been born. Even the memory of what it had been like to have them in her mind, in her body was fading; she saw only him. He stood her up and walked with her to the shelter of the barn. She had come upon them in the darkness, but the others had not known why he wanted to stop earlier that night than usual. It was but a mile to the township yet he had insisted they remain overnight along the road. He had been waiting for her.
And now she was waiting to see him again, to tenderly wrap his body properly and saturate the burial cloths with precious scents. Yet it seemed night would never end. The others slept but not her and not Mary, his mother. Though Magdalene did not reach out to her, she knew the woman was awake. Both of them were waiting for the first hint of dawn. And they were the first to rise when its hue appeared against the horizon. The other women were shaken gently awake and all crept out without disturbing the men.
It was a cold morning and mist lingered in the low places, the city streets abandoned as they made their way through the gates. Trudging the familiar path to the hillside brought back terrible memories, for his blood still stained the way. Mary went first and the other women behind her, but Magdalene paused at the remnant of the cross, a dismal and lonely sight against shifting skies. Growing against its base was a pretty accumulation of white flowers that had not been there two days before. Their beauty reached into her soul and she lowered her hand to touch them, for they had grown where much of his blood had fallen. Dark stains creased the aged wood and the whiteness of the blossoms stood out, stark against the grim surroundings.
“Mary,” she said as the woman came back for her, “look.”
The older woman knelt and a smile touched her lips, though she was still filled with sadness. “He always did like wild flowers,” she said, “ever since he was a boy. He would pick these and bring them to me.”
Wiping fresh tears away, Magdalene accompanied her into the garden and rejoined the others, who would not go further without them. They walked with slight hesitation, knowing guards had been placed on either side of the tomb and hoping they would be allowed within. There was no sign of them as they approached and when they turned the corner they saw something that made their pace slow, for the stone had been rolled away. Sudden dread coming over her, Magdalene pushed the jar of ointment she carried into another pair of hands and scrambled inside, covering her mouth when she saw he was gone. Only the linens remained, neatly folded. Stumbling out into the sharpness of morning, she set off at a run. Mary called after her but she did not answer. There were neither guards nor any evidence of them as she ran back to Jerusalem. The others were not yet awake, except for Simon Peter and another, who showed concern as she entered, breathing heavily and leaning against the door for support. “They have taken him!” she cried. “They have taken him and we do not know where!”
Peter leapt from his place and pushed out of the house, the other man following in his wake. She went with them, trudging the same path she had followed twice already that day. Peter could not contain himself and ran, and though she thought her heart would burst she followed. They met the other women returning and did not stop to speak to them. She could not bear entering the tomb a second time and remained outside as the others went to look. Peter had nothing to say to her when he emerged but he was badly shaken and misery was in his eyes. They left her there alone, returning home at a much slower pace than when they had arrived. Light crept toward her and with fresh tears running down her face, Magdalene approached the doorway. Her trembling hand rested on the rough, cold stone and she ducked within, startled to find two men seated where the body should have been. Warmth and light radiated from them, glowing inwardly as they looked on her with quiet compassion. The nearest asked, “Why do you weep?”
“They have taken my Lord,” she answered, “and I know not where to find him.”
Their eyes softened and they looked over her shoulder, intently. Magdalene felt another presence, this one far stronger and turned to find a man silhouetted in the doorway. She could not see his face nor, in her anguish, did she know the voice that asked her why she wept. Trembling, she pleaded, “Please, sir, if it is you who has carried him away, tell me where you have put him.”
He stepped further into the tomb, lowering his hand and allowing light to enter around him. “Mary,” he said.
It was a voice she knew well, had heard a thousand times in recent months, a voice that had commanded demons and comforted children, that had sang quietly to animals preparing for their slumber, a voice that had called out to the disciples and calmed the seas, a voice that had remained silent throughout his trials and had cried out only once before his death. A voice that commanded angels and silenced devils, a voice that sent such a rush of happiness through her that she could do no more than fall at his feet as his features came into the light, beautiful, flawless features. He was different in his appearance but his eyes were the same. They were the same eyes that had comforted her many times, that had flashed with anger when he had taken a whip to the changing tables in the temple, and softened in the presence of his closest friends.
Mary, there is no need to weep, no need to mourn, for I am here.
Once again she was on her face before him, this time not delivered from demons but from doubt.
Teacher. Master. Lord.
“Go to the others. Tell them what you have seen.”
Light was in the garden when she emerged from the tomb, glorious light that could not compare with what she had witnessed. Pale flowers had grown wherever he had wandered, wherever his shadow or his blood had fallen. Their sweetness filled the air even as faith filled her heart. There was no tomb that could contain him, her Lord. Death had claimed him but not held him.
He had not been taken. He had arisen.