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Many followers of Jesus saw him risen after he came from the tomb, the New Testament writers say, but Mary Magdalene’s witness is especially significant. She was a key witness to his death as well as his resurrection. We remember her testimony on Easter Sunday.
First, she was a witness to the death of Jesus. She was among those who saw him die, the gospels say. She witnessed his last excruciating hours on the cross. She saw the soldier pierce his side with a lance. She was with Mary his mother, standing there looking on. She helped them in the grim ritual of taking his body down from the cross. She was one of the women who brought some ointments and cloths for his burial. That was a woman’s role then, to bury the dead. She watched them lay him in a tomb, about a stone’s throw from where he was crucified. There would be no doubt in her mind that Jesus was dead.
She waited till the Jewish feast was over to come to the tomb. She came early in the morning, not hoping to see him alive, but just to complete his burial. What was done when he died was done hurriedly, the gospels tell us. Like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, Mary Magdalene believed in the resurrection on the last day. It was important for her that the body of Jesus be properly anointed with perfumed oil, because he had been someone most pleasing to God. He would certainly be among those God would raise up on the Last Day.
Mary would not be at the tomb alone. Other women would be with her. The question they had coming to the tomb was: Can we get some help moving the stone away from the entrance to the tomb? It was large. Maybe the guards who were stationed there, maybe some workers, some people passing by. The tomb was not far from the road going into the city.
But Mary saw that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty, the burial cloths were there, the cloth that covered his head, but his body was not there. (John 20,1-9) She ran to tell Peter, who came with John and found it as she had said.
In our first reading today we hear Peter’s description of what happened next. “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10, 37)
John’s gospel goes on to tell Mary’s story of her meeting with Jesus in the garden where he was buried. She thought he was the gardener until she heard him speak her name, “Mary.” He was alive. He told her he was going to his Father and her Father, his God and her God. On that dark morning she came to finish burying him. Now he was alive, risen, and the world was changed.
“Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?” the church asks her in our liturgy today. “ ’I saw the tomb of the now living Christ. I saw the glory of Christ, now risen. I saw angels who gave witness; the cloths, too, which once covered head and limbs. Christ my hope had indeed arisen. He will go before his own into Galilee.'”
He is risen from the dead, the witnesses say. He died and he rose again. Believe in him, follow him, they tell us. He lives and promises life to those who follow him. He is God’s Son, believe in him.