Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. John 19:25
But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Luke 23:49
If she had known when the angel came to her, more than 30 years before, that she would watch her son be crucified, would she have been so ready to accept God's favor? Would she truly have felt blessed knowing what was to come?
Mary, the mother of Jesus. She had rejoiced at being chosen, had accepted with gratitude the words of the angel Gabriel, had treasured the events of Jesus' birth in her heart. She was there with him when, as a young boy, he amazed the temple scholars with his understanding of scripture. And it was at Mary's prompting that Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding, a celebration.
Mary knew from that first moment when Gabriel appeared to her that Jesus would be no ordinary man, that he, the Son of the Most High, would do great things. But as she stood among the other onlookers at Golgotha, watching the son she had birthed breathe his last, how could she bear it?
She was not alone at the cross, waiting for the end. Among those standing together at a distance was Mary Magdalene.
How could Mary Magdalene watch as the man who set her free, hung from a cross, dying? Was it enough to know that by him she was released from bondage, that satan's demons held no sway in her life anymore? As she watched Jesus' life slipping away, his body beaten and bruised, did she wonder if he really was who he said?
The demons that controlled her had been cast out. And from that point, she never looked back. Mary Magdalene would follow this man of miracles, her savior. She would use what wealth she'd been blessed with to support and care for him and his ministry as he reached others who needed him the way she did. And she would remain at his side, learning as he taught. The wisdom he had to impart did not run out. Except it would run out if he was no longer living, wouldn't it?
She and his mother stood together with the other women who had followed Jesus from Galilee.
They too left their homes to be near this Man of God. They were accepted by him as his disciples. Jesus did not simply tolerate their presence. When Mary of Bethany, eager for wisdom from her Rabbi, sat at his feet to learn, he praised her well-made choice. This welcome to women was extended beyond just a few. There were many present as participants in his ministry, and they traveled with him as the Good News spread throughout Judea.
They had followed him throughout his ministry and finally followed him here, to his apparent end. What agony to see this man who spoke words of hope, freedom, redemption, now helpless before them, weak and broken. Had they thought they were part of a revolution? It certainly seemed Jesus' words were about changing the world. As women, the world had already placed great limitations on them, had diminished their value, and determined their worth of no great significance to history. But Jesus invited them to action. He called them, heard them, saw them.
This group of women stood at a distance and watched as Jesus died. Did they feel as though all hope was lost when they heard him say "It is finished"? Did they wonder at their belief that the world could change at the words of just one man when they watched his lifeless body being taken down from the cross? As they followed Joseph to the tomb, did they hold out some hope still that he might not really be gone?
We know what came next, a glorious hope only three days away.
We know, but do we live each day in that hope? The world is full of darkness. Each day brings new tragedies, new atrocities. The evil that put Jesus on the cross seems amplified in our daily headlines. People in power continue to oppress with little expression of conscience or concern. And those chosen to lead us seem so often to fall into corruption and vice.
Who among us has not been touched in some way by seemingly pointless death, by senseless violence, by unwarranted hatred? It could feel like we are standing with those women, watching Hope draw his last breath.
But we do stand with those women. Our connection to them is drawn across the centuries. It was not an ending. They were among the first of the faithful, the Jesus-followers who knew his words healed, redeemed, saved. And as we read the scriptures that show them in a moment of great despair, we know what they now know. The tomb is empty. He is risen.