Three Women. One Cross.
As we prepare our hearts to celebrate resurrection of our Lord this Sunday, I am reminded of three women who stood at the cross of Christ – women who were just like you and me.
While we may not truly know their thoughts or their words, perhaps we can imagine …
She stands at a distance, but at least she is still standing. She refuses to let her knees buckle…not now. Determined to stand there, to watch, to be strong for him, no matter how hard, she will not take her eyes off her son…her Messiah.
As Mary stands there surrounded by friends, perhaps her mind drifts over the many memories from the past 30 plus years. From the time she learned that she was pregnant and prayed that Joseph would understand, to that most miraculous night in the stable for which she had no words, I imagine she replays the journey that seems to end here . . . at the cross.
Imagine Mary reminiscing through the life of raising a son who was like no other. Does she stop hard in her thoughts when she remembers that day they had lost Jesus only to find him back in Jerusalem in an animated conversation at the temple with the rabbis? The twelve-year-old boy’s response surely echoes loud in her heart this moment. “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). As Mary stands stoically for her son no doubt, she realizes that even if she is able to save him, she can’t. For especially now, he must be about his Father’s business.
Mary’s journey to the cross brings her to the point where she can stand firm as the Father’s business is completed.
Mary reaches over and grasps the hand of her best friend, Salome, who is lost in her own thoughts. The mother of James and John, Salome may not be staring at Jesus. Rather, her eyes focus more on the two men on Jesus’ right and left, repeating the same question over and over, “What was I asking?”
It wasn’t very long ago that this mother, who wanted the best for her sons, built up the courage to ask Jesus if James and John, the sons of Zebedee, could have the honor of sitting on Jesus’ right and left in his Kingdom. But now, the reality of that question is graphically displayed before her. Jesus warned her that she did not know what she was asking. Seeing the two men on Jesus’ right and left, perhaps Salome is now wondering if she is truly willing to let her sons continue to follow him, especially if it means the same suffering (Matt 20:21-22). The rest of Jesus’ response to Salome’s request returns with just as full a force when the Roman guards lift a cup of bitter wine to his mouth . . . “You will indeed drink my cup” (Matt 20:23).
Salome’s journey to the cross brings her to the point where she surrenders, not only her own life, but also the lives of those she holds most dear.
Salome and Mary look at each other and both turn to see Mary Magdalene take a step forward, away from the group of women. Mary’s face still bears the sharp edges of a hard-lived life. It had not been that long ago when Mary Magdalene joined the group of women who traveled with Jesus. She had probably become like a little sister to Mary and Salome, as Jesus’ impact on her life was dramatic when he drove out the seven demons that had tormented her for so long and she experienced her first taste of life.
Mary Magdalene stands, staring at her Savior in such disbelief that she has neither thoughts nor words; only emotions so raw that she can barely keep them in check. Jesus, the one who literally saved her life and for whom she had given her all, is being taken away from her. Imagine her standing, gripped in fear, that once again she will have nothing. She just cannot wrap her mind around it.
Witnessing her Lord take his last breath and his body removed from the cross, others are leaving to go home. Perhaps she starts to as well . . . but just can’t. Instead she follows them to see where they will place Jesus. Mary Magdalene watches as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus so tenderly lay Jesus in the tomb that she can’t help but think that these men loved him too (Jn 20:38-42). With a setting sun marking the beginning of Sabbath, Mary Magdalene is forced to go home to begin her own time of rest and worship, but vows then to return to properly care for his body. . . .
This Sabbath must seem like such a blur. Surely, Mary Magdalene feels so helpless, able to think only of his death and that tomb, so compelled to care for the body of Jesus, she can’t even wait for the sun to rise on that third day (Jn 20:1). Then it seems her hopelessness sinks to utter despair when she discovers his body is gone, for all she can do is stare at that tomb and weep a hopeless cry (Jn 20:12-13).
Only when she hears him speak one word . . . “Mary” . . . does she see him. Just like a sheep that hears the voice of her shepherd in the midst of chaos, she knows it is his voice. That’s when she stops staring at the tomb and turns to see Jesus . . . her Messiah . . . her Savior . . . her Lord.
Mary Magdalene’s journey to the cross and then the empty tomb brings her to the point that she no longer sees loss and death, but only sees hope and life.
Are you able to stand firm as the Father’s business is completed?
Are you still holding on to something or someone God has asked you to surrender?
Are you still staring at death and hopelessness or have you found life?
This week, if you were to join this group of women at the cross and stand with them, watching from a distance, what would be your story? What will your story be today?