Loehr-Daniels Study Course
Postscript to Easter
Mary Magdalene – Part 1
By Grace Wittenberger Loehr
Who was this Mary who thus experienced the First Easter Day? The Scriptures tell us of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who lived with him and her older sister, Martha, in the family home in Bethany. Mary had a deep love for her big brother, Lazarus.
He was a strong man, a kind man, a compassionate man. He had humor; he had wisdom. All through her growing years Mary the child had run to Lazarus – with a bruised knee, with a hurt feeling, with a question; to share the delight she had discovered in a flower, in the flash of a bird’s wing. Lazarus had comforted; he had laughed with her; he had explained, and widened her understanding.
Then came the years when the maturing body brought the tides of love. Mary was aware of the growing beauty of her body. She was aware of the desire of men for her. She was aware of her own desire – to give, and give, and give to the uttermost – to concentrate all of her being into the physical act of love. But Mary was choosy. Lazarus represented to her the kind of man whom she wanted. Surely, if there was one man like Lazarus, then there were others.
Naive, yes - and child-like – she started out on her search for a man like unto big brother Lazarus. She had no one in whom to confide at that time. Lazarus was away from home – a long way away – in countries, part of the world that were only names to her – Egypt, India, China. She missed their hours of companionship. True, she had two older sisters. There was Ruth. But she was quite a number of years older, married, and living with her husband in Joppa. Her pattern of life was very different, and they felt little kinship now.
Then there was Martha – closer in age to Mary but so different in temperament, in interests. Martha felt the responsibility of running a smooth household; she felt the responsibility of her duties which were akin to the lives of the other women of Bethany. She did not have much time to listen to Mary, and she did not think upon the matters that absorbed Mary’s attention. There was no deep-level communication between them.
So it was alone, unguided save by the desire in her heart, that Mary started out on her search for the man to whom she could give her love – the man of strength, understanding, kindness, compassion – like her brother Lazarus. She gave herself trustingly, wholly, with abandonment, to the first man in the village whom she felt might understand and take this inner beingness of hers, take her gift of love and treasure it. It was only after she had given love, had come to know him intimately, that she found he was not a Lazarus! He did not really want to know her. But never mind – there would be another. Sometime, somewhere, she would find one like her big brother.
She had many to choose from. The fact of her beauty, the word of her complete givingness, the abandonment of herself to love, spread among the men. Many in the village sought her out. To each one she gave, always asking, “Is this the one? Is he the man?” And not one was.
Then Mary thought, “Lazarus is wise; Lazarus is educated; Lazarus has a breadth of experience that the men who have lived and grown up here in the village do not have. Perhaps those men who have traveled – who have lived more of life, who are in other patterns – perhaps among them I will find the one I can love.” So it was that the spreading of the word of Mary’s ability to love, and the outreach on the part of Mary for the one to love, were united. Before long Mary left the village.
She went into Jerusalem, First among her own people, then from among the Romans, she found acceptance by men of wealth, men of education, men of sophistication. She did not find her Lazarus, and before very long the search for him, while not forgotten, lay at the bottom of her heart, and heaped upon it were the excitements of attention, the lavish gifts, admiration, the adventure of winning a man to her.
There was disillusionment. Perhaps after all, there was only one Lazarus! Perhaps the qualities she so admired in him were qualities men showed only to their sisters! It did not take her long to discover that she was loved and admired for her physical beauty, for her ability to give pleasure.
It hurt – this disillusionment. She had broken the Mosaic law which governed her own people, and allied herself with the hated foreigners, to find the one she wanted. She had abandoned the traditional patterns of her home village. She had incurred wrath and scorn and jealousy among the men and women of her own race. But she had not found that which she sought. She could not turn back. And so she hid her dream; she accepted the riches, the adornments, the adulation given her.
She became a different Mary then. She became all that a man could desire. And who could know that deep within she was a little girl playing a grown-up role? Who could know that this woman of beauty, of allurement, of appeal, who could so abandon herself in love, was a little girl believing that as she gave, she could receive?
Lazarus returned to Bethany from the Far East, accompanied by Jesus. Mary in Jerusalem heard of their return. She remembered Jesus – a village lad from Nazareth, a little older than she. He had come to Bethany in those years she now refused to remember, to see Lazarus. Lazarus and Jesus had had long talks together. Yes, she recalled that Jesus had accompanied Lazarus on this last long trip away. So now Lazarus was back home!
She was glad, but she did not go to Bethany to see him. While he was away she had become knowledgeable of men. How could she explain to Lazarus her deep-down outreach which had begun as a search, but which had ended in a frustration which she now accepted as part of living? No – she would not go to Bethany!
As weeks and months went by, Mary in Jerusalem heard stories of Jesus. Strange stories. Sometimes she thought of him – what kind of a man had the boy she remembered become? He must have a personal magnetism – people made many claims concerning him! He had curious men as his closest associates – fishermen, a former tax-collector.
It was even rumored that Nicodemus, a rich and respected member of the Sanhedrin, sought him out secretly to hear the message he preached. But of Lazarus she heard nothing, so she went her way. Between the girl she had been (and the ideals and the dreams of that girl) and the woman she had become, there was a chasm which she thought could not be bridged without danger of her falling in. So she stayed away from the edge of that chasm.
She won enemies, and she knew it. There were the jealous ones; there were many who wished her ill. Here were the ones zealous for the safeguarding of the laws of Moses from which she had turned aside. She had her protectors among the Romans – yes, and even among the Jews there were those who sought her charms. She did not worry about her enemies.
But one day treachery and betrayal came, from her own people. Her privacy was invaded; her planted lover condemned her; she was seized and dragged through the city streets to the square. She heard the shouts and jeers of a crowd gathered about her. She felt herself flung down on the bottom step of the temple. She knew the punishment for her sin by Jewish law was stoning. Where now were her Roman protectors? It did not matter. She was in the hands of her own people. Let the stones come! She was tired – tired of looking, tired of searching. She was satiated with love. She was satiated with life. The hurt from the stones on the outside could not match the hurt she knew inside. The outer stoning would be only the crushing of the outer Mary. The inner Mary, the real Mary, had already been crushed long ago. So she waited – waited the pronouncement of the judgment against her.
Then Mary became aware of a silence. The clamor around her died away. Slowly she opened her eyes. She saw no feet of the men and women who had been crowding about her. Slowly she raised herself to her knees and looked about. The crowd had gone away! There was no one there, save one she assumed to be the priest who was to pronounce her death. Still in kneeling position, Mary lifted her eyes to the figure before her.
As her head raised she looked into the eyes of the one looking down at her. And she found him! She found the man like unto her brother Lazarus. Who was he? Hadn’t she met him before? She couldn’t recall, but… His face was firm but gentle, compassionate, kind. His eyes were tender and loving. Softly he said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers?” She looked about her, than turned back to him. “There are none,” she said. “Neither do I accuse thee,” was his reply. “Go, and sin no more.”
Silently Mary stood up, wrapping her cloak closely about her. Swiftly she went down the street to her home. Once there, she went into her bedchamber. Laying aside her jewels and adornments, she bathed, put on a simple robe and sandals. Veiling her face, wrapping her cloak again about her closely, silently she left the room, leaving behind her the lavish gifts, the jewels, the garments, the adornments of a life already outlived.
As she entered the courtyard her chair-bearers sprang to attention, but with a gesture she dismissed them. She did not need them now. Out on the street again, Mary headed for the gate of the city from which ran the road to Bethany. It was a well-traveled road. Many were upon it. Then there came a memory, long forgotten, of paths in the hills, small footpaths between Bethany and Jerusalem for those who chose not the busy main road.
Led on by memory, Mary’s feet found the old footpaths, found the stepping stones across the stream, found the overgrown trails around the cliffs. Once, coming into a clearing, a gust of wind blew the hood from her head. She felt the long-forgotten breath of wind in her hair. Removing her veil, she lifted her face to the sun and laughed the long-choked-out laughter of a little girl.
It was early evening as she approached the home in Bethany. Coming to the door, she heard Martha busy at supper preparations, and turned her steps into the room. Martha turned at the sound of footsteps, and startled, gazed upon Mary, “Mary! What are you doing here? What has happened to you? Look at you! You are dusty; you are dirty; you are disheveled.”
Without answering her sister’s anxious questions, Mary said, “Where is Lazarus?”
“In the garden. But wait!” exclaimed Martha, seeing Mary turning to the door. “Do not go to the garden now. Lazarus has someone with him. They are talking. Soon they will be in for the evening meal. Go wash and prepare yourself.”
But Mary paid no attention, and with exasperation Martha watched her turn and walk down the path that led around the corner of the house and into the garden.
Mary walked slowly. She had no anticipation, no thought of what she would say. She knew one thing – Lazarus was home; she was home; she would go to the garden and find him. She came upon him seated in the grape arbor, deeply absorbed in conversation with one who sat next to him. Without pausing in the conversation, Lazarus reached out a hand, and Mary walked into the circle of his arm. A slight pressure of his hand caused her to assume a sitting position at his feet with her head resting on his knees – a familiar, but long-unthought-of position.
Only then did Mary turn to look at the one with whom Lazarus was speaking. It was he! It was the one she had met on the temple steps – the one who had sent her away without condemnation! Lazarus paused in his speaking, seeing her startled glance. Putting an arm about her, he said kindly, “Mary, this is Jesus.” And to his friend, “Jesus, this is Mary.” There was the flash of a twinkle in his eyes as the man replied, “Yes, we have met.”
And so it was that Mary and Jesus fell in love. Theirs was the love of a man for a woman and a woman for a man. It was not a love consummated on the physical level. Jesus had a mission. Jesus belonged to many. He could not belong to one. Jesus knew it. Mary knew it. But there was much fulfillment in their love. There was the sharing of the knowledge of the Plan of God moving, propelling forward the life of Jesus. There were the long talks, sometimes in companionship with Lazarus, sometimes Jesus and Mary alone.
There was the remembering together of roles they had played in former lifetimes to forward the same Plan of God that now was the life-mission of Jesus. There were long silences shared. There was the knowledge of that which was to be in the life of Jesus, and Mary’s love found contentment in a giving that was a nurturing of determination and strength and commitment in Jesus.
So far into the past extended the plan of God to which both of them were committed! So far into the past extended the plan of God that both of them would share in fulfilling! The time of the personal fulfillment of their love rested safely in the heart and wisdom of God, and Mary and Jesus knew, and were content to await His timing.
Yes, Mary knew of the purpose, the service, the teaching Jesus had for the people. She observed and shared in His ministration of healing. When murmurs of dissension rose against Him she was fierce in her defense, and only the very unwise spoke against Him in her presence. Once she demonstrated her love for Him publicly. To a banquet she brought an alabaster flask of ointment and anointed His feet.
The host, a Pharisee who knew the Mary of old, had rebuked Jesus for accepting her offering. Publicly Jesus had defended her and used the occasion to preach on the forgiveness of sin. Mary observed and shared in Jesus’ ministry of healing. Yes, and after her faith had been shaken by the death of her brother Lazarus, it was mightily restored, stronger than ever when Jesus called him back to life.
Mary knew – but not all. Resting securely in the framework in which she could give her love to Jesus, treasuring in her heart the return of His love for her, she was unaware that Jesus’ life was to end so tragically – and triumphantly!
Then came the day He came to her in the garden of the house in Bethany and she sensed a change in her Jesus. Loving, tender, composed – and yet – was there a sadness? Was there a withdrawing? Was there a brief shadowing of the sun by a cloud as He said to her, “Mary, I go to Jerusalem. Much will come about that will frighten you, that will terrify you. You will think me lost from you. But Mary, remember these words I speak to you now: In the depth of your sorrow you will go to another garden. We will meet again there, briefly. Later, here in this garden, our garden, with Lazarus, we will meet and talk. You will know when the time has come.”
He paused. She did not ask Him when. She did not reach out even a tiny tendril of her love to wrap Him round and hold Him to her. She would wait – and they would meet again. It was enough to know. She watched Him turn and walk away from her.
She went into the house to help Martha in the endless tasks with which she busied herself. But before she sought her rest that night, she went again into the garden. She walked the paths they had walked together. As dusk gave way to night, she returned to the house. She wanted to speak with Lazarus. She went to the doorway of his room. He was there, but he did not reach out a welcoming hand. There was a stillness upon him, and rather than intrude she turned aside, and went to her bed.
The morning of the next day found her going about her accustomed duties, but in mid-morning came chilling news. Enemies had taken Jesus! He had been tried and sentenced! He was being crucified! In company with the other women who had been in the small group of Jesus’ close friends, she had hurried to Jerusalem, been swept by the surge of the crowd up the hill, had seen – had seen – but no! She would not think of that. Those hours when time stood still – no, they had passed, after all.
Sometime during the Sabbath she had retreated to the garden behind the house. In a way beyond her knowing, through the blackness of loss that had fallen upon her heart, as a tiny green shoot pushing through barren ground, there had come the remembrance of His voice, of her Beloved’s promise: “We will meet again, in another garden. You will know.”
She waited. She wondered. She wept. Slowly the Sabbath passed. Early the next morning she went to the garden where the body of her Loved One rested. How could she know it was this garden that held the glory, the ecstasy, the bliss, of their reunion! Only when it came about was the fog upon her understanding lifted.
Later that morning Jesus came again to her in the garden of Bethany. She ran and awakened Lazarus and shared in their quiet joy at the fulfillment of God’s Plan in that time, in that place. In the days that followed, during the time Jesus asserted his livingness among many, Mary fixed her mind and heart, her faith and love and devotion, upon the far-off reunion God had promised to them, which would fulfill their love. Thus she found her peace.