I wrote the following meditation in 1997-98 for a New College (University of Edinburgh) preaching class assignment. I’ve since revised various parts of it. Please feel free to use any of it, if you wish.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
Mary sat by the window, wrapped in a black shawl, looking out on a still, dark Jerusalem. She looked out into the night, at the stars in the sky, at a few shepherd’s fires dotted on the hills, listening to a cool breeze rustling through the trees, the occasional order shouted from a nearby Roman garrison.
The sun would soon rise, the women would soon be here.
John the Beloved disciple came up the stairs and handed Mary a hot drink.
“Have you slept?” his gentle voice entering the stillness.
Mary sat sipping her drink as she looked into the glowing embers of a dying fire and sighed. This had been one of the longest Sabbaths.
“Some Passover!”, she spoke out into the darkness.
John was now sitting beside her, he put his arm around her; she leaned into him.
“Looks like Herod got him in the end!”
“Herod?! Do you not mean Pilate?” John voiced quizzically.
“Just after Jesus was born, we had our own passover, of a kind: Herod was our angel of death …, wanted him dead …, killed all the first born children around us and we, … we fled to Egypt! But now… death didn’t passover this time.”
John pulled the shawl closer around her, as she rested her head on his chest, watching the fire, listening to his breathing.
They sat watching the sky slowly changing from black to blue, watching the day gradually unwrapping itself from the night; familiar objects in the room began to take on shape. A distant, faint sound of footsteps grew closer and then stopped. A dog barked. There was a quiet series of knocks on the door downstairs.
John and Mary each caught their breath and held it in; they could hear their heartbeat pounding in their ears.
There was another knock.
“They’re here!” Mary said. John stood up and went downstairs.
When he returned after Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, Mary was standing holding a jar, cradled in her shawl.
Mary hugged the women.
“Mary, I want you to take this!” She held the jar of ointment out to Mary Magdalene.
“This is myrrh!” said Mary Magdalene taking in its aroma, “Where did you get this?”
“I’ve had it for years. It was given to me by Magi in Bethlehem. I always wondered if I’d find a use for it…” her voice trailed off; Salome took her hand.
“I want you three women to take it to him again,” she continued. “Anoint my King, but hurry the day is nearly here….”
“You are sure you won’t come with us?” said Mary Magdalene.
Mary sighed, and tears filled her eyes.
The sun had risen by the time the women left the house, the streets were still empty. A solitary morning star still hung in the sky above them. They set out north.
Having waved them off, John returned to Mary in the upstairs room; she was again sitting beside the window, looking out into the morning sky, reds, yellows, and blues re-arranging themselves, her hands were cupped around her mouth, taking in the scent of myrrh. She pointed out of the window, “It wasn’t a star like that, when he was born, it seemed brighter, somehow.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Joseph and I had travelled from Nazareth on our way to Bethlehem, for the census… oh, you’re too young to remember it. Well, we found shelter in a cave and that’s where I gave birth to Jesus – I think I’ve told you about this…”
“Yeah! but go on…”
“Well, one evening, just after sunset there was an incredible caffufle outside, I thought the circus had arrived. And what an entourage: camels, servants, perfumes of all kinds, exotic foods, fruit I’d never seen before or even since, purple cloths,… and these magically dressed men saying that they’d followed a star to find the Messiah. There in the night sky hung the brightest star I’ve ever seen. Gold, frankincense and myrrh, that’s what they gave him, ‘gifts for the King’ they said. ‘In this cave we have found new life for all humankind’, one of them said. But myrrh…. it’s the smell of death!”
Mary looked out at the star again, hanging over the city. Beneath it, in the deserted streets, three women were hurrying north, wrapped in black cloaks.
The two Marys and Salome passed the old Palace of Herod and made for the Gennath Gate. They walked, briskly in silence, aware of the other sounds around them: their feet on the road, the city slowly waking up around them, early swimmers in the Tower’s Pool, babies crying. The cool, damp morning air filled their lungs. Wrapped in their cloaks they had bundled the preparation of spices they had bought; Mary Magdalene carried the jar of myrrh given to her by Mary.
“What about the stone?” said Salome, “Who will roll it away?”
“We should have brought John!” said James’s mother.
“John is taking care of Mary, as … as Jesus asked him.”
“..or Peter, or…”
“Don’t mention him!” said Mary Magdalene firmly.
“What are we going to do about the stone?” said Salome again. “Who will help us?”
Mary Magdalene spoke, “Maybe there’s a gardener, or a guard, or … somebody!”
“Well, what if there isn’t?”
“I don’t know Salome, I just don’t know!”
The road had taken the women out beyond the city walls, past the Jewish tombs. Dusty scrublands, rocky outcrops and scattered trees replaced the built-up surroundings of Jerusalem, the morning sun casting shadows among the trees. This would provide more cover, they were less likely to be seen.
Their hearts were pounding when they came to the tomb, heads down, hands shaking, chests heaving in the cold air.
Mary look up and stopped. “Oh, no!” The others stumbled forward towards the open cave. Salome covered her mouth as she gasped, tears falling from her eyes.
Mary Magdalene clutched the jar of myrrh to her chest. “What will I tell Mary?”
Lord, as we find ourselves before your empty tomb speak to us in our helplessness, receive the things which we have prepared for you, take the things which seem incomplete, and help us to trust you as you lead us forward into the unknown. In Jesus’ name. Amen.