Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was a man of great accomplishments. Yet, as he could never accept the miraculous elements in Scripture, he took it upon himself to edit his own special version of the Bible—in it, he limited himself to only the moral teachings of Jesus and removed all references to miracles. The closing words of The Jefferson Bible read, “There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulcher and departed.” That’s the end of the story.
But the end of the story for Jefferson was just the beginning of the story—particularly for Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ followers. She was the woman from whom Jesus had cast seven demons, and became a committed, loving follower of Christ. Even when the male disciples abandoned Him during His crucifixion and went into hiding, Mary remained at the cross, and later, the tomb.
We find her in John 20 in deep mourning.
11 But Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13 They said to her, ” Woman, why are you crying?”
“Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus.
15 “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.”
16 Jesus said, “Mary.”
Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” —which means “Teacher.”
17 “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God.”
18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what He had said to her.
-John 20.11-18 (HCSB)
Her master had died a horrifying death, and she was crushed. Worse, there had been no opportunity to complete proper Jewish burial preparations, as they had been interrupted by the Sabbath. So the morning after, she resolutely went to Jesus’ tomb, bringing her last ounce of devotion to her Lord.
Christ reveals Himself most powerfully to those who show up!
In the midst of her own pain and sorrow, Mary was still set on ministering to the Lord. We know from the other gospels that she wasn’t alone in determining to come and further anoint the body for burial, and there were others who showed up.
So to whom does Jesus appear first? To the one who showed up!
Since the time of Christ’s ministry, many people have admired Him as a great moral teacher, a prophet, and a leader, but they accompany Him only as far as the grave—no farther—and there, like Jefferson, they leave Him.
Mary followed Him farther. When her mind could not understand the plan of God, her heart still pursued Him. When her heart was crushed and in agony, she still followed Him.
She may not have gone to Jesus’ tomb seeking a risen Savior, but faith that keeps hanging on and showing up—even in what appears to be its weakest moments, when nothing seems to be left—is a blessing to God. That kind of tenacious faith allows us to experience His presence even when we’re least expecting it. And that’s the kind of faith God’s looking for today, too.