"Joseph wrapped the body in clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. But Mary Magdalene...remained sitting there, facing the tomb."
--The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Matthew
By Denise Trull
Mary Magdalene remained sitting there, facing the tomb. I don't think there is anything more heartbreaking to me than that line from the Passion. She just could not leave. Who's to say she didn't stay there sitting facing the tomb all through the night?
I think of Mary Magdalene and I think utter gratitude. I think after she wept at His feet long ago in the house of Simon, and felt that gentle hand of forgiveness on her head, and heard Jesus take her part against the judgement of pharisees, with such firm kindness, and perhaps held her face in His hands and said to those at table without taking his eyes off of hers, "...her sins, and I know they are many, have been forgiven her for she hath loved much.” I think in that very moment she was utterly His.
I don't think she talked much after that day. I think she joined his followers and helped the women do tasks that needed to be done. And perhaps endured their stares and their lingering judgement of her past life. She had sinned much. And she was probably deathly afraid to sin again. Having the Master in her sight all the time was all she wanted and perhaps desperately needed. He steadied her, this champion of her soul. His physical presence was almost a sign of His forgiveness and love. If He was in her eyes at all times, if she could just hear his voice, and perhaps receive His grateful smile at the food she gave him, or the water she poured. That was all she needed. His physical presence. The rock on which she relied for steadiness. Like a child who always sees her Father out of the corner of her eye and is consoled.
And now He was gone. A stone had been rolled between Him and herself. The feel of her devastation is palpable as you read that she faced the tomb. Was she filled with fear? Did she wonder what she would do without Him? Could she be strong against her past sins if His eyes were not there to remind her that she had died to them? Did she simply weep and will him to be alive again? To hear His voice. To try now desperately to remember what it was like to see Him and listen to His life saving words.
I think they would all wonder that. Can we be strong without His physical presence among us holding our attention, reminding us always that He is there in our midst?
It was Mary Magdalene that He would appear to first. He understood that she probably needed that full assurance the most of all the followers. What was the joy like for her, I wonder, when she was to see Him again? I think Jesus thought of Mary’s sadness most especially when He created a way to be physically present to us in the Eucharist.
We all know what Mary felt when we face our own tombs -- our sins, our sorrows, our fears, our doubts. The stone is suddenly rolled away as we enter a Church and gaze upon Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Alive. Hidden but there in Body, Soul, and Divinity. Always saying be not afraid. I am with you always, in my flesh.
Today we all face the tomb together in utter sadness and fear. The tabernacle is empty. We do not want to leave. We gaze at that wide open door and share with the Magdalene her lost and saddened heart. And we ask in a wonder that echoes in the empty church: what if He had never come?