Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10 (with reference to Matthew 27:55-56, 61)
My name is Mary. No, probably not the Mary you’re thinking of. I’m not the Mary who gave birth to Jesus, and I’m not Mary Magdalene, either. You might know me – if you know me at all – as “the other Mary.” That’s what Matthew mostly calls me. Once, he identifies me by my sons – “the mother of James and Joseph.” Other than that, I am defined only by who I am not.
I’m named after Miriam: Mary in its Hebrew form. In our Scriptures Miriam is a prophet, the sister of Moses. Unlike her, though, there is nothing special or distinctive about me. My name is the most common woman’s name in my world. I am not famous. I’m not even infamous, like my Magdalene counterpart, who is still sometimes called a temptress and a lady of the night and accused of bearing our Lord’s secret children, though those are mostly unfounded rumors. According to Luke she had seven demons cast out of her, but she doesn’t talk much about that. She will only tell you that she was lost, and then was found. No one would ever think to accuse me of the things they say about her. No one would make a movie about my life. I’m a bit part in the resurrection story, out of the picture as quickly as I move in. I am known – if I’m known at all – only for being in the right place at the right time.
My story didn’t begin at the empty tomb, though, or even at the cross – the first place Matthew ever mentions me. It began on the shores of the sea of Galilee, where I grew up, selling the fish my father and brothers caught at the market. I married, had children, they grew up; my husband died. But I was always resourceful. I cooked fish and sold them, and I did OK for myself. And when my sons left their nets on the shore one day to follow this wandering preacher who said something about fishing for people, I followed too. What did I have to lose?
You won’t read much about me in the pages of the Bible today, but I was there. I sat at his feet and listened to his stories and wore out my sandals walking back and forth between Jerusalem and Galilee. I cooked meals for Jesus and the Twelve. That’s what he called his closest friends, the Twelve. I gave all my fish money to support him. I never minded being behind the scenes – in fact, I never expected anything more. I did it all because I believed in him. I did it because he made me feel important and unique, like even I had something to give. I did it because when he talked about the Kingdom of God, I could almost see it taking shape in front of me.
I did it because I saw God embodied in him.
I went with him everywhere he went, usually at the back of the crowd. I was there when he healed people and cast out their demons. I was there when he fed the masses that gathered for his stories. I was there when he stole a donkey and rode into Jerusalem and the crowds shouted Hosanna, and I shouted Hosanna, too. I was there at the cross, me and Mary Magdalene, when everyone else had run away – even my own sons. We knew we couldn’t change anything. We had never had that kind of power – a woman of ill repute, and a nobody. But we had given our lives to this man who had given us life in return, and we couldn’t leave him, not then.
My name is Mary, and I was there.
My sons always believed that he was going to save us. They said that all of these little things he said and did added up to revolution, and that one day he would free us from the Romans and our own oppressive leaders alike. I guess I believed that, too. But honestly, the way I saw it, he had saved me already. All I know is that in his presence I felt whole for the first time, like I was more than just another Mary. The day he died, I know a piece of my sons died as well – the piece that hoped he was going to change the world. But a piece of me died too, like I was nobody once again.
When his body was taken down from the cross and brought to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and I followed. Where else did we have to go when the world was ending? And we sat there, in front of the stone. We sat there for a long time, keeping vigil. We sat until soldiers came to make sure the tomb was secure. They were afraid someone might steal his body and claim he had risen from the dead. We scoffed at them, but not out loud. The soldiers made us leave.
The next day was the Sabbath. We cooked dinner for the Twelve – the Eleven, now – and others who had gathered. Somehow a group of Jesus’ scattered followers had found their way back together. Nobody talked much. There wasn’t really anything to say. We went through the motions of washing and cooking and serving. We were still in shock that it was real.
When the Sabbath was over, at dawn the next morning, Mary Magdalene and I walked back to the tomb. There was something that drew us back to that place of death. We would keep our vigil, one more day. It was still too soon for life to move on.
I still find it hard to talk about what happened that morning. I hardly know what’s real, in my memory, and what’s my mind trying to put it all together. I remember feeling like the earth was suddenly shifting under me, and looking back it’s hard to say whether that was literal, or metaphor. I remember a bright, blinding light, and the soldiers who were keeping guard falling to the ground. I know that when I dared to look up, the stone in front of the tomb was gone. Mary and I just stood there, frozen. At least that’s how it plays back in my mind now, but it’s fragmented, one image after another in no particular order.
What I know is that he was dead, but then he was alive.
It’s hard to put together exactly what happened, but I can still hear the words in my mind: “He isn’t here. He’s been raised from the dead.” I can still feel my feet on the rocky ground, running back to the others, my head pounding with excitement and confusion and fear. But most of all I can see him there, in front of us, on the road. Telling us not to be afraid. Giving us a job to do – to tell the others, to spread the word. Only on the way did it start to sink in. Only then did we begin to give this thing a name: resurrection. Only then did we start to realize: we were the first to bear this news.
I can understand, I think, why he picked Mary Magdalene for the job. She had a dramatic life story, even if the details varied depending on who was telling it. She was the repentant sinner, the prodigal daughter, the one possessed by seven demons. It was the kind of story that inspired people and brought them to faith and made them believe that anything was possible.
But me? I wasn’t anyone important. I’m the daughter of a fisherman, and the mother of fishermen. I traveled at the back of the crowd. I cooked meals. I never had a good backstory. I was the “other” Mary, just one of a thousand Marys.
But I was there, and this is my story now. I know people may doubt it. Sometimes I even do. People may ask me questions that I’ll never be able to answer. But I’m going to tell them what I know – and that is that he died, but then he was alive.
I used to think, even after it all, that what happened that day was good news for somebody else. For Mary Magdalene, or for my sons, or for the Twelve: the ones who would become leaders, and go on grand adventures, and risk their lives in the face of the empire, and change the world. I thought it was for people with dramatic conversion experiences, for all those people who could speak and see and walk for the first time. I thought it was for people with great faith.
But somewhere along the way I realized: resurrection wasn’t just good news for them.
It was also for the nobodies, the skeptics and the doubters and the hopeless, and all of us at the back of the crowd. It was for the fishermen who never followed, the boring and the overlooked, and everyone who never had a good story, and everyone still waiting for their bodies and spirits to be healed.
It was for me.
My name is Mary, and when Jesus rose to new life that morning, so did I.