Lingering at the Cross
Mary Magdalene & Me
Robin Weidner, April 2010
(This is part one of a three part series, see introduction article — Spring Glory.)
“Relinquishment is always part of the process of maturing…He is not finished with us yet, whatever loss we suffer, for as we lose our hold on visible things, the invisible becomes more precious…”
— Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering
It was a Sunday morning and I awoke with a heavy weight firmly on my shoulders. Pulling myself out of bed, I prepared for our women’s group meeting at 7:00 am at my house.
Lately, I had been overwhelmed by concern for my adult son and his continued healing after his girlfriend’s death. In fact, I had experienced flashes of fear tinged with despair, where I imagined getting a call that something terrible had happened to him.
At the end of our group, we divided off to pray. Wanting to keep it real, I opened up to my prayer partner for the day about my fear and anxiety. As a young single, she had no idea how to advise me, but as she poured out her heart in prayer for me, I wiped away the tears flooding down my face. I was moved.
Later that morning at our worship service, as I prepared to take communion, I again bowed in prayer, asking God to take my heart to the cross. But this time God had something to say to me. “Robin, will you entrust your son to me? Will you let go?”
I cupped my hands in front of me. Within them were my son’s pain and his journey to healing. I turned my hands over, saying, “God I entrust him to you.” Immediately, I felt the weight slide off of my shoulders. And then, with the eyes of my heart, I saw God wrap his arm around my son’s shoulders as they walked off together.
After communion, my husband stood up to preach about John 20. And as he talked about Mary Magdalene, my heart was again moved at God’s provision, as God (through Dave) took my heart from the cross to the resurrection…painting a vivid picture of what it means to linger…and then let go.
From the cross to the empty tomb (John 20)
Forming a trio of Mary’s, Mary Magdalene stood with Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, heartbroken as her beloved savior, healer and friend suffered. Now, three days later, she knew there was only one place she would find any peace at all…nearest to Jesus, at his tomb.
Unable to sleep much the night before, Mary Magdelene conceded to her heart’s desire in the early morning hours before the first light of dawn tinged the sky. It didn’t occur to her to be afraid of the dark or wary of the guards stationed there. She knew that within a few short hours Mary (mother of Jesus) would be there to join her.
Going to the tomb, Mary Magdelene quickened her pace as if some unknown force was propelling her along. When she arrived, she saw the unthinkable…the guards were gone, the stone was rolled away, and the tomb was empty. No longer worried about the early hour, she ran to the house where Peter and John were staying…
Just minutes later, John and Peter were running along the streets, leaving Mary in the dust. John arrived first and leaned into the tomb to see the strips of linen, neatly folded. Peter arrived second and impulsively pushed past John into the tomb where he examined the grave clothes.
By the time Mary Magdelene arrived, no doubt John and Peter were kneeling in the tomb. Who would have the gall to take the Lord’s body? And why did they leave the grave clothes? Did they want to steal his last shard of dignity, by dragging him away naked?
John and Peter decided to leave. Perhaps they wanted to talk to the other brothers about what to do. Or perhaps they were worried that if the authorities came they might accuse them of stealing his body.
But Mary wasn’t ready to leave yet. And so she lingered. And now alone again at the tomb, she put her face to the cold rock of the tomb and wept.
And it’s truly amazing what happened next! (John 20:10-18)
Mary Magdelene looked in the tomb to see two angels in white. She mistook Jesus for a gardener, then realized she was with Jesus. Obeying her Lord, Mary ran quickly to tell the news, as the first eyewitness to the resurrection.
Lingering at the cross
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher.)”
Jesus choosing a woman as the first witness to his resurrection is a testament to his vision for the role of women in his church. In his day, women weren’t allowed as witnesses in a court of law.
Yet Mary Magdelene was chosen as the first witness to the turning point of history! But perhaps, one reason he chose Mary was to honor her heart.
Mary’s heart was shown by her ability to linger. She lingered bravely at the cross, when nearly all the men had fled. After Jesus died, she lingered, unwilling to leave without his body. And now she had arrived early and lingered late at the tomb, throwing her heart of despair and grief wide open.
Why did Mary linger?
Perhaps, it was out of gratitude for her deliverance (Mark 16:8). Scholars speculate that seven demons (the Biblical number of perfection) symbolized complete suffering. No doubt, before Jesus delivered her Mary was overcome by insecurity, fear, anxiety, paranoia, depression and more.
Jesus had seen beyond the chaos who Mary was truly meant to be. With one clean cut, he cast out the demons. Afterward, Mary began to follow Jesus, supporting him out of her means. Her gratitude was as deep as the isolation she had felt before.
Whatever her reasons were, it’s apparent that Mary’s relationship with Jesus was personal. In fact, it’s telling that she recognized him the moment he called her by name. And so, Jesus honored her with his first appearance, making her what’s been called an apostle to the apostles, the first to proclaim the resurrection of her Lord.
But before she ran to tell, Jesus had an important truth to impart to Mary.
“Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" John 20: 17 (NASB)
Now resurrected, Jesus was ready to teach Mary Magdelene an important lesson in spiritual trust. Mary had leaned upon the human presence of Jesus, now she needed to learn how to lean on his spiritual presence. And so he gently chided her, “Stop clinging to me, Mary.”
Certainly, Mary could only "go and tell," by first letting go. But I also believe Jesus was ready to give Mary a higher call—even more important than the support she had given during his ministry—that would help her become a leading lady in his church.
But first he had to begin cutting the cord of her physical dependence on him. Soon, Mary would need to learn how to rely on the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide, comfort her, and keep her Lord close to her heart. Now what was invisible would become precious to her.
Mary Magdelene needed to let go.
I so relate. On that Sunday morning (that I described earlier) as I agonized over my son, Jesus saw straight into my heart…where I was clinging to fear and control, afraid of letting go. And like Mary, he told me in love, “Step away from what you’re clinging to. Trust me.”
The scripture that came to my heart in that moment was 2 Timothy 2:12… “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
I knew that God could only guard what I put in his hands. And putting my son into his hands meant letting go. And once I let go, I would be free to listen for the Spirit to guide me, instead of my fears.
So when my husband recently hit up against some work challenges that also left me reeling, I knew what to do. I opened my hands. God, I entrust Dave to you, his work, his heart and his challenges.
And then I watched as a merciful Father put his arm around my husband’s shoulders, ready to do his work.
Jeremiah 17:5-8, Hebrews 11:1
Relinquishing control is initially painful, but allows for new energy. Write down some time when you felt God calling you to let go. How was Jesus working to grow your faith?
Choose one thing you are afraid of giving to Jesus. Cup your hands in front of you and picture that thing in your hands. How does it feel? What emotions does it stir?
Then turn your hands over, saying to Jesus, “I entrust this to you.” Picture Jesus taking that person, or situation, or trial and walking away with it in his care. Journal about how you feel.
Continue to part two, Living Without Reservation.
For more articles, check out the Cup of Security Archives.