Holy Week 2005

Mary Magdalene

Such small feet. The nails had not so much pierced them as smashed each of them into two, jagged halves; but Mary could still make out a tiny scar which she remembered from that time when she had tended His feet.

For so long she had literally sat at His feet that it had become her natural vantage point. She liked to watch Him pray in the quiet of the early evening while supper was being prepared. She liked to pray with Him because she felt His spiritual energy. Martha occasionally grumbled but she would not have liked sitting at His feet any more than Mary liked cooking. The Master said you could come into the kingdom as a mystic or a cook; and she, by temperament, was a mystic, as totally unaware of her beauty as Martha was unaware of her plainness. That is why Mary got on so well with John whereas Martha liked to be with Peter and James.

She could not help thinking, as she opened Joseph's big jar, of the time they had embalmed Lazarus. This time they would have to do everything in a hurry before the Sabbath was about to begin but that time they had waited as long as they dared in the hope that The Master would arrive; and do something. They were not sure, in a focused kind of way, what He would do; but they felt He would do something.

The waiting was terrible but the entombment was even worse. But they still went on waiting, even after mourners began to arrive. Martha covered her anxiety by looking after everyone but you could see she had not given up hope. Mary tried to get closer to the Holy Spirit, leaving herself as open as she could to receive strength.

And then He came. Martha had gone out immediately but Mary knew she must wait, that nothing they said could change things; that only The Master could make a difference. Martha came back trying to look calm and said He had asked for her. So Mary went and knelt at his feet, noticing how sore they were. People would think that she was crying for Lazarus but she was crying for Him; nobody understood Him. All that love that He sent out and so little ever came back. She could feel it then, as she knelt at His feet, worshipping, not pleading.

He went to the tomb and some of the men reluctantly opened it; and Lazarus came out, frightening everyone but Jesus and Mary; and John who was in a kind of trance in the middle distance. Somehow they got everybody away and gave Lazarus the peace and quiet he needed but just before Passover they arranged a small party. Lazarus, who was still in a state of shock, said nothing; Martha was busy making everything comfortable; but Mary felt that a gesture was called for; friendship, food and wine were not enough. She anointed His feet; that is when she had noticed the small scar; it was amazing that there were not more, the amount of walking He had done in the past three years. She wept in gratitude for what He had done and fear for what would happen to Him. Then she sat nearby on the floor. She was so upset that nobody understood Him that she could not eat. She just sat there, half praying, half grieving.

She went with some of the other women into Jerusalem to assist at the Festivities; but nobody was very festive. She fetched hot water from the fire and a large towel but it caused dissension; Peter was upset though she could not immediately work out why. As she left, she caught sight of Jesus as she stood at the angle of the stairs; He was bending down in precisely the way she could see herself doing; then she knew exactly what was going on and why Peter was upset; he would be; but John would know what was going on. And later, when they left the dining room, they did not look refreshed; they looked shattered as they went out to pray. She wanted to go with Him but knew that she could not; they had no time for women and, except for John, no time for mystics. She put the towel into some more hot water.

They worried when the men did not come back at their usual time; but most of them managed some sleep. Mary felt the tension in the air; she could feel His love being twisted and returned to Him in hate. But she was still shocked when John rushed in and said what was going on. She asked no questions and only stayed long enough to see that Mary had everything she needed; of course she did, even under such pressure.

Mary stood uncertainly near the Cross. It was not the cruelty, she had seen enough of that, and it was not the hostility which she could blank out; but she felt as if she was waiting for something, as if what was going on in the real world was a dream, a feeling greatly enhanced by the unearthly darkness.

And then He died.

Such small feet. She worked more quickly than she had ever done before. The whole process was unearthly: the strange environment; the febrile activity; the important men looking at her. But Mary made everything real; you would have expected a mother, even one as serene as she, to give way a little; but she was intent on looking after everyone; she would save her grief until later when the job was done. And this was not nature working of its own accord before the impact of shock, she was using her reserves; you could see how the ethic of service was something that she and her Son had shared.

Seeing Nicodemus, such a staunch Pharisee, standing nearby reminded Mary of her brother Lazarus and his return to life. Jesus had told Mary afterwards that He had deliberately waited some way off after He heard about the death so that He could bear witness to the greater glory of His Father by raising Lazarus. She had understood what He meant. And as the raising of Lazarus passed through her mind, Lazarus who was nearby, helping Joseph to find a rock that would fit the entrance of the tomb, she wondered how The Master would be raised from the dead. She knew that He, like all true believers, would be raised; but she thought He would be raised in a special way. He might deliberately stay away for a few days but He would be back, for the Greater Glory of God. She felt the Holy Spirit coming back to her as if He had been bearing company to the Soul of Jesus, and, in that moment,  Mary knew He would return.

Prayer. Jesus, Saviour of the World, may we stay with You to the end, no matter how hopeless our lives appear to be. May we, like Martha and Mary, find our way to Your kingdom by uniting Your redeeming Grace with our human wills. Even now, as Your earthly body is entombed, we pray for Your help that we may once again faithfully re-enact our own earthly entombment in Baptism. And, as You gave strength to Martha and Mary's faith in You, may we recall their faith that You would raise Lazarus from the dead, their Hope of the life to come and their Love of Your earthly sisters and brothers. Grieved by the pain You suffered for us, yet may we be joyful in Your Resurrection, through our faith in The Father and our obedience to the Holy Spirit. Amen.