(N.B. this is my own picture of the painting by Nikolas Ge)
I came prepared to smell death, and the stench of decay. The tomb however was in a garden, and the first thing that I did in fact smell was lilies, and so many lilies it was intoxicating. It was still dark and chilly as is often the case in early April here in the Judean hills. I had been thinking about going back to Galilee after the horrors at Golgotha, but something kept me here, a vague hope his story was not over. I got to the tomb finally, and the stone was not where it should have been. The tomb was open, and when I looked inside I saw nothing, except the folded shroud, and separately the folded head cloth. I ran to tell Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved, and they came and found it as I had, and they left, scratching their heads.
I began to suspect the body had simply been moved or worse still, stolen, but why? If that was the case would somebody leave the burial wrappings behind? That just made no sense. I was weeping outside the entrance to the tomb and peeked in again, and this time I saw two shadowy figures, one at either end of the stone slab where he had been laid. “Woman, why are you weeping?” they asked. Both their presence and their question startled me, and I was tempted to reply “if you are God’s messengers, then you already know the answer to that question, but I held my tongue and simply said ‘They’ve taken my master away, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” And I kept crying. They seemed to be no help to me, and in any case I was too deep in my grief.
Then, oddly, I head the same question again, coming from outside the tomb, and in the early morning light I turned and saw a hooded figure. I thought “He must be the gardener, tending to the tombs during Pascha.” I answered “Sir, if you know where they’ve put him, please, please tell me, and I’ll go and bring the body back here.” I had fresh linens, and anointing oil and spices, and was hoping to pay my own last respects. Joseph and Nicodemus had done their best in haste just before Shabbat, but I wanted to do a better job.
Then… a moment I will never be able to forget. He called my name….. ‘Miryam’, and my grief clouded brain finally recognized the familiar sound of his voice… could it really be? I looked up and there he was right in front of me. In my joy, throwing all caution to the wind, I knelt down and grabbed the hem of his garment and wrapped my arms around his legs shouting ‘rabbouni’!!!! My brain was racing and I was thinking, ‘He’s back, and we can carry on as before…’, but no. He said “Don’t cling to me, but instead go proclaim to the brothers for I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”
For once I asked no questions. I did not hesitate. I ran from the tomb with hope in my heart, giddy with excitement. I could not wait to share the good news. But of course, by now you know that they were grieving too, and not prepared to take a woman’s word for it. In fact, as it turned out, no one believed Jesus had risen from the dead until and unless he actually appeared to them personally, in Jerusalem or Galilee. Perhaps you can understand why…. We had seen or knew the horrors of his being crucified. People don’t come back from ‘the extreme punishment’. That’s the end of the line.
Nothing less than a real risen Jesus appearing to us in the flesh was going to convince us he was alive again. And that is exactly what happened. There were many many exciting days after that, but none could eclipse that moment in time when he said to me ‘Miryam’. Like the time he first called my name, and exorcised the unclean spirits from my life in Galilee, I knew the sound of my master’s voice, and I had to follow him ever after. I just had to.
I’m an old woman now, and one of my friends is actually a fresco painter in Jerusalem. I got him to paint for me that morning, that first resurrection morning. Here’s what he came up with as I am heading off to into the sunrise to tell the good news, while the guards are heading in the opposite direction, rather like ships passing in the night, or in this case at sunrise. See what you think…… I like it.