By Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
My name is Mary Magadalene.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
I am from a small country called Israel.
We used to be free and have our own kings.
But for almost one hundred years now,
we have been occupied by the Roman Empire.
This makes many of my brother Israelites angry.
They are always planning a rebellion against the Romans.
I don’t like the Romans very much, either.
But they aren’t really much worse than our own kings were.
And to tell you the truth, I’ve had my own problems.
Life is hard here.
It’s extra hard if you’re a woman like I am.
I know what hunger feels like.
I know what loneliness feels like —
I don’t have a father or brothers or a husband to take care of me.
I know what sickness feels like.
And I know what the darkness feels like.
For many years evil thoughts lived in my mind.
Maybe they were demons or unclean spirits. I don’t know.
But I couldn’t think clearly,
my feelings were ugly and got me into trouble,
and sometimes I even thought about taking my own life.
There are so many people in my country like me.
Poor, hungry, lonely people, filled with dark thoughts,
wondering why we should get out of bed every morning.
Wouldn’t be easier to give up?
I’m sure that in the end the dark thoughts would have conquered me.
But then something happened.
I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t deserve it.
A surprise just walked into my life.
The surprise was a person named Jesus.
You’ve probably heard his name before, because he’s famous.
But when I met him for the first time, he wasn’t famous.
He just walked around our little part of Israel called Galilee.
I heard from other people that he could take away sickness and darkness.
He could give you a reason to live again.
So one day when I heard he was in my town,
I decided to go and see him.
I wasn’t sure if he’d like me or even look at me.
Nobody liked me because of the darkness inside me.
If Jesus had rejected me too, it wouldn’t have surprised me.
But Jesus reached out and put his hand on my shoulder.
He called me “daughter.”
Nobody has called me “daughter” since I was a little girl.
He asked me what my name was, and I said “Mary.”
He repeated it: “Mary.”
Suddenly my heart grew ten times its size, completely filled up with joy.
Then he spoke again. His voice changed, but he wasn’t talking to me.
He was talking to the darkness inside of me.
He told it to leave.
I could feel the power in his voice and in his hand.
And the amazing thing is—
the darkness within me obeyed him.
It left me.
It was gone!
It was like the sun rose in my mind for the first time in years.
Now that Jesus had touched me, and spoken to me,
everything was different.
Jesus’ touch and voice has stayed with me ever since.
All I have to do is think of it, and it’s with me again,
and it drives away the darkness.
After that I joined the group of people
who followed Jesus everywhere he went.
There were a few other women like me.
They were twelve men, too, some really smart —
and some not very smart. But they all loved Jesus like I did.
One of those twelve men, though, that I didn’t trust.
I had the feeling that even after Jesus sent the darkness away,
this man, named Judas, invited it back into himself again.
I kept an eye on Judas.
It’s hard to tell quickly everything that happened after that, but I’ll try.
I really thought that Jesus would march through all of Israel
and touch and speak to every single person living in the dark.
A few of the men thought Jesus would also get rid of the Romans.
But it turned out that Jesus’ real enemies
were not the darkness and not the Romans.
It was our own people.
Some of our leaders especially hated him.
I guess they loved the darkness more than the light, too.
And unfortunately, they had a traitor right inside our group —
Judas, the man I mentioned earlier.
He worked in secret with our leaders and got Jesus arrested.
Then our leaders gave Jesus over to the Romans.
The Romans didn’t know what to think of Jesus,
but they don’t care about innocence or guilt.
They only care about power.
So they decided to give our Jesus the worst possible death.
That means getting nailed onto a cross.
I hope you’ve never seen a crucifixion.
I have seen it. It is the worst thing you can imagine.
It’s a way of saying to the world:
“This person is not a person. He is an animal, or a thing,
or a piece of trash.
Look away, walk away, don’t love this person…
or the same thing will happen to you.”
All of Jesus’ men ran away — they were afraid.
But I stayed with the women,
at the foot of the hill where Jesus was crucified.
We watched the whole thing.
We watched him die.
And I felt all the darkness come rushing back into me.
This terrible thing happened to Jesus on a Friday.
He died late that afternoon.
It was one of the holy days for our people,
so there was no time to prepare his body properly for burial.
A kind man gave his own tomb to hold Jesus’ body,
but it just lay in there, like a thing, like a piece of trash,
without the oil and spices we use to prepare a dead person.
All day on Saturday I kept thinking of my poor Jesus,
lying alone in the tomb, unprepared for the eternal darkness of death.
All the darkness of my earlier days
was nothing compared to the darkness of Jesus’ death.
Before the sun rose on Sunday morning,
I ran to the garden where Jesus’ tomb was,
carrying the oil and spices with me.
On the way I started thinking:
you foolish woman, how will you get inside the tomb?
I’d seen the huge stone that many men
rolled in front of the tomb to close it up.
How could one weak woman roll the stone away?
But I kept going.
And when I got there, I had the shock of my life.
The stone was gone!
Just a big hole leading into the darkness of Jesus’ burial chamber.
I imagined that someone had stolen Jesus’ body —
again treating it like a thing, like a piece of trash.
I needed help to get him back.
Even though all the men ran away from Jesus’ cross,
they were my best option.
They loved Jesus too; surely they would help me.
So I ran to where Peter and John were staying —
Jesus’ best friends.
I shouted, “They have taken our Lord out of his tomb!
I don’t even know where his body is now!”
Peter and John were as upset as I was,
and they could run a lot faster.
Soon they left me behind. I was out of breath anyway.
I walked the rest of the way back to the tomb.
I thought the darkness of dead Jesus on Saturday was the worst,
but the darkness of stolen, dishonored, disfigured Jesus on Sunday
was even darker.
I only found out later what
Peter and John saw when they got there:
the cloths that covered Jesus’ body, but no Jesus.
By the time I reached the garden, they were already gone.
I came back to the entrance to the tomb,
and then I started to cry.
I forced myself to look inside.
Maybe I would find a clue
that would help me find Jesus’ body.
But then —
Well, here’s where my story becomes more difficult.
Not for me.
For me, it’s the story that my whole life is based on.
But it might be hard for you to believe.
So all I can do is tell you what I saw and experienced,
and how it changed my life.
Maybe, when you hear about the change in me,
you’ll take my story seriously.
So here’s what happened.
I looked inside the tomb and I saw
two beautiful figures dressed in white.
I guess they were angels.
They were sitting where Jesus’ body was supposed to be.
One of them said to me, “Why are you crying?”
I said the same thing I said to Peter:
“They have taken my Jesus away,
and I don’t know where he is.”
I guess I should have been excited to meet angels,
but I didn’t care.
All I wanted was Jesus, whom I loved,
and who loved me and healed me.
So I backed out of the tomb and turned around.
Someone was standing there.
This person asked me the same question:
“Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
My eyes were full of tears and I couldn’t lift my head,
so I didn’t get a good look at the person speaking to me.
I thought he was the gardener.
Maybe he had taken away Jesus’ body.
So I said, “Please, if you’ve taken him, just tell me,
and I’ll get him out of here and bury him properly.
Just give my Jesus back to me.”
And then —
That’s my name. “Mary.”
He said my name.
When he called me by name,
I knew it was him.
It was Jesus, my Lord, my friend,
the one who rescued me from the darkness.
Over the past three days he had gone into darkness, too —
darkness beyond even the worst thing I ever experienced.
He took all that darkness inside of him,
inside his very body.
I could see the scars of crucifixion on his hands and feet.
But darkness didn’t have the last word on Jesus.
I know it sounds strange.
I know that dead people don’t come back to life
just as well as you do!
And yet — Jesus lives.
Death and darkness couldn’t hold him.
He called me by name.
And when I die, he will call me by name,
and I will live with him.
The darkness will never, ever hold me again.
I am Jesus’, now and forever.
Thank you for listening to my story.
And now I have only one request:
keep listening, and listen closely.
Because Jesus is calling your name, too.
He is calling you out of the darkness
and into his light.
The Rev. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is associate pastor of Tokyo Lutheran Church, Tokyo, Japan.