My name is Mary. Me and about a thousand other women. I think half of the women I know are named Mary. Herod the Great’s wife was named Marianne and it seems as if everyone wanted to name their baby girls after her.
But what’s really in a name? For most of my life, I heard my name said with shame. With contempt. With disgust. Whether that be my own voice in my head accusing me… Mary, you’re not good enough. Mary, you should be ashamed of yourself. Mary, you’re never going to be like the other women. Or the whispers I heard from other people, sometimes with judgement, sometimes with pity – I hardly ever liked the sound of my own name.
Then I met him. I had heard about him. About his teachings that seemed so different than the other Rabbis. How he seemed to care about people that most of the religious leaders had given up on. His name, was Yeshua, which in Hebrew means “salvation”…I think you call him, Jesus. But nothing prepared me for my first encounter with this man.
When he looked at me – I felt like he saw something in me that I never seen in myself. I wasn’t even exactly sure what it is that he saw, but I felt seen and known in a way that I never had before. And before I could even open my mouth to speak to him, he commanded 7 demons to leave me. 7. Demons. 7 different ways that I had been haunted up until then. 7 different things that didn’t belong in me. That were other than Mary. In a sense, Jesus removed all of the things from my life that weren’t ME. He rid me of all of the things that were keeping me captive from being the Mary he created me to be. After they left me, I realized what he was seeing when he looked at me – He saw Mary. A Mary that was fully known and fully loved. A Mary that was capable. A Mary that was trustworthy. A Mary without shame or guilt or condemnation. From that moment forward, when He said my name, I believed who he saw in me. It was impossible not to.
After Yeshua made me who I was always meant to be, I hardly ever left his side. I wanted everyone to experience this kind of life-giving love and transformation. I wanted to do whatever it took to make sure that He was able to have as many encounters with as many people as possible. Most days I had no idea what was in store for us as we travelled and taught and served and healed. But those few years of my life were marked by daily reminders of how insane his love was for people.
Don’t get me wrong, there were struggles during those early days of ministry with Jesus. In case you don’t know, Judaism is mostly a boys club. Girls can’t become Rabbis or teach in the temple or even really pray out loud in a religious service. And when Rabbis spent time developing disciples, those disciples were NOT women. So you can imagine the comments and questions that came from some of the men that travelled with us. The funny thing is though, I never felt the need to defend myself. To prove that I was worthy of walking with Jesus. To show the boys that girls can play, too. Because I just knew that I was worthy to Him. That he believed in me. And that was enough. And eventually, that was enough for the other men as well.
It didn’t hurt that Jesus went out of his way to shatter what our society thought about women.
In our culture, men aren’t even supposed to greet women in public. But Jesus met with a Samaritan woman at a well and had a full conversation with her. He saw her real need for living water and led her gently to the truth with compassion.
And then, in a different city when the religious leaders tried to entice him to say that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned, Jesus was her shield. He told the men to cast stones if they were without sin. And after they all walked away, he told the woman that he didn’t condemn her either.
Jesus seemed determined to turn our ideas of what men and women were supposed to do on their head. To invite us into a deeper way of seeing and understanding our identity.
In fact, one time we were watching as Jesus was teaching thousands of people on a hillside.
And as it became time for them to eat, the disciples approached Jesus and asked for him to dismiss the crowd so they could go into the village to get food. But Jesus had a different idea. He took 5 loaves of bread and a couple of fish and turned it into MORE than enough to feed the thousands and thousands of people gathered there that day. But the most amazing part to ME, was that after he broke the bread, he asked ALL of us to serve the food. Not just the women. And not because He was trying to demean the men – He was inviting them into the the miracle of service. The joy of hospitality. He wanted us ALL to experience the abundance of serving others out of his neverending supply.
Jesus changed the game. The rules were shattered. The players that normally were the stars were now on the sidelines. And those of us that didn’t think we were allowed to play, were handed the playbook.
So it shouldn’t have surprised us that the way he left the game was so dramatic. That instead of using the power we had witnessed to escape his sentence, he walked willingly to his execution. But for so many of his disciples, his status as a criminal was embarrassing to them. They didn’t want their reputations to be ruined by his shameful death on a Roman cross. But I had no reputation outside of Him. He WAS my reputation. So where else would I go, but at his feet as he suffered and died? I watched as he gave John to his mother, Mary and Mary to John. But I didn’t need Him to give me to someone else. I belonged to Him. And I knew that even as he breathed his last, that I would forever belong to Him.
They took his body away and wrapped it in linen, and laid in a tomb in a garden nearby. Mary and I followed Joseph, the good man that took care of his burial, to the tomb so we would know where his body was placed. They rolled a giant stone in front of the tomb and there was nothing left to do. It was fast approaching the beginning of the Sabbath, so we left the tomb to prepare spices for his body and to rest. I hated that we couldn’t do anything for his body that day. I just kept thinking of him laying there, uncared for, alone. But we were faithful to the commandment to rest quietly. Sometimes faithfulness is painful.
Before the sun even rose after the Sabbath, I returned to the garden where his body was laid. It would have been helpful to wait for the sunlight, but I couldn’t stand it. I carried the spices with me to make sure that his body was cared for, and I worried as I walked about that giant stone at the entrance of the tomb. How many people would it take to roll it away so I could get to him? But as I got closer to the tomb, I saw that the stone was already rolled away. Oh no. Someone beat me to him. Someone took his body. I needed help.
I ran as fast as I could to find John and Peter, to tell them what I had seen. I could barely catch my breath to tell them, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” No sooner than those words left my mouth we were all in a dead sprint back to the garden. Adrenaline and shock kept my feet moving while my head was spinning. Disbelief gave way to anger. The Romans must have stolen him. Did they not shame him enough on that cross? Now they want to defile his body? Why couldn’t they leave the dead alone?
Peter and John started inspecting what was left inside of the tomb. But I knew he was gone. And my heart broke right there outside of that tomb. The anger had left me and all I felt was my heart shattering into a million pieces. I stood there and wept. Peter and John left me there. I couldn’t leave. Where would I go? This was the last place that I knew he was and I couldn’t walk away. As I wept, I leaned my head into the tomb. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but I just needed to see inside. But instead of seeing just the burial linen, which is what John and Peter told me was there, there were two men in white inside. Thinking about it now, I probably should have been scared or surprised, but my sadness was so overwhelming that I didn’t even stop crying. The men looked at me and asked, “Woman, why do you weep?”
Thinking that maybe they could help me find him – I answered, “They took my Master and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” After I explained that to them, I turned around and saw another man standing outside of the tomb. He was probably the gardener or groundskeeper. I still couldn’t stop weeping. The man asked me, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”
This was all beginning to feel like a cruel joke. Like children who hide your belongings and make you play a game to find them in order to get them back. Surely one of these men knew were my Jesus was. I was desperate and sad and frustrated. I begged the gardener, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”
Then the man simply said, “Mary.”
It was Him. It was Jesus. The way he said my name was always different than the way anyone else said my name. I would recognize my name spoken by him anywhere. Think of the person that loves you the most – and hear in your mind how your name sounds coming out of their mouth. It’s different. You would recognize it anywhere. So even though it shouldn’t have made sense that I was talking to a dead man, I KNEW it was him. My despair changed in an instant to joy.
I turned toward him, dropped to my knees and exclaimed, “Rabbi!” The teacher was standing right in front of me!
Jesus answered me and said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”
It didn’t really hit me then, but I was the first one to see Jesus alive again. And not only did he appear to me there outside of the tomb, but he trusted me to tell everyone else about his resurrection. He believed in me to be the apostle to the apostles.
I didn’t want to leave him, but I also couldn’t wait to tell the others the incredible news. That he was alive! That death couldn’t hold him. That the stone had no choice but to roll away. That our mourning was OVER.
So I went. I found the men and told them that I had seen the Master! Of course they had a million questions, and I answered them all as best as I could. In that moment, I realized the fullness of my calling. That I would spend the rest of my life doing this exact same thing. Telling anyone that would listen that Jesus was alive.
We spent the rest of that Sunday talking about what his resurrection meant. Trying to decipher if he would finally become the political leader that so many of his disciples hoped he would be. We were hopeful for sure, but we were also incredibly scared. Scared that the Jewish leaders would think we stole and hid the body. Scared that they knew that he was alive and were coming for us as a way to silence the movement. So we met in a house that night and locked all of the doors to try and find some sense of safety. As we were talking in hushed tones, all of the sudden he appeared. Yeshua. Salvation. You won’t believe what the first thing out of his mouth was. It wasn’t, “I told you so!” or “I should have picked a more believing group of people.” or “Time for revenge.” It was, “Peace to you.”
One of my favorite things about Jesus is that as soon as he speaks something it just IS. I learned that about him during our very first encounter when he commanded those demons to leave me. After he pronounced peace in that room, peace immediately fell over all of us in a time that we were frightened for our very lives. And then he repeated it, “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Though there were a couple of dozen people in that room, I felt like he was speaking directly to me. Not just because he had a way of looking straight into your soul, but because he had already sent me from the garden. I believed that the call on my life was from him and empowered by him.
After that first day of his resurrection, Jesus appeared to us several times over the next 40 days. It was almost as if he was transitioning us from an every day walk with him to his departure back to the Father. Like a child leaving home, he wanted us to have roots AND wings. To walk in confidence dependence on Him, even when he wasn’t physically present.
The very last time we saw him, he made us promise to stay in Jerusalem in order to receive the Holy Spirit. I had no idea at all what that meant. Was this something literal or another parable like so many he had told before. Maybe the Holy Spirit was going to come as a baby like Jesus did. Maybe the Holy Spirit would come down like a dove like when the Master was baptized. We all stood staring into the sky as our healer was taken up into the clouds and disappeared from our sight.
No sooner than he was out of our sight, two men in white robes appeared and said to us, “You Galileans! – why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly – and mysteriously – as he left.”
We returned to Jerusalem from that hillside and went immediately to the upper room we had been using as a meeting space. We decided right then and there that we were all in this for good. No turning back. And there wasn’t one single moment that the men doubted that the women would be with them in ministry. They had seen Jesus include us for 3 years and it felt natural for them to mimic the Teacher. We talked and planned and debated about where to go from there. As you can imagine we all had our own opinions about how to get through to people to tell them about Yeshua.
But I have to tell you what happened yesterday.
It was the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is the Jewish Festival of Weeks which commemorates God’s giving of the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai. We were all gathered together to celebrate when without a warming there was a sound like a strong wind. The kind of wind that shakes your windows and blows open any doors left unsecure. The wind came through the entire building we were in and all of the sudden everyone started speaking at once.
I couldn’t understand what anyone else was saying, but for some reason, I knew that in the language I was speaking I was proclaiming all of the works of God. We were all talking at once and must have sounded crazy! There were many Jews in Jerusalem at the time who had travelled there from all over for the Feast. When they heard the noise coming from our meeting place, they came running to where we were. When they got there, they were all dumbfounded. They each heard their own language being spoken, one right after another.
They said to one another, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various native languages?” Their heads were spinning and because they couldn’t make sense of any of it, they thought we were drunk!
Peter spoke up (I know, shocker), and told the people gathered that we weren’t drunk but were in the middle of fulfilling a prophesy from the book of Joel.
“In the last days
I will pour out my Spirit
On every kind of people
Your sons will prophesy,
Also your DAUGHTERS.
Did you catch that?
When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and WOMEN both.
And there we were. Being filled with the Holy Spirit. Both the men AND the women. On the day meant to celebrate the law, Jesus turned it all on its head by sending His Spirit. On a day where we were supposed to be recalling all of the commandments, God was showing us a new way to follow him.
So it’s not difficult to know where to go from here…
I will walk in the Spirit of God as he leads me to tell everyone about Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. I will ask God each day for fresh manna – just enough for that day, and trust that He will take care of my tomorrows.
And I won’t doubt for one second that I’m able to do this work. I have confidence in my calling because he said my name. I’ve since learned that Mary means “the wished for child” and Magdalene means “tower”. I am so thankful to be named Mary now. He has called me and named me, I am the Wished for Tower and my name will forever be buried and raised to life in His.