How to be a light in the darkness (an Easter story)

Have you ever wondered why God didn’t announce that Jesus rose from the dead with a multitude of angels in the sky, like he did for when he was born? I mean, it’s kind of a big deal.

No. God kept it small on Easter morning. He told one person. A woman at that. A woman who was known to be kinda crazy before. A second-class citizen in that day and age. Not exactly an influencer. Her name was Mary Magdalene.

The first time we meet Mary Magdalene in the Bible is in Luke chapter 8. We learn three important things about her:

  1. She is healed of 7 demons. (We can assume she was well acquainted with suffering, loneliness/isolation, darkness.)
  2. She financially supported Jesus’s ministry. (She was a woman of some wealth.)
  3. She followed Jesus as a disciple. (This could not have been easy in that day and age to be traveling as an unmarried woman, but she did it anyway!)

In John chapter 20, she is set up as the leader of the believers. She was there at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, when many of the other disciples were scared and stayed away. She was the FIRST one to see the empty tomb, and she has the extreme privilege of being the FIRST person to share the good news of the resurrection.

The darkness around us

As you know, we are in the season of Lent. Lent is a time to spiritually prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus in the 40 days before Easter. It’s typically a time of penitence, where we confront our own sinful nature and our need for a savior. The purpose of Lent is not to stop at sadness and despair but to point us toward hope and resurrection.

I did not grow up in a church tradition that observed Lent. I’ve never given anything up for Lent. I’m still learning. It’s hard for me to get into the right mindset because I already know the rest of the story! I know Jesus doesn’t stay in the tomb! I read this passage in John and it’s hard for me to get into Mary’s headspace because I just want to yell: “SPOILER ALERT! He’s not in there! He’s alive!”

But Mary doesn’t know this. She’s devastated, deeply grieving. She’s been crying for days, ever since she witnessed his brutal murder on the cross. She’s wondering if the only person who has ever known her and loved her for who she was (Just Mary, not Crazy Mary, not Mary-the-one-with-the-demons) is really gone. She was hoping to lay eyes on his body one more time, to honor him with the spices she brought. AND NOW HIS BODY ISN’T EVEN THERE??? It’s all too much, this crushing grief. Two angels (she didn’t know they were angels) ask her why she’s crying. “They took him away and I don’t know where he is.”

This darkness, this sadness, this despair, I can relate to. I can see it in the world around me. Not only in the big ways like war, poverty, modern day slavery, a global pandemic. But in the smaller ways close to home, happening right here in my town: drug addiction, alcohol addiction, broken relationships, homelessness. When you’re in the thick of it, darkness feels overwhelming, all consuming.

But darkness doesn’t get the final say. We know what’s coming next…

A single ray of light

Suddenly, Mary Magdalene sees a random guy nearby. He asks her why she’s crying too. Maybe he knows who took the body. Maybe he’s the gardener. It’s worth a shot. “Just tell me where you put him, and I’ll take care of him,” she says.

At what point does she figure out it’s not a random gardener, but it’s Jesus in the flesh?

When he says her name.

I love her dramatic reaction in Luke 20:17. I’m pretty sure she threw her arms around him and WOULD NOT LET GO. It’s a jump into your arms kind of hug. This is what it looks like to be overwhelmed by joy. This is what the good news is to those desperate to hear it.

What does this mean for me?

The story doesn’t end with a big ol’ bear hug and then everyone lives happily ever after.

Jesus sends her in verse 17 to go tell his brothers – the other disciples – that he is on his way to his Father in heaven. Mary Magdalene is chosen to be the first witness of the resurrection. She was the one he chose to “go and tell”. To others more righteous and “good,” she was an odd choice for the job. But isn’t it just like Jesus to choose the weak and the small?

He made Mary a light in the darkness and told her to go share that hope, knowing full well that nobody would take her seriously as a woman. Somehow, Mary Magdalene became the first preacher of the resurrection. And despite being afraid and amazed, she did her best to preach it loudly.

In Luke 24: 10-11, we read about how that went. Her words fell flat, and the other disciples believed her story to be an “idle tale.” Eventually, they figure it out, but the point is this:

God meets us in our grief, our fear, our despair, with intimate moments of grace and understanding. And we are called to spread that same hope and joy with others – even if it falls on deaf ears, even if no one believes us, or takes us seriously, even when we are misunderstood.

In a world of darkness, we are called to spread the light of Jesus. The story of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb is a loving reminder that Jesus calls ALL OF US (the men, the women, the broken, the flawed, the poor, the disabled, the chronically sick, the kids, the teens, the busy parents, the really really old people) to serve him by being a light in the darkness, to tell others what we have seen!

The story of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb is a loving reminder that Jesus calls ALL OF US to serve him by being a light in the darkness, to tell others what we have seen!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

5 thoughts on “How to be a light in the darkness (an Easter story)

  1. This is SO GOOD! I often think of the darkness and despair his followers and the Jewish community as a whole must have felt thinking their Messiah had been defeated. Three days must have felt like forever. But the joy on Sunday…. wow! Thank you for sharing this wonderful reminder that no matter what we face right now, Jesus is coming!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful insight, Sarah–so great to see you as a woman of the Lord –although we have not seen you much we are in touch with your dear parents throughout all their ministry. blessings, Shari Yamamoto

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a beautiful reflection. I really wrestled this Easter with trying to envision what those few days would have been like, in the moment, for Christ’s followers. And this beautiful story of Mary Magdalene does just that. I especially love your conclusion that “God meets us in our grief, our fear, our despair, with intimate moments of grace and understanding.” Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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