held in the shadow of the cross...

My thoughts turn again and again toward Mary Magdalene. Her story inspires me to more. It challenges my walk with Christ. For weeks I have found my mind returning to an image of her standing in the shadow of the cross, watching as her Savior, her friend, her teacher… died. What brought her there? What held her there?

Oh, to have a heart that devoted. That willing. That unashamed.  Dig a deep well in me Lord… like the well that fed the spirit of Mary Magdalene. Yes, that’s what I desire…

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. Luke 8:1-3

After this… After what?  After what event does Luke introduce these women, this Mary, to us for the first time?  What significance is there that he would start this passage by connecting one moment in Christ’s ministry to another…

After this… After a woman, uninvited, enters a Pharisee’s home.  She carries on her shoulders the weight of sin and shame. She carries in her hands an alabaster jar filled with a fragrant offering. What must it have been like to walk into this house. The weighty glances of judgment from ones who knew her story.  Backs stiffening around the room, uncomfortable with her very presence. Yet she was drawn. She was drawn by the One who was worth the risk.

Can you see her? Walking into the room… the feelings of unworthiness so heavy that she sinks behind the worthy One, falling to her knees, overwhelmed in His presence… tears pouring from her body, from the depth of her soul… a well so deep that she is able to wash His feet in her sorrow.  Sitting so near the Holy One, her own sin and shame wells up from within, pouring out onto Him... and with it love. Love as she kisses his feet, again and again… love that causes her to bow before Him, washing His feet with her hair… love that pours forth with perfume from an alabaster jar.

Jesus’s words teach, chastise, forgive… “I tell you, her sins-and they are many-have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

After this lesson in forgiveness and love, Jesus is found traveling from town to town, teaching the Good News… bringing with Him the Kingdom and the Truth. He brought with Him the twelve, His inner circle, His trusted companions and students… but also these women. This Mary, and Joanna, and Susanna along with many others. Women who He had healed. Delivered. Women free from the bondage of sin, infirmity, the enemy.  Mary Magdalene, it says, was freed from seven demons.  Through Christ, she had been freed of much.

And like the sinful woman, with the alabaster jar, her response was to love much.  To follow Him. Learn from Him. Support Him. To pour out her life at Jesus’ feet.

A devotion that led her into the shadow of the cross.  

When all but one disciple had succumbed to fear of man, she stood.  One who is forgiven much, loves much…

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Yet today, as my thoughts turned once again to the women who gathered at the cross, and especially the one who tasted freedom and never forgot how sweet the gift... I wondered about the others. The countless others whom Jesus had forgiven, delivered, healed... I wonder if they were amongst the on-lookers. Did the sinful woman blended in to faceless crowd, looking upon the feet she had kissed now nailed to a cross.  Or the woman caught in adultery, was she there in the shadow of His sacrifice? Joanna and Susanna who traveled with Mary, did they stay the course? Did they count the cost and find Christ worthy? Were they there to hear His cries of pain and loneliness and despair? 

Joanna was there later, at the tomb. Yes, among those nameless faces in the crowd... can't you picture these ones who found freedom and were willing to follow it wherever it led? Even to the foot of a shameful cross?

Yet some were not there. Eleven disciples have fled. One denying Christ with a garden kiss. Another fleeing at the moment of His arrest. Another walks in shame after denying his Friend not once, but three times.  Only one remains. One standing alongside the one called Magdalene. One for whom Christ's love had become his identity...

Jesus healed many. Ministered to many. Delivered many. Forgave many.  Yet there were few standing in the shadow of the sacrifice.  Such beautiful devotion.

A devotion that ran so deep that on the third day, despite guards at the tomb door and the threat of persecution for followers of Jesus... Mary gathered together spices and perfumes and she went to prepare His body. Like the woman with the alabaster jar, she walked to the tomb... hands full of the only thing she had left to offer this One who was worthy. Her final act of love, humility, adoration. How her heart must have ached with grief. This, this is not how it was supposed to end...

But she did not find a body. She found Jesus. This her reward for her devotion and courage. Have you considered the courage it would have taken these women to go to the tomb of Christ? How the guards could have responded to them. How they could have refused them entry. Or arrested them as followers. Or abused them. We know the end of the story, and so we lose in some way the courage it would have taken to walk that way. The depth of love that would have emboldened Mary and her friends to this path. She couldn't have known she would meet a risen Savior that day. That her reward would be eternal... the first to see the Lord, to cling to Him, to share the news of His resurrection...

The one who first met Jesus in a moment of freedom, with darkness fleeing her body... met Him again in a moment of freedom, with darkness defeated in this world. 

I look at my life. I look at the place that Jesus found me. That dirty road, that burden of sin, that sentence of shame... He freed me. He frees me. Yet how devoted is my heart? Today as I think about this one, so ravished by the One who was worthy that she would follow Him... follow Him to the cross... follow Him to the tomb. When so many others had fled, when those He counted closest to Him had denied Him... the one called Magdalene remained. 

And her reward was Jesus. She gave up everything to follow Him, to support Him and care for His needs. She risked everything to stand with His mother at the cross, to walk with her to the guarded tomb. And her reward was Jesus.

Her life lived ever mindful of the freedom she had found in Christ. Thankful living. Sold out living. A life lived out of the overflow of grace He had poured upon her. One who is forgiven much, loves much…Mary Magdalene lived a life bathed in the love and grace of Christ. She knew that she had been forgiven much. She knew that she had been freed much. She knew that she had been loved much. And she allowed this grace to dig a deep, deep well of love and adoration in her soul. A well so deep that she could draw upon it to stand in the shadow of her friend's death. That she could face persecution as she carried one last sacrifice toward a cold tomb. 

What have you been forgiven, my friend? How deeply has our Savior loved you? From what demons have you been freed? How rich the grace poured out over your life, so that you may stand before our God, blameless, without spot? 

How deep is your life of thanksgiving? How deep your well of adoration? Deep enough that when all around you fail... you will still stand? Deep enough to follow our Savior to the cross? Deep enough to hold you there in its shadow? Deep enough to follow Him wherever He leads... even to the tomb? 

One who is forgiven much, loves much…

How deep is the well of your love today? 

Dig a deep well, in me Father... Dig a deep well like that which fed the faith of Mary Magdalene... deeper Father... deeper still...

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