April 2, 2021

The Women at the Cross of Jesus

As Jesus hung in agony, many women stood by as witnesses to the very last moment as their Savior and friend suffered at Calvary’s cross. Among these women experiencing heartbreaking pain were Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and other women. While most of the other disciples fled, these women stood by as witnesses of the Savior’s death, and then helped cared for his body, [1] and became the first witnesses to his resurrection. 

The devotion to the Savior these women showed, when he suffered the most, cannot be overstated. They not only had to witness one of the most gruesome forms of execution, but they were risking their own lives to support Christ at the cross. Accomplices to a criminal, including women, could be crucified as well. [2] Think of the courage they had to remain knowing this, even as others mocked the Savior. These women show us how we can stand with Christ, even when others do not.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus 

Perhaps the most significant woman standing by is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is a unique witness of Jesus Christ. She saw the Savior open his eyes for the first time and close them for the last time as a mortal on earth. Perhaps in that heart-wrenching moment, she reflected back on when as a youth an angel told her she would be the mother of the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:26-38). At such a tender age, could she have fully comprehended what that actually meant? Or she may have thought back to when Jesus was still an infant of just a few weeks old and she and Joseph brought him to be presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. As they entered the Court of the Women, Simeon, a devout and righteous man, prophesied that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34 NKJV). And then to Mary he said, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35 NIV).

The Earthquake by James Tissot

As her tiny infant slept in her arms, or as the young child followed in her steps, could she have anticipated the moment when she would watch him crucified on the cross? How desperately she must have wanted to soothe his pain, and yet she stood by his side, watching him die, so that through his death we all might live. What a debt of gratitude we owe to this woman who raised Jesus as a child. 

In our own lives, we might be asked to do the unthinkable and watch a loved one suffer as we stand by helplessly. However, we can follow the example of Mary and keep our eyes focused on Christ. With no power to change the situation, we can find the strength to endure by looking to the Savior and encouraging those around us to do the same.

Mary Magdalene

Another woman named Mary who stood at the feet of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. Earlier in her life, she had been possessed by seven devils and had been healed by the Savior (see Luke 8:2). As a devout disciple of Christ, she remained at the cross after other disciples fled. Perhaps she did not want to leave him alone to suffer, for he had come to her in one of her moments of greatest suffering. 

Mary Magdalene by Heinrich Matvejevich Maniser

Although the Sabbath was quickly approaching, Mary did not leave Christ’s side, even after he had died. We know that she was one of those who stood by as Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered from the cross. Mary, with other women, then tenderly helped to prepare his corpse for burial. Additionally, she returned in the early morning hours that day after the Sabbath to finish preparing his body. To her surprise, she sees the Savior risen from the dead and becomes the first witness of his resurrection. Her intense sorrow has been replaced with pure joy. (John 20:1-18).

Mary Magdalene’s life teaches us that no struggle we face excludes us from having momentous spiritual experiences. We can choose to stay close to the Savior no matter what trials we may face or what our past may have been. And like Mary, we can find the sweet joy found on that Easter morn and run to invite others to come and see. 

Other Women at the Cross

Scripture records that most of the male disciples fled, [3] except for the “Beloved Disciple” (John 19:26), often assumed to be John, yet several women are mentioned as being present at the cross. Though the Gospels don’t agree on the names and number of these women, in addition to Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, it appears that among the many other women standing at the cross were the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother (John 19:25), Mary the mother of James and Joseph, an unnamed woman who was the mother of James and John (Matthew 27:55–56), Mary of Clopas (John 19:25), and Salome.

Throughout his mortal ministry, many women traveled with the Savior and were among his closest associates. Significantly, many of these women provided financial assistance that helped to move the work forward (see Luke 8:1-3). They showed an unwavering commitment and love for Jesus. Just before his death, these women traveled with the Savior more than 100 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. As Christ was welcomed to the city with waving palm branches and shouts of praise, could any of these women imagine that just a few days later they would stand at his feet in his final hours and watch him die? And yet, despite the extreme turn of events, they did not flee or turn away as other disciples had done. Together, as a unified sisterhood, they not only stood with the Savior in his last moments, but they stood together. How beautiful that among these women was Mary’s own sister, who supported the mother of the Savior, helping to bear the burden she had to carry. 

Like Mary Magdalene, these women came to the tomb and helped to prepare the body of the Savior for his burial. Despite what appeared to be the complete collapse of all their hopes, Jesus’s followers stayed near the tomb. They could have left town, but even though they did not understand what had or would happen, they remained close to where Jesus was. These women then returned after the Sabbath, to finish the burial process, only to find the tomb empty. As they left the tomb, the Savior appeared to these women. They clasped the feet of Jesus, touching his risen body, and then ran to tell the glorious news to the other disciples. (Matthew 28:9-10).

Jesus Appears to Women by James Tissot

As we contemplate the feelings of these women at the cross, we gain a powerful window into our own experiences. If you have ever felt fear and anguish as a result of unexpected events, these women can relate. They show us that we can hold steady even when nothing is turning out how we had planned. If you have ever felt the devastation of watching your loved ones suffer, these women can relate. They teach us of the importance of standing together as family and friends, and that just our presence can be a comfort to others. 

Because of Christ’s Atonement, we too can look forward to a time when the Savior “will swallow up death forever . . . [and] wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). We can find hope and strength in the faith of these women who endured this painful experience at the cross of our Lord and Savior. On that Easter morning, their sorrow turned to joy. Because the Resurrected Savior lives, so too can our tears dry, our sorrows can be swallowed up, and we can feel the joy that only Jesus Christ can bring.

Script written by John Hilton III adapted from Considering the Cross.

[1] The Gospel accounts are somewhat unclear on the exact role the women played in helping with the burial of Christ, but it is clear that they at least witnesses, helping to provide spices as part of the process.

[2] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. 18.3.4.

[3] Though only one male disciple is mentioned, the "beloved disciple," Luke 23:49 in Greek is a male plural indicating there was at least one male acquaintance present (male plural would be used for 2+ people, at least one of whom was male). So it seems possible that a few other male disciples were also present at the cross, even though they are not named.

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