Feast of St. Mary Magdalen
July 22, 2022
Tell us Mary, what did you see on the way?
I saw the glory of the risen Christ,
I saw his empty tomb.
Modern scripture scholarship recognizes Mary Magdalen as a disciple and companion of Jesus. She is present in stories throughout all four Gospels, and most notably, as one who remained with Jesus at the foot of the Cross. Mary is the first witness to the Resurrection who then announces the Good News to the other disciples.
Over the centuries, Mary Magdalen has been confused with the many other Marys in the Gospel, as well as with the unnamed repentant woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. These confusions have inclined us to think of Mary Magdalen as a reformed prostitute. This erroneous concept has supported a diminished understanding of the role of women in the ministry of Jesus and done a huge disservice to Mary’s vital role as beloved disciple.
The Gospel passage for the feast captures the powerful moment when the Resurrected Jesus is first revealed to the world. The scene also portrays the deep love, trust and friendship between Jesus and Mary Magdalen – a relationship which serves as a model for all of us who want to be Christ’s disciples. I imagined the scene like this in an past reflection:
The Upper Room on Holy Saturday evening: a place filled with sadness, silence and seeking. Jesus was dead. Believers around Jerusalem, scattered to their various houses to keep Shabbat, murmur their shocked questions under their shaky prayers.
We have all been in rooms like this. They enclose a special kind of agony – one teetering between hope and doubt, between loss and restoration. It may have been a surgical waiting room or the hallway outside the courtroom. Sometimes, such a space is not bricks and mortar. It can be the space between a sealed envelope and the news inside. It is the hesitant pause between a heartfelt request and the critical response. In each of these places, we exist as if in a held breath, hoping against hope for life, freedom, and wholeness.
It was from such a room that Mary Magdalen stole away in the wee hours. A woman unafraid of loneliness, she walked in tearful prayer along the path to Jesus’ tomb. Scent of jasmine rose up on the early morning mist. Hope rose with it that his vow to return might be true. Then she saw the gaping tomb, the alarm that thieves had stolen him to sabotage his promise. She ran to the emptiness seeking him. She was met by angels clothed in light and glory, but they were not enough to soothe her.
Turning from them, she bumped against a gardener whom she begged for word of Jesus, just so she might tend to him again. A single word revealed his glory, “Mary”. He spoke her name in love.
As we seek the assurance of God’s presence in our lives, we too may be unaware that God is already with us. The deep listening of our spirit, dulled with daily burdens, may not hear our name lovingly spoken in the circumstances of our lives. God is standing behind every moment. All we need do is turn to recognize him.
Turn anger into understanding. Turn vengeance into forgiveness. Turn entitlement into gratitude. Turn indifference into love. All we need do is turn to recognize him.
For a comprehensive and enlightening lecture on the current theological and scriptural thinking on Mary Magdalen, follow this link to an Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ lecture at Fordham.
There is a long intro, but you can slide to the 14 minute mark for Elizabeth’s start.
Music: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth