Judith 9:1-4, 10-14
2 Corinthians 5:14-18
While darkness still covers the world, the woman comes to the garden adjacent to the place of death. Finding the great stone moved away from the tomb of the Man, she runs to search for two of his disciples. ‘They have taken my Lord out of the tomb and I do not know where they have laid him.’ The two run with the woman to the tomb. Though the much-loved younger one arrives first, he does not enter; but from outside he observes the grave wrappings neatly folded and set aside. Upon arriving the older impetuous one goes in immediately; he sees the wrappings but finds no body on the blood-stained slab. It is only then that the first one enters; he ‘sees’ and believes. Both then leave the grieving woman at the tomb.
Though racked by tears, the woman continues her search for the missing Man, the Beloved One. Bending to look into the tomb, the woman sees what the other two did not. Angels in dazzling white frame and shelter the empty burial slab. Though not yet fully aware of it, the woman is granted entrance to the Holy of Holies, the throne room of the God from whom the Man has come and to whom he is returning. The burial stone has become the heavenly mercy-seat; it is now the blood-sprinkled altar of the self-offering and re-creating God who took on human flesh to redeem us all.
The vision revealed to the woman readies her to encounter the Beloved fully alive in the garden of a new paradise. It is day one of a new creation. At the voice of the Beloved speaking her name, the woman will see the Man as he truly is and was and ever shall be. She will be united for ever with her beloved Lord and Savior. She will become the messenger of inexpressible hope and joy to the others and to all the world.
The woman is the one known to us as Mary Magdalene. She first appears in John’s gospel as one so well known to the community that she requires no introduction whatever: she is standing at the cross, alongside the mother of Jesus and ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ when all others have fled. Matthew and Luke respectively identify this Mary as first among ‘the many women /some women’ who followed Jesus from Galilee and ‘provided for him’ and the male disciples ‘out of their own resources’ as they all ‘went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.’ Mary is prominent in a highly unusual group of male and female disciples following Jesus as companions in ministry. The challenge to the social norms of the day (downplayed by the evangelists) is clear.
Yet through the centuries, Mary’s role as an active disciple of Jesus has been actively diminished, even ignored as the growing Christian community encountered cultural resistance to its way of life. Many accretions to and projections on Mary’s story have obscured her vocation as first witness to Jesus’s resurrection, and her proclamation as ‘apostle to the apostles’, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ The most damaging attempt to discredit Mary Magdalene is the attribution to her of “moral weakness”, inferred from her notoriety in the group of women ‘cured’ by Jesus ‘of evil spirits and infirmities’; Mary herself was remembered as one ‘from whom seven demons had gone out’. A supposed state of “fallenness” has been used to disqualify Mary from apostolic status, both without knowledge of the exigences of her life circumstances and upon the basis of patriarchal assumptions conflating her with the gospel stories of ‘a woman who was a sinner.”
Yet such suppositions have no place in judging one ‘restored…to health of body and mind’ through trusting and risk-taking relationship with Jesus and his other followers. According to her need, the healing love of Christ brought Mary to full human wholeness, that newness of life intended by God for all his creatures from the beginning of the world. Mary’s ills and wounds of body, mind or spirit, some self-inflicted, others the result of brokenness and sin in individuals and flawed societal systems—all have been healed.
In companionship with Jesus, Mary was empowered, naturally and miraculously to find her true self, set free as a messenger of the good news. Learning and living Jesus’ unflinching realism and faithful humility, Mary passed through her heaviness of soul, beyond ‘tears as [her] food day and night’, to emerge with shining face in the light of God’s glory and the glory of being fully human. After the example of her Teacher and Lord, Mary learned to bear willingly the griefs of others as well as her own. And, so, she took her share in the ministry of reconciliation to which Jesus commissioned the Twelve, the Seventy and all the others who followed him. With empathic disposition, Mary joined Jesus’s disciples as a healer for others, be they disabled or the “walking wounded”. Her power and confidence for ministry rose from a soul of joyful gratitude to God’s for her own re-creation in God’s image.
Mary was chosen to accompany Jesus in active ministry as an adept disciple. She has herself chose the way of vulnerable, radical availability and self-giving love which Jesus models as being truly human, reflecting the nature of God. Mary is made another ‘beloved disciple’, a female counterpart to the beloved John whose name we brothers have taken ‘to show that we too are Christ’s friends and witnesses’ [The Rule of Life of the Society of Saint the Evangelist, Chapter 2].
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