The Easter Gospel stories from both Matthew and John lead with Mary Magdalene. This is as important as it is surprising. Certainly her account of encounter of the empty tomb and the Risen Lord are compelling. Given the time and place in which she lived in history, the fact that the deliverer of the news of the resurrection was female is of particular significance:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” Then they went away quickly from the tomb,fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.
-Matthew 28: 1-8
A Credible Source
If you have done much historical reading, Biblical or otherwise, the lion’s share of accounting belongs to the voices of men. Women’s voices, roles, and responsibilities waxed very much domestic and have been viewed as mostly inconsequential. Given this context, it would be logical, perhaps even wise, to imagine that Saint Matthew’s crescendo in the final chapter of his Gospel would have heralded in the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection with unquestionable authority, particularly given the controversial nature of the claim: Jesus rising from the dead. After all, if you have incredible news, common sense dictates the tremendous benefits of the person left holding the metaphorical megaphone be… credible.
It would stand to reason that John would have described one of the disciples, someone who had been with Jesus as a part of the Twelve, as the one calling out the name “Rabbouni.”
That would have comforted the hearers of the surprising news to have it on good authority, but it may have encouraged them to believe that this incredible news wasn’t going to shake things up too much.
The Good News
Instead, both Matthew and John recount Mary Magdalene as the herald of Good News. Mary Magdalene, traditionally thought of as the one out of whom demons had been called. Mary Magdalene, the one with a reputation. The one who lavishly anointed Jesus at table. The mind reels.
And yet, with a slew of reasons for the surrounding community to doubt her audacious proclamation, the empty tomb and Christ’s self-revelation confirmed her words to be true! The earth quaked, and the status quo was about to be turned on its head.
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Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles
This woman holds a distinguished role in announcing the Christ. So much so that, in the realm of iconography, Mary Magdalene is often depicted with a jug of oil and/or an egg in one hand, gesturing toward it with the other. Her historic role was to point the people toward the news of new life.
This role of pointing the way to Christ is demonstrated well by the Saints, although it is vital that we ourselves see it as a a responsibility shared by all of the Baptized.
This is the core of what we profess at the Easter Vigil when we renew our Baptismal promises:
V. Do you reject Satan?
R. I do.
V. And all his works?
R. I do.
V. And all his empty promises?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
R. I do.
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
Saint Mary Magdalene, a Model for Us
As the Easter season continues and the unprecedented events of our time threaten to overwhelm us, we approach the celebration of Pentecost fifty days after Easter. And it feels fitting that we do so in the company of Mary Magdalene. We would do well to emulate Saint Mary Magdalene’s particular ability to hold the tension of being both “fearful and overjoyed,” that we too might announce the Good News with our lives.
Saint Mary Magdalene, pray for us!
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