Feast – St Mary Magdalene – John 20:1-2, 11-18
Our Blessed Mother Mary was ‘blessed among women’ but there are other women in the Bible who were equally blessed. I would like to reserve a special place among these women for Mary of Magdala. How else would you describe a woman so blessed to be chosen (like Mother Mary was chosen) to receive a message, so great, as the Easter proclamation, “why do you look for the living among the dead, he is not here as he said, he is risen” (Luke 24:5)
While the Gospel of St Luke shares the honour of receiving the Easter proclamation with several other women (Luke 254:5) the Gospel of John showcases Mary of Magdala as the star of the Easter narrative; Peter and John are a pale shadow and the rest of the apostles border on disappointment.
Faith is at the heart of the Easter narrative; faith must be at the heart of every Christian who truly believes. Our Lord made several promises but if there was one that he repeated several times was that the son of man would be delivered into the hands of evil men, he would be put to death but on the third day he would rise again. The apostles had seen Our Lord’s prediction come true all through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and yet they did not anticipate the promise of Easter.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday and the Synoptic Gospels tell us why; she has come with spices. The Gospel of John tells us that the body of Jesus had already been embalmed. John 19:39 reveals that Nicodemus had already used spices on the body of Jesus: “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.” The Synoptics defer and in Luke 23:56 we are told that on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the women “went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
The fact that Mary brought spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body showed that she did not expect Jesus to literally rise from the dead but it also showed that her love for her Lord was not diminished in the least. But Our Lord did rise and she now encounters him. The Easter narrative in the Gospel of John has Mary running to Peter and John with the news that the Lord’s body has been taken away. Peter and John now came to the tomb. We are told that Peter saw the empty tomb and so did John but even though we are told that John ‘believed’ the next very line tells us that they both “returned to their home.” (John 20:10). Here is a faith that so many of us live. I ‘believe’ but I do not testify. After a Sunday mass, I just go home!
It is for this very reason that the focus of the Easter narrative returns to Mary and not to the apostles. The resurrection is not some personal belief to be taken home, it MUST be proclaimed. And since the men simply went home, our Lord chose to turn to a woman. Jesus picked her, he chose her and in doing so he blessed her. “Go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my father and your father; to my God and your God.” With this the number of apostles increased. She is now counted among the apostle.
Who is an apostle? An apostle by the very definition is one who is sent by the Lord. Mary, on this first Easter Sunday, was raised to the status of an apostle when she was told by Our Lord himself, “go to my brothers.” On meeting them she says, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) There is no, “I think it was the Lord” or “It could have been the Lord.” She is emphatic and faith must be emphatically proclaimed. In 2016, Pope Francis raised the level of this liturgical memory celebrated on July 22 from memorial to feast, and for her to be referred to as the “Apostle of the apostles”.