When only Mary Magdalene knew of the resurrection

Three of the four Gospels report that the Lord first appeared to Mary Magdalene following his resurrection. Two of the Gospels, moreover, maintain that Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance was to Mary alone, and the accounts include some description of Mary’s bewildered, frightened and joyful reactions as well as the condescending dismissal she initially received when she shared the good news with the others. The Scriptures do not describe, however, what happened in the time between Mary’s encounter with the risen Lord and the moment when she arrived and joined the other disciples in the upper room.

We can, of course, begin to imagine what those minutes or hours might have been like. We can imagine Mary running, breathless, propelled by hopeful expectation; we hear her heart pounding, almost bursting with joy; we see the tears flowing down her cheeks, past the upturned corners of her ecstatic smile. In those heart-pounding moments, Mary Magdalene would have been the only one who had seen the risen Lord; she would have been the only one in all of history to have heard the good news; she alone was the herald of the Resurrection. Put simply, in those few minutes, she was the church.

Advertisement

When Mary reached the others and announced the good news, the church became, for a time, a handful of frightened believers; but soon they were 100, then 1,000, then 100,000. Two millennia followed, and today there are more than a billion people on five continents, a church of every race and every tongue, yet the one people of God. During her singular moment in salvation history, could Mary have imagined our 21st-century moment? Could she have imagined the world-changing power of her simple message? The world we inhabit, of course, would have been unrecognizable to Mary or any other first-century person. Yet the message we bear is the same; we are heralds of the same Gospel, sharers in the same mission: to testify to the great deeds of God, to invite every person to faith in Jesus Christ.

“Alleluia! He is Risen!”

Our world still needs to hear the Easter proclamation; it longs to hear it, yearns for the freedom it signifies. Yet if our Easter proclamation is to convey the transformative power it bespeaks, then the heralds must be first in faith, repentance and reform. The Easter proclamation is no mere philosophical or theological proposition. It is the beating heart of a living body or it is nothing. Like Mary Magdalene’s, our proclamation must flow from burning, faithful hearts. The disillusioned, weary world that waits in the upper room demands an authentic witness, a credibility that love alone provides. The world must see our salty tears, must sense our breathless hope. They must know that we are not simply vain clanging cymbals in the din of modern life, but the heralds of another person, the One who comes to us in the silence, the creator for whom we long and in whom we dare to hope. If we fail to account for the joy that is within us, then we will have failed to proclaim the risen Lord. In the absence of joy, moreover, a joy that only comes from the one who is truth, then all our other truths are ultimately unintelligible.

In his first homily as successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis said that “to walk, build and confess without the cross means that we are not true disciples of the Lord. We must confess the one cross, and in that way we will be a true church.” Like Mary Magdalene, our discipleship must be in motion. “Our life is a path,” the pope said. “When we stop, the thing doesn’t go.”

In Pope Francis, it seems, the Lord has a herald in deed as well as in word. His first gestures as pope proved deeply moving to millions of observers; prayers for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI united Catholics all over the world; then—before he offered the traditional blessing urbi et orbi, “to the city and the world,” upon the people gathered below him—came a touching request from the new pope for a “favor,” a blessing from the assembled faithful that again united Catholics in a captivating silence. Pope Francis reminded us that our Easter proclamation must not only be heard, it must seen in humble acts of loving service.

This Easter, then, we give thanks to the Lord for Pope Francis, while we also remember that the latest successor of St. Peter is but one among the billions of successors of St. Mary Magdalene. This Easter we once more join our voices with hers, as we herald among the far and near, amid the untold terrors of earthly life, the good news that is the final hope of the world: “Alleluia! He is risen!”
 

This editorial has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

Corrections: May 3, 2013

An earlier version of this editorial misidentified how many Gospel accounts have the resurrected Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, and to her alone. Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene in three of the four Gospels, not all four. And he appears to her alone in two of the Gospels, not three.
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
4 years 7 months ago
Yes, “Alleluia, He is Risen!” The belief in the possibility of resurrection from the dead, is not an entirely Christian thing. Entombed within my “sepulcher” of writings, to become eventually the “bones” of a dead man’s “tomes” so to speak, all shreddable when hopefully, he heads to the Land of the Living, I’ve “resurrected” a clipping that shows an ancient text written on a stone tablet that may shed “new light” as the clipping says, on the Easter story. The clipping says, “Jews were familiar with the tale of a messiah rising from the dead after three days, years before Jesus’s birth, according to a new interpretation of a Ist century B.C. stone tablet. A controversial translation by Hebrew University scholar Israel Knohl contains the phrase, ‘in three days you shall live’ – setting a possible precedent for Christ’s resurrection story.” Is it possible the above-mentioned stone tablet might be the “missing link” or something like that aligning the historical Jesus to the Jesus of Faith? As Jesuit priest James Martin once said commenting on Fr. Lohfink’s book on Jesus the Christ, “To believe in the risen Christ you need to know something about the man who walked in Palestine. But one needs to also believe in the Christ of Faith.” If the two are not linked together RESU-WRECK-SHUN, not Resurrection, can happen! The unspeakable joy of the Resurrection of Jesus is not isolated to just one tomb, Jesus’. It profoundly affects everybody’s tomb as well. St. Paul put it this way, “If Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain!” I’d like to use this post to talk a little about how the “Stone rolled back” impacts humanity, especially the Church whom we are. Maybe the wisdom of God has spared the Church additional misery by relegating me to “obscurity” and not as priest, or professor in a classroom setting for example, molding multiple minds! So, let me say briefly, what I want to propose is probably a nonsensical theological out-of-the box hypothesis deserving no attention whatsoever. Yet I need to say it. Hmm, I hear fire crackling –St Joan of Arc pray for me! Here it is. Mainstream Protestantism believes that only one person is in heaven body and soul, Jesus Christ. Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity believe that two people are in heaven, Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Did Elisha on his Fiery Chariot end up there too? I believe Jesus and Mary for sure are in heaven bodily, not sure about Elisha. My question is, why should there be only TWO people bodily in heaven? St. Joseph would certainly complete the image of the Holy Family and what about the Apostles and so many others? Could it be that the “new creation” has already happened and that immediately at death within that “new creation” bodily resurrection is effected the body the “old man/woman” in the grave being the “old creation” and rooted perhaps, in St. Paul’s mysterious teaching about “that which is and that which is to come” linked together as if they are one and the same, meaning that heaven is already populated with uncountable numbers of persons, there in body and soul along with Jesus and Mary? Easter permeates the heavenly kingdom, in and through the Lord Jesus . It is clear that in Eucharist, “that which is and that which is to come” happened on the night before He died, on Holy Thursday, when the Sacrifice of the Cross was enacted before the Sacrifice of the Cross happened – “that which is and that which is to come” mysteriously one and the same. Is such a thing applicable to the resurrection of the dead? Or it is only theologically acceptable definitively that there are now in the Land of the Living ONLY TWO inhabitants complete with body and soul, just TWO. I keep asking “Why?” Whatever the correct understanding, I joyfully and thankfully proclaim, “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!” Then will become clear Easter’s biblical hyperboli linked together in perfected understanding. Yes, just as he said, spectacularly, Christ is Risen!. Happy Easter!
France White
4 years 7 months ago
"During her singular moment in salvation history, could Mary have imagined our 21st-century moment? Could she have imagined the world-changing power of her simple message? The world we inhabit, of course, would have been unrecognizable to Mary or any other first-century person. Yet the message we bear is the same; we are heralds of the same Gospel, sharers in the same mission: to testify to the great deeds of God, to invite every person to faith in Jesus Christ." I respectfully ask, COULD Mary have imagined our 21st-century reality? Isn't it a shame that women like Mary are excluded from forms of ministry to which we are called? Can you imagine where she would be in today's church?
Bruce Snowden
4 years 7 months ago
I apologize for neglecting to give due prominence to Mary Magdalene, the central figure of the editorial on which I based my above post, so allow me to try to correct a little my negligence. Everyone knows that Mary was the first Evangelist, a woman, chosen and sent by Christ to announce the good news of his resurrection to the fledgling Church. Once she recognized him Jesus said, “Mary, hurry, don’t waste time! Go tell Peter and the others …. .” Jesus’ actual words to Mary were much simpler, “Don’t cling (hang- unto) me!” Why? Obviously because she had a very important job (ministry) to do that needed to be done right away. In keeping with the central premise of my post, if anyone deserves to be body and soul in heaven right now, with Jesus and Mary, it should be Mary Magdalene. Two words synthesize the Good News, “Come” and “Go.” The Good News “calls” and “sends” exactly Mary’s mission, ours too, male and female. Mary Magdalene leads the way – Christianity is no cream puff religion. If taken seriously it keeps Believers “coming” and “going,” ever on the move, fired-up and turbulent in zeal, prototypically fed by the Fire and Turbulence of Pentecost. “Fire” and “Turbulence” Mary Magdalene’s gift to the Church in the Spirit!
Craig McKee
4 years 6 months ago
I've just discovered a marvelous custom in Sicily: the Madonna Vasa Vasa ("special kiss") of Easter Sunday in Modica. http://www.villamodica.com/easter-celebration-modica-madonna-vasa-vasa http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6Ni36u6Qcw
Lisa Weber
3 months ago

I love the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene (and the other women) after the resurrection. What this means theologically is ignored by the Church. Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene to announce the good news to his disciples, to preach the Gospel. Women are categorically silenced at the principal liturgy of the church - in direct opposition to this story that appears in all four Gospels.

Women are more attuned to the emotional side of life than men, so they often see what is developing before it becomes obvious to everyone - perhaps this is why Jesus appeared to women first. Women were at the tomb, doing the community's work associated with death and mourning. Only when we are ready to accept that something or someone has died are we able to see what is new. Perhaps this is part of why Jesus appeared to women first.

Jesus appeared to women first and it was not accidental, something he would have done differently if he had taken time to think about it more. The theological lesson is unavoidably clear - Jesus commissioned women to preach. Perhaps the Church should do the same. Only the men of the Church are able to change the doctrine of the Church because women are not allowed any authority to act within the Church. The day will come when the men in the church hierarchy decide to quit ignoring the teaching of Jesus with regard to women, and they will allow women to preach at Mass. Unfortunately, I rather doubt I will live long enough to see that day, but it will come because the Church so desperately needs it.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pope Francis speaks from the Vatican as he addresses Canadian youths in a video message that was included in a Salt and Light Television program on Oct. 22 (CNS photo/courtesy Holy See Press Office).
“The world, the church, are in need of courageous young people, who are not cowed in the face of difficulties," the pope said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 23, 2017
Men walk near destroyed buildings as thousands of Somalis gathered to pray at the site of the country's deadliest attack and to mourn hundreds of victims at the site of the attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 20. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
Mogadishu was rocked to its core on Oct. 14 by a truck bombing that left 358 dead and hundreds wounded. The missing are still being sifted for among the scorched rubble.
Kevin ClarkeOctober 23, 2017
Pope Francis issues public correction to Cardinal Robert Sarah on who has final say over liturgical translations.
Gerard O'ConnellOctober 22, 2017
It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017