How Mary Magdalene speaks to us in our love, loss and yearning
A Reflection for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene
I will rise then and go about the city;
in the streets and crossings I will seek
Him whom my heart loves.
Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
"Rabbouni," which means Teacher.
If you have ever lost someone important to you, you likely know the particular sting that comes from wanting to go to the very person you’re grieving for comfort—and realizing they aren’t there, at least not in the way they once were. Mary Magdalene, I think, felt that in today’s Gospel. She has been through a grueling series of days, watching the person she loves most in the world, who saved her from seven demons and whom she has followed all around Israel ever since, be tortured and executed in public. Unlike the Apostles, she never left, staying with Jesus until the bitter end, and now returning after the prescribed time to prepare his body for burial. Even after his death, she is standing by him, caring for him.
The first reading and the responsorial psalm today are both stirring accounts of yearning—yearning for God and for the narrator’s beloved. It’s that yearning, then, that those who selected the readings chose to frame the story of Mary Magdalene: She approaches the tomb yearning to be comforted by Jesus and to comfort him, but she knows that yearning will not be fulfilled. Jesus is dead.
Imagine hearing your loved one say your name again, and all the joy and fear and wonder that might flood through you.
If you haven’t already, think about someone you have lost, and how you felt every time the grief rose up in you. Think about how that person said your name, what it sounded like, how you would know it was them saying your name immediately. And how you would have longed to hear them call to you in your grief.
Mary Magdalene experiences that today: She does not recognize Jesus; she is beside herself that now even his body seems to be gone. She confronts the gardener, demanding to know who has taken the body. And the gardener responds, “Mary,” in the very voice she was longing to hear but believed she never would again. Imagine hearing your loved one say your name again, and all the joy and fear and wonder that might flood through you.
Imagine, too, Jesus’ joy: Having literally been through hell and back, he chooses to visit Mary Magdalene first. It is not only that she longs to see him again; he longs to see her, to share with her the news that he has overcome death, for everyone, forever. Imagine how happy they are to see one another—a joy that reverberates throughout history. The same joyful news Mary Magdalene proclaimed to the Apostles that day is the joyful news we are called to share with those we encounter, and to contemplate ourselves, today.