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Christine LenahanMarch 19, 2024
"Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene After the Resurrection" by the Russian painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. Because Mary's heart has been turned toward Christ through conversion and repentance, she becomes one of his most fervent, faithful disciples. (CNS photo/Wikimedia Commons)

A Reflection for Saturday in the Octave of Easter

Find today’s readings here

When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week,
he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,
out of whom he had driven seven demons. (Mk 16:9-15)

It seems quite obvious, as Gospel accounts only recall the traces of the risen Christ: a stone rolled away, a burial shroud cast aside and angels present at an empty tomb. But when reading today’s Gospel, I remembered something essential to the story of Christ’s life—no one watched the resurrection.

The resurrection is the cornerstone of our Catholic faith, but no one ever saw Christ get up, shrug off the shroud from his body and push aside the tombstone. There were no eyewitness accounts of Christ’s rising that morning (and, in contrast, such detailed accounts of the crucifixion) and yet, we stake our faith in this very event. That points to the fact that the Catholic faith exists and, in fact, thrives in believing in the unseen.

So you can imagine Mary Magdalene’s shock, joy and perhaps even terror when she sees Jesus alive before her. This is the man she watched be brutally tortured, be nailed to a cross, cry out to his father and die. She wept over her master’s body, cleaned his wounds and buried him—and now, he is standing before her once again. In other Gospel accounts, she does not even recognize Jesus at first, believing him to be a gardener until he calls out her name. I wonder how she must have felt at that moment, after having been so grief-stricken, looking at her best friend and champion alive once more.

Jesus affirms a radical truth about his ministry here by appearing to Mary Magdalene. The first person to see the risen Christ is a woman. It’s not just any woman, but Christ first appears to Mary Magdalene “from whom seven demons had gone out.” Pope St. Gregory baselessly assumed that phrase meant she had been a sex worker, which impacts her legacy still today. In his ministry, Jesus saved Mary, and ever since, she has been dedicated to following Jesus and the apostles throughout Judea. By appearing to Mary Magdalene first, not only does Jesus assure Mary of her role in his ministry but assures the role of women as a whole as an essential element of the mission of Christ.

Mary Magdalene is the first person tasked with sharing the incredible news of the resurrection. She is the first person to bear witness to and respond to the most essential part of our faith. Plus, like my coworker Colleen Dulle, I like to believe that just as Mary was overjoyed to see Jesus, so too was Jesus grateful to see his friend Mary.

Everyone watched the crucifixion. No one watched the resurrection. But Mary Magdalene saw the living Christ and took his mission seriously: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

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