By Joanne Gallardo, interim campus pastor
Scripture: John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
While the rights and perception of women have progressed in a significant way since the era of Jesus, we still have difficulty finding the truth in what women say. In ancient texts, including the Bible, women are often seen as tricksters, sinners, or saints, without much room in between. Mary Magdalene has been cast as a reformed sex worker in the history of the Church, but as modern interpreters we now know this was a mistake. Mary Magdalene was an apostle to the apostles, a woman of independent means, and in this case, the first witness to the resurrection.
In other Gospel accounts, the disciples have difficulty in believing the words of Mary. In this text from John, we do not get to hear the aftermath of Mary’s proclamation of the risen Lord. Other accounts have her being dismissed by the 12 apostles initially. Even in this scripture, some may be left wondering why Mary was chosen as the first witness and not Peter, Simon Peter, and the other disciple.
The disciples’ behavior is baffling. After seeing an empty tomb and believing, they went back to where they were staying. The scriptures do not say whether they keep this information to themselves, whether they were overjoyed, or if the others were informed of this new development. Mary, however, is overcome with bereavement at the loss of Jesus’ body and stays at the tomb crying. Her mourning is our mourning–the built-up emotion of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday spilling out into the open, finally giving us permission to feel the trauma of the state execution of Jesus.
Since Jesus’ identity is initially unknown, Jesus is privy to Mary’s innermost desires; to once again see her Lord. Jesus has her believing by using her name, “Mary.” She cries out to him “Rabboni!,” hailing him as her teacher. She is tasked with the Paschal duty; to tell Jesus’ inner circle about Jesus’ resurrection.
Since the time of Jesus, we have a bloody history of murdered prophets and slain leaders, people who sought to bring the subversive Good News to both the mighty and the lowly. It’s difficult to have hope in times like these when the Good News is a memory and Death surrounds us. We dismiss messages of hope that come from unlikely places. But Mary brings us the heart of the Easter message; that death has been overcome, that victory lies in the empty tomb, and that our salvation is tied up in female proclamation. The crucifixion seemed permanent; a period at the end of the Gospel message. But Jesus’ appearance to Mary shows us that the “upside down kingdom” that Jesus proclaimed also applies to death. Death is not final, nor does it have victory over that which God has established. That Good News is here for us, if only we accept Mary’s message of newness, excitement and hope. Are we ready to believe women?
Thank you for reading and responding to our Lenten devotional series and theme, “Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast.” We hope you join us again in the winter as Goshen College students, faculty and staff offer daily devotions during the Advent season.
Scripture: John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him. 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? She said to them, They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him. 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away. 16Jesus said to her, Mary! She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni! (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and she told them that he had said these things to her.