In the gospel passage (John 20:1-9) for today Easter Sunday, we meet Mary of Magdala, commonly known as Mary Magdalene. We hear that when she went to the tomb “on the first day of the week when it was still dark”, bringing spices and perfumes to anoint Jesus’ dead body, all she found was a yawning empty space where the body had been. This must have been terrifying as well as puzzling for her. No wonder that she rushed back to give this distressing news to Simon Peter and “the other disciple whom Jesus loved”. They in turn ran to the tomb, and seeing the linen cloths that had covered Jesus’ dead body lying on the ground, they “saw and believed”. The passage ends with the statement “Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead”.
Mary Magdalene apparently returned later that same day to the empty tomb, as the succeeding verses of chapter 20 (11-18) of John’s gospel make clear, and stayed there weeping. (We will read this passage on Easter Tuesday). And while she was there, lost and in tears, the Risen Christ appeared to her and gave her the mandate: “go and find your brothers and tell them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’.
Because of this encounter and mission, Mary Magdalene is known as “the apostle to the apostles”. Just this past year, pope Francis raised the 22nd July memorial of her to the status of a feast in the church’s liturgical calendar, thus recognizing her as “an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of Easter”. As we know, Mary Magdalene, the apostle of the Resurrection, is one of the patrons of the Dominican Order founded to preach the gospel, and particularly its central message of resurrection life and joy.
It is clear from Scripture that Jesus in his travels was surrounded not only by men- but also by women-¬disciples. All four evangelists speak of the group of women from Galilee, Mary of Magdala among them, who were his faithful followers right to the end of his life. These women would have listened attentively to his teaching, they would have witnessed his compassionate healings, and they would have seen him deep in prayer. Some of them, including Mary Magdalene, followed him on his painful journey to death on Calvary. In Jesus’ company she and the other women were continually learning how to be his true disciples. St. Paul tells the Colossians in the 2nd Reading for today, ‘Christ is your life’ (cf. Col. 3:4). Jesus Christ was certainly Mary Magdalene’s life, and for that reason she was able to announce him to others.
This Easter may the reality of the resurrection, this central event in the story of salvation, burst upon us as it did upon Mary Magdalene and the disciples at the tomb, giving us a strength and an urgency to enter more deeply into the life of the risen Christ within us and around us, and to bring his good news to others.
Mary O’Driscoll OP