"The Good News of Easter Morning according to Mary of Magdala"
The four Gospel stories of the most important moment in the history of Christianity can leave us scratching our heads. We aren't scripture scholars and are not able to read the ancient manuscripts in the ancient languages that they are written in. Even if we could, we would still have a great deal more difference to reconcile than consistency in the story. We can come away from reading the alternate accounts of what happened on the morning of the resurrection confused.
However, when we read all the stories of the morning of the resurrection "against the grain," we are given the opportunity to see beyond the artificial boundaries set by each of the men who recorded the oral histories of the resurrection morning, as told by men. Including the women's account of the events, gives us a fuller understanding of the experiences. Like the other Gospels, this one is also recorded from the oral tradition handed down to the heirs of the witnesses, the women who were Jesus, from beginning to end to beginning. With humility, I offer it to you now.
"The Good News of Easter Morning according to Mary of Magdala"
We were many.
Myself, Mary of Magdala; Mary, Jesus' own mother; her sister, Mary, who was married to Clophas; Mary, the mother of James and Joseph; the mother of the sons of Zebedee; Salome;,Joanna; and many other women as well. All those I have named were very close to Jesus, his family and best friends.
We had all followed Jesus from Galilee, along with a great multitude of people. We women travelled with him as his devoted followers. We called him teacher, and we loved him. We ministered to him as he travelled preaching and teaching and healing. We took care of him.
But we were powerless on the night he was betrayed by Peter, Judas and all the disciples.
After Judas identified Jesus with a kiss to the authorities and an angry mob surrounded Jesus, the disciples foresaked him and fled.... and Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.
We women were utterly helpless as Jesus was dragged to the trial. We could do nothing but weep as he was led away to the place of the crucifixion, as he was spit on, beaten, and tortured by the raging crowd. We wailed and lamented Jesus, but Jesus turned to us and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children ......
We followed Jesus to Golgotha, the place of the skull, and watched as he was crucified.....as they pounded nails into his hands and feet.....as one soldier thrust a sword into his side, as they jammed a crown of thorn- covered branches onto his head....as the blood dripped from his wounds.....It was more horrifying than I can even begin to describe. Our grief was beyond anything I could relate to you.
We stayed not far from the foot of the cross, after he breathed his last, even after the multitude returned home beating their breasts. We women, who had followed him from Galilee, stayed and watched as a good man from Arimathea, Joseph, a member of the council there, got permission from Pilate to take Jesus' body. We watched as this good and righteous man took Jesus down and then wrapped him in a linen shroud and laid him in a new tomb, carved from rock. We saw how well intentioned he was, but we knew Jesus was not properly prepared for burial according to our customs, so we returned to where we were staying and prepared spices and ointments. But, because it was the eve of the Sabbath and against our customs to go out, we had to wait until Sabbath ended to return to the tomb.
It was a very long wait.
On the first day of the week, we went back to the tomb. It was still dark, very early in the morning, with just the first sign of dawn appearing. We were so anxious to bring the precious perfumed oils so that we could anoint Jesus' body for a proper burial. We also wanted to inspect the tomb to see that it conformed to our Jewish burial customs.
Quite a large group of us women followers of Jesus were in the procession to the tomb. When we arrived, in the blush of morning, I was the first to see that the stone had been rolled away because I, Mary of Magdala, had reached the tomb first. Then the others arrived: Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, Joanna, and Salome. And soon after that the rest of the women caught up with us. (We had talked among ourselves about the massive stone on the way, wondering just who would roll it away for us.) As we all gathered around the opening, we saw that the tomb was empty.
Many of the women were terrified and fled from the tomb, trembling and astonished and very afraid. They said nothing to anyone about what they had seen.
The rest of the women with me, remembering what Jesus had said about rising on the third day, were filled with awe and great joy and they ran to carry the good news to the disciples that the tomb was empty.
But I stood there weeping.
I stooped to peer into the tomb and thought to myself, "someone has taken him, where could they have put the body? If only I knew, I would go and get it and take it away."
And then I heard my name spoken.
I turned toward the voice and saw Jesus was standing there. I cried out, "Rabboni!" which means teacher, immediately, instinctively I reached out to hug him, but he said, "Don't hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to Abba God. Rather, go the sisters and brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Abba and to your Abba, my God and your God!"
I wish I could tell you that it was easy to leave the tomb, but it wasn't. However, I went to the disciples and said, "I have seen the Teacher!" and I told them what he had said to me.
Later, I learned that my women companions, who left the tomb in joy and awe before me, suddenly encountered Jesus while on their way. He stood before them and said, "Shalom! Peace!"
They ran straight up to him and knelt down to embrace his feet and worship him. When they did this, Jesus said to them, "Don't be afraid! Go tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see me." When the women returned to where we were staying, they told the Eleven and the others all these things.....(the empty tomb, how they met Jesus on the road, and his request to deliver his message to them.)
But the women's words seemed to the apostles an idle tale and the apostles did not believe the women.
Can you believe it?
When I told them he was alive and I had seen him, they did not believe me either. (Note: The arguments between Mary and the eleven are recorded in the Gospel of Mary, but her story was not included when the canon was closed more than three hundred years, after these events. Mary's Gospel was only recently discovered in the 20th century.)
It took many appearances before they believed, the first in the upper room to the cowering disciples later in the evening of that first day of the week, when we women had already encountered the risen Jesus. It took appearances to the two men walking in the country and to two men on the road to Emmaus, and to the disciples on the beach fishing and later eating some of their catch of fried fish with him. They did not believe without seeing.
Do you know that Jesus actually upbraided (that is, scolded) the eleven at that first appearance in the upper room because they did not believe us, the women who had seen him after he had risen? He chastised the eleven because they did not believe that we were the first to encounter the risen Jesus and that his commission to us to go and spread the good news of his rising was legitimate.
Our true story of that morning has been obscured because we were not educated enough to write it down. But, somehow, the truth of the events seems to have survived in what was written down by the men of the later decades when most of the eye witnesses were nearly all gone. It is entombed there, but you can resurrect it if you turn to look for it, which I have done for you here.
What I tell you is true.
I saw Jesus die. I saw him be buried. I saw his empty tomb.
Then, I saw him alive; I heard him; I held him; and finally, I did what he asked of me.
I witnessed to the living presence of the crucified Jesus. I saw and held, spoke to and listened to my teacher, my beloved of Nazareth, risen from the dead, and I share this Good News with you now, so that all future generations may know that when we Christians hear Jesus call us by name, we too will turn to his voice and see him. We too will have to make the choice to do, or not to do, what he asks of each of us. What will be asked will not be the same for everyone. But, we will all be asked to serve others in some way. That was what Jesus taught every step of the way during his life and it is what he continued to teach after he rose from the dead.
We women were commissioned to go and tell the Good News that Jesus is waiting for us in the appointed place. He chooses the place. He promises that we will see him again, that we can each meet him again.
But, and this is a big but, we have to show up! We have to go out to meet him. We have to turn to him. We have to reach out, to act, to do something in order to bring ourselves into his presence.
Maybe that "something" is prayer; maybe it's service to others, feeding, clothing, housing, freeing them; maybe it's weeping at the tombs in our lives; the times of sorrow and tragedy; maybe it's showing up to wait and watch with others in their difficult times; maybe it's having faith when we don't understand what is happening...or why, maybe it is not being deterred from doing what Jesus asks of us, even when the cost is great and the path difficult.
But believe this good news! HE WILL BE THERE AHEAD OF WAITING FOR US TO COME TO HIM. He is risen and waiting for us now in the Eucharist. When we come into communion with him in the bread and wine, we become the body and blood of Jesus and we too are commissioned to go and tell the good news to others, to serve others and to be witnesses of Jesus' extravagant love for us, a love so great that he though he died, he rose to give us the promise of life eternal.
I am the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and I know that this testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Suggested for further reading and study:
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Translated from the Coptic by Jean-Yves Liloup, 2002).
But She said (Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza,1992).
Searching the Scriptures (Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza,1994).
The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene ( Jane Schaberg, 2002).
Mary Magdalene,The First apostle: The Struggle for Authority (Ann Graham
The Gospel story of Easter Morning according to John 20:1-18 (Canadian Lectionary)
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance, so she ran off to Simon Peter and the other disciple--the one Jesus loved--and told them, "The Rabbi has been taken from the tomb! We don't know where they have put Jesus!"
[At that, Peter and the other disciple started out toward the tomb. They were running side by side, but then the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He didn't enter, but bent down to peer in and saw the linen wrappings lying on the ground. Then Simon Peter arrived and entered the tomb. He observed the linen wrappings on the ground and saw the piece of cloth that had covered Jesus' head lying not with the wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the disciple who had arrived first at the tomb went in. He saw and believed. As yet, they didn't understand the scripture that Jesus was to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.]
But, Mary stood weeping beside the tomb.
Even as she wept, stooped to peer inside, and there she saw two angels in dazzling robes. One was seated at the head and the other at the foot of the place where Jesus' body had lain. They asked her, "Why are you weeping?"
She answered them, "Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I don't know where they have put the body."
No sooner had she said this than she turned around and caught sight of Jesus standing there, but she didn't know it was Jesus.
He asked her, "Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?"
She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, "Please, if you're the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you've laid the body and I will take it away."
Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned to him and said, "Rabboni!" : which means "Teacher."
Jesus then said, "Don't hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to Abba God. Rather, go to the sisters and brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Abba and to your Abba, my God and your God!"
Mary of Magdala went to the disciples and said, "I have seen the Teacher!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.
(Written sometime in the years between 90-100, Common Era)
The Gospel story of Easter Morning according to Luke (24:1-11)
On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, the women came to the tomb bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled back from the tomb; but when they entered the tomb, they didn't find the body of Jesus. While they were still at a loss over what to think of this, two figures in dazzling garments stood beside them.
Terrified, the women bowed to the ground. The two said to them, "Why do you search for the Living One among the dead? Jesus is not here; Christ has risen. Remember what Jesus said to you while still in Galilee- that the Chosen One must be delivered into the hands of sinners and be crucified, and on the third day would rise again."
With this reminder, the words of Jesus came back to them.
When the women had returned from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and the others.
Now it was Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James and the other women with them who told the apostles, but these words seemed to the apostles an idle tale, and the apostles did not believe the women.
(Written sometime in the years between 80-90, Common Era)
The Gospel story of Easter Morning according to Matthew (28:1-8)
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawing, Mary of Magdala came with Mary to inspect the tomb.
Suddenly, there was a severe earthquake, and an angel of God descended from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat on it.
The angel's appearance was like lightning, with garments white as snow. The guards shook with fear and fell down as though they were dead.
Then the angel spoke, addressing the women: "Don't be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus the crucified, who is no longer here. Jesus has been raised, exactly as it was foretold. Come and see the burial place. Then go quickly and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen from the dead and now goes ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Jesus there. That is the message I have for you."
The women hurried away from the tomb with awe and great joy and ran to carry the good news to the disciples.
Suddenly Jesus stood before them and said, "Shalom!" The women came up, embraced Jesus' feet and worshiped.
At this, Jesus said to them, "Don't be afraid! Go tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see me."
(Written sometime close to the year 85, Common Era)
The Gospel story of Easter Morning according to Mark (16:1-8)
When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Salome brought perfumed oils so that they could anoint Jesus. Very early, just after sunrise on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.
They were saying to one another, "Who will roll back the stone from the entrance to the tomb?"
When they looked, they found that the huge stone had been rolled back.
On entering the tomb, they saw a young person sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe.
They were very frightened, but the youth reassured them: "Do not be amazed!
You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. Now go and tell the disciples and Peter, 'Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him just as he told you.'"
They went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
(Written sometime in the years between 66-70, Common Era)