Witnesses: Mary Magdalene

John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene was the first to see the resurrected Christ and the first to proclaim that he had been raised. Of all of the women in the New Testament Mary Magdalene in my opinon was the most intriguing.  

So, who was this women Mary Magdalene?

 Mary Magdalene was one of a handful of women who followed Jesus in his ministry. Luke tells us that these women provided funds for Jesus and the disciples as they ministered. It seems likely that Mary had never been married and had no children, or that she was divorced with no children. How do we know?

 In ancient times women were typically identified by their relationship with a father, a husband or a child. Mary would have been Mary wife of so and so, Mary mother of so and so, or Mary the daughter of so and so. But instead the New Testament authors refer to her simply as Mary Magdalene, that is, Mary from the village of Magdala. Why was she never married and had no children?

 Luke says that she had been plagued with seven demons, demons Jesus cast out of her. Demons in the ancient world could be demonic spirits, but they also could be undiagnosed physical conditions, mental illness or addictions. It may have been these afflictions that led no man to wish to marry her. Sadly, women who were afflicted, who had no parent, husband or children to care for them in ancient times sometimes were forced into a life of prostitution. We know this: Jesus showed compassion for prostitutes, treated them with dignity and told the religious leaders that prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of God before they did. We know that there were women who left their life of prostitution to follow him.

 Mary and other women, including Jesus’ mother, went with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem, and watched helplessly as he was tortured and crucified. Their teacher who showed love, forgiveness, compassion and mercy died before their eyes that dark Friday. She was there when they took him down from the cross, undoubtedly helped in his burial preparations, and watched as they laid him in the tomb. Imagine the feelings of Mary and the disciples at Jesus death and burial. It all happened so fast. This man whom they believed God had sent, who represented goodness, faithfulness, righteousness and love, had been crushed by the religious establishment and the Romans. They mourned not only his death, but the death of goodness, justice, kindness. For them this was the death of faith in a good world ruled by a good and loving God.

How would you have felt if someone who rescued you from physical, spiritual, and emotional was taken from you?

In many ways this is what Jesus’ death and resurrection, Good Friday and Easter are all about. God’s answer to human evil, to the sinful things human beings do and to the pain that happens in this world was this drama in which God himself bears the brunt of human cruelty, and on the cross absorbs evil and sin, making clear that God himself suffers for the sin human beings commit. Jesus cries out Psalm 22 to his Father from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But he goes on to cry out, “Father, forgive them…” He dies and is buried, and evil seems to have the final word, as it does at times in life. Jesus is buried, and with him all that he taught, said and did—his hopes and dreams and redemptive mission.

But that was NOT the end of his story. When Mary arrived at the tomb before sunrise Sunday, she’d come to grieve. But she found the stone had been rolled away from the mouth of the tomb, and Jesus’ body was gone. She did not conclude that he had been raised from the dead. She concluded one final act of cruelty had taken place. She assumed his body had been taken to be further desecrated. So we find her weeping at the tomb. Four times at this scene, John’s gospel says Mary was weeping….

Here’s what happens next: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” In a moment everything changed for Mary. It was not simply that Jesus was alive—it was more than that. It was the fact, made clear in Jesus’ resurrection, that evil and hate could not defeat goodness and love, and that God and goodness and love would have the final word. I want you to understand this: those who accept Easter have accepted this event in history as a part of their defining story. It is not just that a man was resuscitated from the dead. In this story of Christ’s resurrection God was proclaiming that evil and hate will NEVER have the final word, not then, and not now….

It is not just evil whose defeat is sealed in Jesus’ resurrection. It is also the great enemy we all face, and we all dread, death. When Jesus returns from the grave he defeats death itself….Paul wrote, in the light of Christ’s resurrection, “Death has been swallowed up in victory,” quoting Isaiah 25:8. We remember that Jesus said, “Because I live, you will lie also” and that he said, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me will never die.”

I love how C.S. Lewis put it on the last page of the last book in his children’s stories, The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis ends the books with his lead characters dying in a train accident. What a tragic ending, we think. But Lewis’ final words in the story were:

“But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Mary Magdalene redemptive encounter transformed her in a way that Christ embrace each new chapter of her life. Christ can and will do the same for us as too embrace Mary Magdalene example of faithfulness.