[G]o to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he told her. Jn 20:11-18
I have always liked to imagine Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus, the Risen One, in the garden, a stone away from the tomb. At first she does not recognize him (no one ever seems to make the connection between the stranger they see and the Jesus they knew). But the way he says her name reveals to her who he is. And she is beyond herself. He is not dead after all. He has crossed the divide between life and death, however, and the one facing her now is both the same and not the same man she knows.
“Don’t touch me,” he tells her. Noli me tangere. Something in her heart, in the depth of her being, is on the verge of breaking.
How was his gaze the first time he met her for her to become so attached to him? What did he see in her, that no one had ever seemed to see, for her to become so faithful, so loyal? For she had to love him. How she had listened to what he said; how she had watched his hands bless and heal and bring to life so many of those who approached him….
The idea that in front of her stands the man who means everything to her, but that this man has left already, left her plane at least, and that she finds herself alone again, as she was when she first met his eyes, is so much for her to bear. Before she knew him, she had been alone, yes. But now that he is to return to His Father, she will feel even more alone than before. [She does not know that His Spirit will never let her feel alone. How can she guess?] Still, when he orders her to go and tell the others the good news, without a moment of hesitation, she goes to announce the good news.
As I watch her following him as a disciple, I imagine Mary Magdalene silent most of the time, understanding what he says better than most if not all his apostles and disciples. Isn’t it common to find among the entourage of great men a woman or two who seem to get what most others don’t? She is silent, but her eyes tells him that she knows what he says, that she likes what he preaches, that she is so happy to be one of those close to him.
Jesus was surrounded with women. Still no gospel says that Jesus sent women disciples by two to preach and heal and exorcise. Early Christian writings tell us though that women, emboldened by the Spirit, did preach and heal and exorcise, after the Resurrection if not before.
The relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is a mystery to me. I can only tiptoe when I am around them. I see the connection between their souls; the way she knows what he wants, what to do for him, before he says anything. I also sense that he loves what he sees in her, whatever it is.
For her presence at the cross and later at the grave, I can see that Mary Magdalene loved him as a good and brave friend who did not want him to die alone. Had she been with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, she would not have fallen asleep. She would have kept watch with him, for him, passing on to him every bit of strength she had in her to give him heart for what was to come.
Many years ago, as I prepared to walk the Camino once again, ready to rush toward The Risen One as if to meet him at the end of the road, I asked Mary of Magdala to help me love Jesus as she did. It was probably very pretentious of me to request such a grace. But to love Jesus with all my heart like the first disciples did has been a dream of mine for many years now. To love Jesus as they did, so that I can follow Him as they did…
Today, on your Feast Day, Mary, please share with me a bit of your love for Him, I pray.
With you in Him always.
Art: El Greco, Mary Magdalene Penitent, 1585-1590