On July 22, we celebrate the life of Mary Magdalene. Take a minute with the reading for her feast day: John 20:1-2, 11-18. How interesting to have the Easter story out of sequence, here in the middle of summer, and not at its usual time at the end of Lent and Holy Week. Do we notice different nuances?
Actually, the verses that are left out hold an important key. After Mary Magdalene tells the male disciples about the empty tomb, several of them race toward the tomb. They look, they assess, and then they go home. It is only Mary who stays behind to weep.
This week has been more hectic than usual at work, which leads me to reflect on what Mary has to teach us about pace and rushing and hurry, hurry, hurry. It’s Mary who stays behind to grieve, while the male disciples are running off to do whatever it is they feel compelled to do. It’s because she stays behind to rest and to grieve that she gets to be the first to see the risen Lord.
Busyness is the drug that many of us in this post-modern age use to dull our senses. But in our busyness, we forget what’s really important. We forget to focus on Christ. We forget to model our lives on Christ’s.
Paradoxically, the story of Mary Magdalene reminds us not only to rest but to stay alert.
If we’re too busy, we might miss Christ altogether. If we’re not careful, we’ll assume that we’re not needed and go back to our houses. But if we’re too swamped in grief and despair, we might miss Jesus too. If we’re not careful, we won’t notice that the gardener is really Jesus.
It’s good to be reminded of the resurrection story in the middle of July. Now the year is over half way done. We don’t have the magic of spring to renew our spirits. We may be feeling scorched by the weather and grieved by our dashed hopes for the year. It’s good to remember that we’re promised grace and salvation. The promise remains, even if we don’t always recognize Christ beside us.
You might be saying, “Mary Magdalene? Wasn’t she possessed by demons? Wasn’t she a prostitute? Why would Christ appear to her anyway? Why does she get a feast day?”
There have been many moves throughout church history to strip Mary Magdalene of her importance. Many church teachings portray her as a prostitute, as mentally ill, or both. But I don’t usually trust the ancient writers when it comes to their descriptions of emotional or sexual states, especially not when it comes to females. I can see that the ancient church had a vested interest in diminishing Mary Magdalene of her story and her power.
The comfort of the Gospel is that Jesus included all the dispossessed in his ministry. Jesus spent a lot of time with women, and if you read the Gospel closely, you’ll notice key female followers often seemed to understand the nature of Christ’s work much more quickly than the key males did. Scholars of the early church tell us that the money supplied by women often kept missions going.
One of the lessons offered in Mary Magdalene’s story might have to do with reputation and how the world might slander us for our faithfulness. But we really can’t worry about that. The world will slander us for all sorts of reasons. The story of Mary Magdalene reminds us that there are greater rewards than respect and a good reputation, a reminder that’s still true today in our modern times.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative-writing classes for the last 20 years.