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Mary Magdalene: A Woman Who Does Not Remain Silent

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

In John 20:1-18, we read that Mary Magdalene played a significant role in the resurrection narrative. Mary was one of Jesus' closest followers. She was one of the women who stayed with him during the crucifixion—after all the male disciples except John had left or betrayed him. In John’s account of the resurrection, she is the first person to discover that Jesus' tomb is empty and is the first to see the risen Christ. Mary's encounter with the resurrected Jesus is a powerful and transformative moment, and her role in the story is a testament to the importance of women in the early Christian movement. Indeed, the first person to preach the risen Christ was a woman. She did not remain silent.

John’s gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus in the darkness of early morning. Mary rises early and makes her way through the darkness to see her Lord—at a time when the other disciples were likely still sleeping. From the first verse, John 20 tells us of the bravery of women in the gospel story. Already, we can picture a woman walking alone in the dark because she so wants to go see the Crucified One who, out of love, upheld her dignity so strongly. However, when she realizes that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, she runs to tell Simon Peter and John the Beloved. The two men go to the tomb to see, but they soon return home.

However, Mary stays behind at the tomb to grieve. The angels then ask Mary what is wrong. A woman is addressed directly by angels! Mary cries out in grief to the angels, wondering where her Lord had been taken. As she says this, the risen Jesus appears to her. He even speaks to her! Out of care and compassion, Jesus asks her why she is weeping. Mary, perhaps because she is overcome with her grief, does not recognize Jesus at first. Then Jesus says her name—indeed, Jesus dignifies her and asserts her value—and she recognizes who the man is. It was the same man who had fought for her dignity and value so immensely at a time when many refused to recognize the dignity and worth of women. Mary is overcome and cries out in joy at the sight of her beloved teacher.

For a short period of time, the only person to encounter the risen Christ was a woman. But she does not keep it to herself. So overcome with joy at the sight of her risen Lord, John tells us that Mary went out and announced the news as per her Lord’s command. Despite the doubts and disbelief of the male disciples, Mary steadfastly proclaims the truth of her experience to them, boldly declaring, "I have seen the Lord!" Mary Magdalene was not only the first person to encounter the risen Christ, but she was also the first person to preach the risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday. If the church is a community that is gathered around an encounter with the risen Christ, Mary Magdalene was the church for a short period of time. And Mary was the first person to preach the gospel! Indeed, this woman does not remain silent.

Mary's encounter with Jesus in John 20 is a powerful moment of liberation and empowerment for women. At a time when a popular rabbinic phrase read, “Let the words of the Torah be burned rather than entrusted to women” (Jerusalem Talmud Sotah, 3:4, 19a), Mary's role as the first witness to the resurrection is a radical affirmation of the role and worth of women. Furthermore, Mary's encounter with Jesus challenges traditional gender expectations. In this passage, Jesus commissions Mary to go and tell the disciples that he had been risen. The task of proclaiming something so important would typically have been reserved for men. Yet, Jesus entrusts it to Mary, recognizing her as a capable and trustworthy disciple. Mary's response is equally significant. She boldly proclaims the good news to the male disciples, breaking down barriers and challenging gender stereotypes of the silent, submissive woman.

Throughout history, women have been told that their voices do not matter, that their bodies are inferior, and that their contributions are insignificant. Yet, the gospel message stands in stark contrast to all that. Mary Magdalene's story is a powerful affirmation that women have always had the power to challenge these lies and claim their rightful place and dignity. Indeed, Jesus empowers them to do so.

Mary's story is a powerful testament to the leadership and strength of women. Despite the patriarchal society in which she lived, Mary refused to be silenced or dismissed. She was a true disciple of Jesus, one who embodied his teachings of love, compassion, and justice. And when she encountered the risen Christ, she became a witness to the truth of his resurrection and a messenger of hope to all who would listen.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Mary's story reminds us that the struggle for equality is not just a women's issue: it is a human rights issue. It is a fight for justice, for the right of all people to be recognized and respected for who they are, regardless of gender.

This Easter, as we honour Mary Magdalene and her story, let us also remember the countless women who have fought for equality throughout history, and the countless more who continue to fight today. Let us stand with them and let us never forget that the fight for women's equality is a fight for justice, and a fight for a better world for all.

Most of all, let us remember that if the resurrection is true, then inequality and sin do not have the final say. In God’s raising of Christ from the dead, we see that God is working to transform all consequences of our fallen world. Through the life-giving breath of the Spirit, God promises to breathe new, resurrection life into all inequality, sin, hurt, and death. Not only that, but God calls and commissions us to participate in this justice-seeking work of resurrection led by the Spirit. We see this in how Mary Magdalene, a woman, was invited to encounter and preach the risen Jesus. But he also calls you today. How will you respond to that call?

Kaitlyn Lightfoot is a student in the Master of Arts in Theology program at Acadia Divinity College. She also serves on the board of ASBE.

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