I have always loved the fact that Scripture tells us the first person to discover that the stone had been rolled away from Christ’s tomb, and then the first to see the Risen Lord, was Mary Magdalene. This woman who had been possessed by seven demons was surely an outcast of society, was alone and a mess—was not a woman of accomplishment, not known for learning, for leadership, or for good works. She was not a woman who “had her act together,” nor had she made herself worthy of Jesus’s love and attention. Yet Jesus loved her; her brokenness was healed, and she was made new. Once again, Christ turns the social order upside down. Mary Magdalene’s honored place in this story intensely conveys that sanctification and salvation are total gifts, and that perhaps the more aware we are of our need, the more we are able to receive these gifts.
In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is questioned, first by angels and then by Christ himself: “Woman, why do you weep?” Rhetorically, it seems that they are trying to prepare her to recognize the Risen Lord, because after all, isn’t it obvious why someone who just witnessed the events of Holy Week and then—insult to injury – found the Lord’s body missing, would be crying? One weeps when one is overcome with emotion, when one is exhausted, when the mental or physical strain of a situation overwhelms what one is capable of processing. Others respond differently: they might self-isolate, get quiet, or brood; some might grow angry or lash out; others might deny or suppress their feelings and put on a false shell. But for many of us, our go-to, strong emotional response is tears. I am one of those, so it is particularly meaningful to me that while some people, even myself at times, may cast shame on others for seeming weak when expressing strong emotion through tears, Mary Magdalene’s melt-down is not a problem for Jesus. He loves this imperfect, beautifully “human” human who weeps. He approaches her gently, not to alarm her, and then he simply speaks her name, and she knows it is him.
This time when I read this passage, I was reminded of some of the many times when I have been found weeping when it was time for rejoicing. I had a good cry at my own wedding reception and have broken down on many a Christmas. At times of emotional upheaval, I’ve been tempted, and have often fallen, to wallow in my shame and despair because I find myself still human. In my heart, I take on the names I give myself or fear others are giving me . . . Why am I such “a mess?”
This Easter, I find myself still very human. In fact, we all are, as were the apostles on the first Easter. St. Peter, despite having recently denied Jesus, is entrusted with the keys to the Kingdom. Mary Magdalene, the one-time outcast, is the first commissioned by Christ to share the Good News. Like these first followers, we have been chosen by Christ, despite our personal weakness. In turn, we can choose to listen to the voice of the one who loves us; we can listen to our name that is tenderly spoken by the one who died and has risen, by the one through whose power and love our lowliness is recreated.
Like Mary Magdalene, let us turn to Jesus and see the risen Lord for who he is—the one who loves us and calls us by name and sends us forth. Let us open our hearts and be transformed and empowered by the sanctifying and redeeming grace of the one who makes all things new.