“Noli Me Tangere” (Touch Me Not) – Correggio (1534)
In Bishop Curry’s book Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus, he writes “We need some crazy Christians like Mary Magdalene and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Christians crazy enough to believe that God is real and that Jesus lives. Crazy enough to follow the radical way of the Gospel. Crazy enough to believe that the love of God is greater than all the powers of evil and death.”
Mary Magdalene, known as the “Apostle to the Apostles,” holds a special place in Christian history. Her devotion to Jesus was legendary. Mary was ever faithful to Jesus while others dropped away. She was there in the key moments of his ministry. She was a witness to the worst on Holy Week, his death on Good Friday and then first on that first Easter Sunday, the best. She was a leader in the early Church
Facts from Living Discipleship:Celebrating the Saints and The Anglican Compass:
- We know Mary was from Magdala in Galilee (thus the surname “Magdalene”).
- Luke reports that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (8:2). After her healing, rather than returning to her home, Mary Magdalene followed Jesus for the rest of his life and ministry. While she followed Jesus, she also helped provide financial support (Luke 8:1-3). Unlike most of the other disciples, she was present at his crucifixion, remaining faithfully with him as the others fled and hid (John 19:25). She then accompanies Jesus’ mother to bury the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:51); she is the only one of his followers who is there when his body is laid in the tomb (Mark 15:47).
- All four gospels report that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to Jesus’ Resurrection. As if that were not enough, she is the one who is commissioned by Jesus to go and tell the other disciples this good news (John 20:17-18, Mark 16:9-11). For this reason she is often called “the apostle to the apostles.” In John’s account, only Mary Magdalene is mentioned at the empty tomb that morning (John 20:11-18). As Mary prepares to leave, she has an incredible interaction with the risen Christ, whom she thinks is the gardener. But when Jesus calls her name, she immediately recognizes him and realizes he’s alive! Jesus instructs her to go and deliver a message to his “brothers.” Mary Magdalene finds the disciples and exclaims, “I have seen the Lord!” before passing on his message.
- From John -John 20:1-18 Early on Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”), before dawn, Mary Magdalene (witness to Jesus’ death and burial) comes to the tomb and finds that the “stone” door has been rolled back, so she and those with her (“we”, v. 2) tell “Peter and the other disciple” (traditionally thought to be John) that they suspect that someone has removed the body. The “other disciple”, apparently younger, outruns Peter (v. 5). But the orderliness of the “cloth” (v. 7) and “linen wrappings” show that the body has neither been stolen nor spiritualized. John, when he sees, comes to trust that God is active; by implication, Peter does not understand yet. They do not yet understand the significance of what is occurring (v. 9), of how it fits into God’s plan, because they have not yet fully received the Holy Spirit.
- She was also present at the Ascension. In Acts 1:14, after Jesus ascends to the Father, the apostles return to the upper room in Jerusalem to await the promised Holy Spirit. Luke mentions that they, along with the women, Mary (the mother of Jesus), and his brothers, were constantly praying. Mary Magdalene was among those present when the Holy Spirit descended.
- So what happened to Mary? Many believe that Mary Magdalene also became a leader in the early church, and her influence on some forms of Christianity lasted well into the fourth and fifth centuries. Some traditions propose that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Mary Magdalene followed the Beloved Disciple John to Ephesus, where she died. Another (late) tradition tells of her journey to France by way of boat with Lazarus where she lived as a penitent ascetic in a cave in Provence. During the Middle Ages, various churches arose, each with a unique legend and claiming to possess relics or tombs associated with Mary Magdalene.
- There are a whole lot of Marys in the New Testament! This makes it difficult to know who is being described in certain passages and has led to much confusion about Mary Magdalene. The extra-canonical Gospel of Philip captures this confusion well: “There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. For Mary is his sister and his mother and the one he is joined with” (59:6-11).
- Regardless, Mary is singled out as Magdalene in the New Testament twelve times, more often than most of the male apostles!
- Mary Magdalene’s special status as a close friend and benefactor of Jesus is supported amply by New Testament evidence. One significant text is the so-called Gospel of Mary. In this text, the disciples repeatedly affirm her status as someone whom Jesus loved more than all the other disciples. She is given a place of authority and teaches Peter, Andrew, Levi, and other followers about the mysteries of the kingdom of God. After Peter rebukes her, Levi replies, “Peter you have always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as he commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said. And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach” (9:6-10).
- It is commonly believed that Mary Magdalene was a repentant prostitute. In 591 AD, Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) preached a controversial sermon about Mary Magdalene. In his address, he merged Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the “sinful woman” who washed Jesus’ feet. Despite the Bible never specifying the sin of the “sinful woman,” Pope Gregory asserted it to be prostitution. This influential sermon established a link between Mary Magdalene, prostitution, sinfulness, and penitence, which the Western Christian tradition widely embraced.
- Although the New Testament in no way suggests that she was, some important early church fathers, notably Ephrem the Syrian and Saint Gregory the Great, depicted her as such, and the image stuck. Some have suggested that they did so intentionally out of spite, as Mary Magdalene was an important figure in some forms of heterodox Christianity.
- Thankfully, a growing movement to restore Mary Magdalene’s image as a faithful disciple in the Western Church has arisen. It emphasizes her significance within early Christian communities. Even Pope John Paul II issued a corrective statement on Mary Magdalene to right the wrongs done to her reputation.
- Celebrations for Mary. The Church has always revered Mary Magdalene as one of the faithful women present at the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Consequently, Christian art has depicted and commemorated these women since the 3rd century.
- The Miracle of the Red Egg. The Eastern Orthodox Church associates dyeing eggs red for Easter with Mary Magdalene. According to legend, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene traveled to Rome to share the Gospel with Emperor Tiberius. She gave the emperor an egg and explained to him that the egg was a perfect symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. The emperor was skeptical, responding that it was impossible for someone to rise from the dead, just as it was impossible for the egg in Mary Magdalene’s hand to turn red.
The egg miraculously turned red at that moment, shocking everyone who witnessed it. This miraculous event is said to have convinced the emperor of the truth of Mary Magdalene’s message, and he allowed her to continue her missionary work.
The remainder of the reading (vv. 11-18) concentrates on the experiences of the solitary Mary Magdalene in the garden: her weeping (v.11a); her sight of two angels inside the tomb and her response to their question about the cause of her tears (vv. 11b-13); her sudden sight of the ‘gardener’ whom she failed to recognize as Jesus (v.14); Jesus’s identical question to that of the angels, with the additional and significant, ‘Whom are you looking for?’ (v. 15a;) and Mary’s uncomprehending response (v.15b). She recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. But something has changed: they are in a new relationship: “do not hold on to me” (v. 17). Since he has not yet reached his goal of returning to the Father she must not cling to him or try to keep him to herself (v.17a). Significantly, Mary again becomes an ‘apostle to the apostles’, charge with a message of promise (ascension) as much as of fulfilment (resurrection), conveyed in a manner that highlights the deepened relationship his followers would enjoy with the risen, ascended Jesus as his brothers and sisters, and with the Father as his beloved children (vv.17b-18).
The Eastern Church refers to them as “The Myrrh-Bearers” because they carried myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body on the morning of the resurrection. Their celebration occurs on the third Sunday of Pascha (Easter), known as the “Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women.” Hymns and readings focus on their encounters with the risen Christ and their role in spreading the Good News of the resurrection. Icons of the myrrh-bearing women at the empty tomb are prominently displayed in Eastern churches.
The Western Church refers to them as “The Three Marys.” In several Catholic countries, especially Spain, the Philippines, and Latin America, processions on Good Friday include images of the three Marys (in Spanish, Tres Marías). Some regions in France and Italy also celebrate the Feast of the Three Marys.