So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”– John 20:2
A couple of things come to mind about Mary Magdalene today. In pop culture she is presented as young, beautiful, often a former prostitute. But we really don’t know these things at all. We know Jesus cast some demons out of her and she became a loyal and much beloved follower. It is however, quite possible that she was an older woman, perhaps one of some wealth and means who helped to finance the disciples.
Mary Magdalene is often portrayed as a young, beautiful, the redeemed harlot, but these things are not even in the bible. They are really only speculation, legend, myth. We don’t even know how old she was. She could have been a widow or a merchant, a teen ager or a much older woman.
Mary is the first one Jesus Christ appears to after He has risen, after she finds the tomb empty. “Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” She does not recognize Jesus Christ until He says her name and then, suspended in that moment of time, Mary Magdalene alone becomes “the church.” She is the only person in the whole world who has born witness to the good news, to the resurrection. She alone carries the whole gospel in her hands. And Jesus says, go and tell my brothers.
We don’t really know how long Mary alone was “the church,” a few hours perhaps, but suspended right there in that moment, she was all there was. That is true of all of us, we are all Mary Magdalene at some random point in time, the only one carrying the Hope of the world inside of ourselves, for a fraction of a moment. There are moments in time where you become the only one someone sees when they are seeking Christ. That’s a huge responsibility.
Peter is my favorite disciple for a number of reasons, but one is that he listens to Mary. He is the one who comes to check out the empty tomb. The disciples are all grieving, not really believing, and Mary must go back to them with the simple news, “I have seen the Lord!”
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tell people, “I have seen the Lord!” but most of them will just look at you like you’re nuts. Sure you have, uh huh. Why would He even appear to you, of all people? He Himself said He would rise, it is in prophecy, but often seeing is believing. Most of the disciples actually had to see Jesus in the flesh in order to believe. Peter though, he listens. He is willing to at least check it out. How comforting that must have been to Mary, to no longer carry that burden alone.
Pop culture and books like the DaVinci Code often try to create strife between Mary Magdalene and Peter. There are elaborate conspiracy theories woven around the idea that Magdalene may have been Christ’s wife, that Peter hijacked her role, that she was bumped out of the story, edited out of the history of the early church in some kind of power struggle between men and women. I don’t get that impression at all.
Those are all modern interpretations of the story. If you think about it, power struggles within the very early church are pretty unlikely, given the fact that your discipleship was likely to just end in torture and death anyway. John is probably the only one who lived long enough to see the isle of Patmos. People seldom compete for poverty, low status, and the right to be on the wrong side of the authorities.
Women in the early church were actually not oppressed and edited out of the story as the modern world often tries to portray. You can read about Priscilla, Lydia, the woman with the purple cloth, Phoebe, in the bible, and hear Paul’s affection for them all in his many words, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe…..that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints..”
Women may well have been the very ones who carried and delivered Paul’s letters, just as Mary once carried the good news herself.