Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos sourced from Wikipedia
Mary Magdalene: First witness of Christ’s Resurrection. Everyone was still sleeping. But Mary Magdalene, along with other women – Mary the mother of James, and Salome (the mother of James and John) were already awake that early Sunday morning. They were all going to the burial site of Jesus Christ. Their main purpose: to sprinkle more spices on the corpse.
Jesus, as a result of cardiac arrest, when he was crucified, was buried on Friday afternoon. Since the following day was Sabbath, they were not allowed to do what they wanted to do. So, they planned to do it on a Sunday morning.
Just after sunrise, the women went to the tomb. They were completely surprised by what they saw. They were wondering among themselves who would roll away the stone for them from the entrance to the tomb when they looked up and saw that the stone, huge as it was, had been rolled back already.
When they entered the tomb, they saw that the corpse was no longer there. Instead, they met a young man (actually an angel disguising as such), who told them: “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.”
Mary Magdalene was shocked hearing those words. She never thought Jesus would be raised from the dead – as He told them before. Although she was completely surprised by the turn of the event, she was not altogether happy. Who would believe them – a bunch of women who witnessed the missing body?
The idea of women as primary witnesses does not seem very startling to people in the 20th century, but it was a revolutionary concept at the time. In first-century Palestine, women were on a shallow run of the social ladder. There are old rabbinical sayings that said, “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than delivered to women” and “Blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.”
Perhaps no figure in history is as controversial or mysterious as Mary Magdalene. Although there are some records about Jewish society in ancient Palestine 2,000 years ago, very little is known about Mary. The Bible provides no personal details of her age, status, or family.
Mary means “wise woman” or “lady.” It is a Greek form of the Hebrew “Miriam” or “Mariamme,” and was the most popular woman’s name at the time of Jesus. Mary came from a town called Magdala, on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. That was the reason why she was called Mary Magdalene.
Among the women who are specifically named in the New Testament, Mary Magdalene’s name is one of the most frequently found. In Matthew 27:56, the author names three women in sequence: “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.”
In the Gospel of Mark, the author lists a group of women three times, and each time, Mary Magdalene’s name appears first. Finally, in the Gospel of Luke, the author enumerates the women who went to the tomb of Jesus, writing that, “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them,” which once again places Mary Magdalene at the head of the list.
The story of Mary Magdalene contains four different episodes. The Bible first featured her in Luke 8:1-3 as the leader of a group of women who provided for Jesus and his follower their own financial resources.
Mary figured prominently on the last days of Jesus Christ. She was present at the crucifixion. In each of the four accounts, Mary was there, either standing at a distance with other women or standing near the cross.
After Jesus died, she watched as the dead body was sealed inside the tomb. She could confirm that he was really dead. She wanted to put the spices needed for the proper burial of the body but could not do so.
According to Jewish law, ointments and spices could not be bought or sold on the Sabbath. Jesus’ death had been sudden, unexpected. The women did not have the necessary burial spices. So, they waited until the Sabbath was over, bought the spices, and went to the tomb on that early Sunday morning.
And that was the reason why Mary Magdalene and the rest of the women witnessed the resurrection. When Mary saw the tomb was empty, she had a profound revelation where she “saw” and “heard” Jesus. She understood in a way that is not easily explained that Jesus was no longer dead but alive. She experienced a message from God that gave her an unshakeable conviction that Jesus lived.
As recorded in the New Testament, the resurrection became one of the most compelling doctrines of Christianity because, according to this doctrine, by rising from the dead, Jesus gave humanity hope of a life after death.
“The resurrection was undoubtedly the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning,” explained Dr. Gary Habermas, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry. “The earliest Christians didn’t endorse Jesus’ teachings; they were convinced they had seen him alive after his crucifixion. That’s what changed their lives and started the church.”
Theologian Gerald O’Collins puts it this way: “In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all.”
Mary Magdalene was commissioned by the angel to “go and tell,” as an apostle to the apostles.
Throughout the centuries, Mary Magdalene was wrongly portrayed in literature and art as a reformed prostitute. This happened because of several things:
One, Mary Magdalene was confused with the woman with the alabaster jar, described in Luke 7:36-50; the story of this other woman came just before Mary Magdalene is first mentioned.
The woman with the alabaster jar was called a “sinner,” but there was no reason to think that she was a prostitute; in fact, when Luke describes an actual prostitute in 15:30, he uses a different word.
Mary Magdalene was described as having a serious illness, but the nature of the illness was unspecified; later celibate male writers linked Mary’s illness, her “demons,” with her sexuality – which may have been a comment about their own demons, rather than Mary’s.
Finally, Mary Magdalene was traditionally presented as the sinful woman, a perfect foil for Mary of Nazareth, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ.
It was because of this association of Mary as a prostitute that she became the patroness of “wayward women,” and “Magdalene houses” became established to help save women from prostitution.
“The portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute began after a series of Easter sermons delivered in 591, when Pope Gregory I conflated Mary Magdalene, who is introduced in Luke 8:2, with Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:39) and the unnamed ‘sinful woman’ who anoints Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:36-50. This resulted in a widespread belief that she was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman,” Wikipedia states.
For centuries, it has been the custom of many Christians to share dyed and painted eggs, particularly on Easter Sunday. The eggs represent new life and Christ bursting forth from the tomb.
One tradition concerning Mary Magdalene says that, following the death and resurrection of Jesus, she used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed, “Christ is risen!”
Caesar laughed and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.