Saturday, April 07, 2018

"First to Mary Magdalene"

Mark's Gospel ends with a brief summary of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, starting with the very first: "to Mary Magdalene." It has become popular of late to make much of the fact that this flies in the face of patriarchy, and what are we to make of it, given that the Apostles were not the first ones privileged with the news of the Resurrection, but had to receive it from a woman, and so on.

It is true that for much of history, at least in the West, Mary has not received her due as "Apostle to the Apostles," and first evangelizer of the Resurrection. Thankfully that is beginning to change, as especially manifest in Pope Francis' raising her liturgical observance to the level of a Feast, on a par with that of the Apostles. This highlights the importance not only of Mary Magdalene, but of the lay apostolate in the Church which by its very nature ought to be more extensive than that of the hierarchy (which is at the service of the lay apostolate).

But today another thought came to me about the priority of Mary Magdalene in the order of Resurrection witnesses and the fact that the Apostles at first had to depend on her word for the news before the Risen One appeared to them and commissioned them explicitly to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel.

"Noli me tangere" from the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens.
What if Mary Magdalene is "first" yes, because she is a woman, not that this has anything to do with patriarchy or roles of men and women in the Church, but because this makes her a type or living symbol of the Church itself, the Bride of Christ who receives everything from the Bridegroom and "delivers" it to the world? Indeed I think John goes out of his way in hinting at this: the setting of the appearance in the garden evokes the Song of Songs, and when the Risen Christ appears, he does not first address his disciple by name, but as "Woman." Three other times in the Gospel of John a woman was addressed this way, and always in a context that can be seen as spousal: at Cana, at the well in Samaria (in the Old Testament the well was often a place where marriage partners met for the first time) and at the Cross, when the "Woman" was given a son. Now, in the Garden of a new creation, the Woman is entrusted with the Gospel: to be given to the Apostles, but meant for the world.

That the Apostles receive the Gospel from the Woman-Church demonstrates that they are not in charge of the message. They have received it; they are its stewards, docile to the Church in receiving the Gospel and, we can say, also in receiving the tradition which interprets the Gospel.

If that is the case for the Apostles, much more for ourselves! We close the Easter Octave tomorrow, continuing for 40 more days to celebrate the Resurrection in anticipation of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the one who equipped the Apostles to "go out into the whole creation" with the message they received "first from Mary Magdalene."