“Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, restored Mary Magdalene to health and called her to be the first witness of His resurrection. Heal us from all our infirmities, and call us to know You in the power of Your Son’s unending life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
[Collect for St. Mary Magdalene]
July doesn’t seem to be the typical time of year to discuss the appearance of the Risen Christ to Mary Magdalene. But the Western Church Calendar places the Festival of St. Mary Magdalene on July 22. Her festival day prescribes the color white for the paraments. This is so because her festival day is tied to the work of Jesus Christ.
The work that Christ Jesus did for and through Mary Magdalene is the reason why the Church commemorates her on July 22. Unlike Dan Brown or recent New Testament scholars whose work has been dismissed by many in academia, the Church does not make audacious claims that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. Followers of Christ do not seek to find Mary Magdalene buried with Him in “Jesus’ Family Tomb” as a Discovery Channel “documentary” sought to unearth. No, the Church speaks of what the Scriptures reveal: the salvific work of the Son of God that took place in Mary’s life, especially her role as a witness to the Lord’s resurrection.
As the Gospel writers record, Mary Magdalene was a devout follower of Jesus. St. Luke’s Gospel identifies Mary as one of three women whom Jesus had healed from evil spirits and ailments, as was read last month in the Divine Service: “Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”(Lk 8:1-3) Because of this powerful and merciful act done by Jesus, Mary and the other two women helped to fund His and the disciples’ mission.
Moving forward to Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and other women who helped Jesus were present: “There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in
Mary’s discipleship reaches its pinnacle as she carries the first rumors of Jesus’ resurrection to the Eleven: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’”(Jn 20:1-2) But for Mary, these initial rumors of resurrection soon become fact. Seeing Jesus alive, hearing His voice, receiving His command, Mary goes and tells the disciples to meet Him in Galilee: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.” (Jn 20:17-18)
Mary is a witness to the resurrection, speaking of its majesty and glory to those who must hear it. Her hope in Christ is restored by His rising from the dead. Mary’s Easter witness story is captured in the medieval Latin Easter hymn, Victimae Paschali:
“Speak, Mary, declaring what you saw when wayfaring.”
“The tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting.
My Lord, my hope, is arisen; to
That witness is remembered by the Church forever, for in it we find our faith and hope, our way of life.
Receiving miraculous, powerful aid from Jesus; giving of her treasure to support His work; following Him in suffering, death, and resurrection; proclaiming Christ’s glory and power to others—that is the pattern of Mary’s life. And it is to be the outline of ours as well. As Jesus’ disciples, we are like Mary Magdalene: we have received His blessing, having our evil cast out of us; we give to support the mission of the Church on earth; we follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, even abandoning the things of this world and suffering for His sake; and we speak about the mighty acts of Christ done for us, so that others may receive the same benefits.
As with all the saints, we can learn from Mary Magdalene’s life. We can see what our lives of discipleship should look like, as Mary serves as a pattern for all of us. But more importantly, we look at her and remember what Jesus did—how He saved Mary from all evil and granted her everlasting life. When we do that, then we will also have our minds focused on the work Jesus has likewise done for us. And that leads us to remember that the lives of the saints are not primarily about them or us, but are really all about Him.