As we’re making our way through The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault in Bible Study, I’ve been thinking about Mary Magdalene as we approach Holy Week. I took the above picture when on Sabbatical in the Holy Land in 2016. This picture is of an icon of Jesus and Mary (on Easter) located in a side chapel inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. We could think of it as a visual representation of the events in John 20:11-18, the famous story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene as she stood outside the empty tomb, weeping.
Bourgeault points out that all four Gospels tell that while the other disciples flee as Jesus is crucified, Mary stands firm. “She does not run, she does not betray or lie about her commitment; she witnesses. Hers is clearly a demonstration of either the deepest human love or the highest spiritual understanding of what Jesus was teaching, perhaps both. But why, one wonders, do the Holy Week liturgies tell and re-tell the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus, while the steady, unwavering witness of Magdalene is not even noticed?” (pg. 16)
We could point to centuries of sexism in the Christian Church.
We could ponder if Mary was actually Jesus’ favorite disciple and the others sought to silence her (some of the Gospels that never made it into the canon point in that direction).
We could wonder if it’s easier to follow Peter’s story because his is the more “human” reaction—denial and abandonment, rather than standing firm in the face of suffering.
Because it must have been excruciating for Mary Magdalene to stay, to position herself at the foot of the cross as Jesus suffered and died. Perhaps Mary being overlooked helps us remember that many people are overlooked or underestimated, even today.
Maybe sometimes we are the ones who overlook or underestimate others.
Or maybe sometimes we are the ones who are overlooked or underestimated.
Either way, my invitation as Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday is to stand firm beside Mary Magdalene and contemplate how God is still speaking to you and to me through these momentous events we will walk through together.
Photo by Rev. Lauren Lorincz.