Tumbling in the Sand
“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” – John 20:18
I’m sure there was a good reason. At least I hope there was. But, I have to say, it looks pretty bad. I mean, “they” (I really don’t know who decides these things) made an intentional effort (and gave resources for support) to keep the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24) on the Sunday that it fell on, but “they” chose to transfer the Feast of Mary Magdalene (July 22) to the Monday after the Sunday that it fell on (which is a legitimate frequently used option for “lesser” feast days, to be sure).
I’m sure this inconsistency in treatment of these feast days has something to do with the way that John’s birth provides a mirror for Jesus’ in that it is celebrated near the longest day of the year. And so, from John’s birth onward, the days get shorter until the birth of Jesus (that whole “I must decrease so that he might increase” thing, which the liturgical calendar so nicely echoes, at least in the northern hemisphere). So John’s nativity is viewed as more important.
However, this is only a guess and I am unsure what the full reasoning is, but I can tell you what it looks like to me: it looks like the Church is still uncomfortable with women. It looks like the church is still more interested in celebrating the prophetic lives of men than the apostolic words of women. It looks like the church still doesn’t like the idea that a woman was the apostle to the apostles—that a woman was the first witness of the resurrection and the first to speak the amazing gospel words, “I have seen the Lord!” That’s what it looks like.
(I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, seeing as how the church has had a long history of discomfort with Mary Magdalene. She reveals the obvious: the fact that women can be disciples, apostles even, but the church and society are bothered by that. People seem so uncomfortable with women not being sex objects that they again and again sexualize Mary’s role into that of a reformed prostitute or Jesus’ lover to name two “favorites” that have no biblical foundation whatsoever.)
And so, it reminds me how far we still have to go as a church: that we are still in continual need of repentance for the way that we do not see the divine in some as clearly as we do in others; that we ignore some while raising up others; that we are a broken community, warped by our history and by our cultural context (which also does not genuinely value women). We have a long way to go as a community of faith that tries to live the witness that Mary brought us and walk the way that Jesus taught us.
The other thing this does for me is to make me wonder about all of the people that I might dismiss as bearers of the gospel: people who I think might not be worthy of speaking the good news; people that I have trouble hearing the word of God from. I’m sure you have some of those people in your life. We do get these crazy ideas about who God can use and who God can’t use as though God were somehow limited to a certain type of upright, straight, masculine, in-charge-type of person or some extra calm, meditative, spiritual-guru-type.
But if Mary of Magdala can teach us anything at all, it should be that God is not interested in parsing out who is worthy to speak the good news—no, Jesus comes to those who really need the good news and they become the ones who declare it to everyone else. Who more than Mary—desperate for any presence of Jesus—needed to hear the news that her Lord, her teacher, was alive? Who needed to know the freedom of the resurrection more than the one who would not leave the tomb until she had done the duty that death and loyalty required of her? Who, more than Mary, needed to have her question and wondering listened to and embraced by a resurrected Christ? Who, more than Mary? Perhaps not yet Peter and the other disciple racing to the tomb to see who could be first, who was really the best. Perhaps not yet the disciples who glanced in the tomb and turned away upon seeing nothing. But rather, it was the one who lingered, the one who wept, the one who questioned, the one who listened, the one who needed to hear her name. And that is how God comes to each of us, isn’t it? Not when we do it ourselves. Not when we have the answers. Not when we are too quick to bother listening, but when we feel lost and alone, when we only have tears and pleading, when we find ourselves listening to the one we least expect to be the voice of the resurrected One.