First witness to the light - Madonna Magazine

First witness to the light

Nathan Ahearne 31 May 2024

The Gospels portray Mary Magdalene as close friend of Jesus, tower of strength, Apostle to the Apostles and first witness to the light of the resurrection. Her name reveals a glimpse of her importance among the disciples as alongside Peter the ‘Rock’ she holds her own as Mary the ‘Tower’ of faith.

In her book, After all this time. Reflections on Jesus, Anne Benjamin notes it was through Mary’s hardships and ultimately in her personal encounter with Jesus that she became the tower and beacon of light to the disciples in their darkest moment. Peter and Mary both had their share of demons to deal with before seeing clearly with the eyes of faith.

Why was Mary chosen to be the first witness to the resurrected Christ? Maybe it was her need to be near the friend she had followed so closely for several years. Did she have some special insight about Jesus the other disciples missed? Perhaps she wasn’t ready to let go. Only someone who had moved through the desolation Mary faced before her healing from seven demons (Mark 16:9-15), could continue to hope against hope in the days that followed the crucifixion.

Tolulope Ilesanmi puts it this way, ‘hope is not needed when there is hope, hope is needed when there is no hope’.

In John 20:1 we see Mary making her way to the tomb ‘while it was still dark’. It was Mary’s personal experience of darkness which called her to rise early and seek out the new dawn ‘the way, the truth and the life’ whom she had come to intimately know and love.

In a 2023 interview with Diana Butler Bass for Broadview magazine titled, ‘And also some women’ Elizabeth Schrader Polczer suggests that John’s Gospel contains ‘something about the spirit of truth that the world cannot receive, but also that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not understand it is there.’

It’s difficult to move against instinct and logic, but this is precisely Mary’s intuition observed by Anne Benjamin in her account of the first Easter morning . . .

impatient, restive
she ties up in a cloth
the balm and spices –
sleep belongs to those
who’ve reason to wake up
she makes her way
through empty darkness –
against the firestorm
of searing memories:
how he’d surprised her
with his words and actions,
his fierce resolve,
gentleness in healing,
the name he used for her
carrying sadness
from her cold hearth
like ash
she waits by his grave
blinded by the rising sun –
he calls her name
among the twisted olives
shadowing the tomb
sealed within grief she hears
only a stranger’s kindness
the question
stirs memories
of the lake –
who are you looking for?
his invitation to disciples
he calls, and she sees,
‘Rabbouni’ –
nothing further
needs be said
Anne Benjamin. After all this time. Reflections on Jesus, 2022)

Call and response are the cornerstones of vocation and mission. We see the movement of the Spirit in Mary’s personal encounter as her eyes began to open and adjust to the first light of the new dawn.

In her 2016 presentation to Boston College, Sr Sandra M Schneiders highlights the power of this two-word encounter in which Mary could now see and recognise who it was that was speaking to her. Just as Peter experienced three moments of denial and three moments of commitment, Mary also moved from a state blindness to renewed vision and clarity. Her response, ‘Rabbouni’ revealed the relationship they shared as teacher and student and signalled a moment of transition and the process of coming to faith.

The transformation process of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well and Mary Magdalene at the burial cave, was turbo charged by their encounter with Jesus, generating an immediate impulse to share the Good News, ‘Come and See’ (John 4:6-29) and ‘I have seen the Lord!’ (John 20:18).

The encounter shows Mary coming to terms with a new way of knowing and relating to Jesus and having achieved this, she makes the life-giving recognition of the Risen Lord available to others.

Sr Michele Connolly explains that this event took place in a society that did not value a woman’s witness and only a person of undisputable authority could do this. This encounter left no doubt in Mary’s mind or heart and it was this form of ‘authority’ (from the Latin auctoritas: to grow, increase in confidence) which earned her the title ‘Apostle to the Apostles’.

Mary Magdalene provides a clear example of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus as disciple, friend and brother and the importance of hope when all seems lost.

She was both the receiver and giver of the first light, called and sent to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus. This is our mission today. How does your life reflect the joy of seeing the Lord?