When Jesus said Mary Magdalene’s name, she was moved to follow him wherever he went, even to the cross and grave
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him…. Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”] which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her. (John 20:1-2, 11-18)
Mary Magdalene had been plagued by demons, and Jesus healed her. With gratitude, she joined the band of women who care for him (Luke 8:2-3) and was among those who followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem (Matthew 27:55-56), hearing his word every day and seeing his miracles. Finally, while many fled in fear, Mary Magdalene stood loyally near the cross—a true disciple to the end—and watched as Jesus shed his blood (John 19:25). But even that courageous act was not enough to satisfy her devotion.
Grief-stricken, Mary went to mourn at Jesus’ grave, just to be close to his body. But sorrow was turned into joy when she encountered first an empty tomb and then Jesus, risen from the dead! Calling her by name, Jesus freed Mary again—this time from the despair that had overcome her as she watched him die. With a single word, “Mary,” Jesus revived her. Mary’s reply, “Rabboni!” or “Master!” contained not only relief and joy, but a pledge of faith in him and in his resurrection (John 20:16).
Jesus appeared not to the priests and rulers of Israel, not even to the men he had chosen as his closest companions, but to a woman with a disturbed past. What a great reward Mary Magdalene received! She was the first witness of the resurrection. Sharing her astonishing news with the other disciples, Mary became the “apostle to the apostles,” a title preserved in the Byzantine tradition. She was the first herald of the resurrection.
Once again, God revealed himself to the lowly, to someone we would least expect. Whatever demonic bondage Mary had suffered—whether she had been mentally ill, trapped in sin, or afflicted with a debilitating illness like epilepsy—it did not matter to Jesus. Neither does he hold our past against us.
Jesus came for just this reason, to deliver us from the shame and sins of our past and to reconcile us with the Father. He calls us each by name to share in eternal life with him and transforms us through the power of his Holy Spirit so that we too can be witnesses to his resurrection.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Mary Magdalene followed Jesus wherever he went—even to the cross and to the grave. Spend some time today in prayer thanking Jesus for calling you as well. Tell him you will follow him wherever he leads.
Is there something in your past that continues to plague you and fill you with shame? Surrender it to Jesus at the foot of the cross. Hear Jesus say your name with the same compassion and love that he expressed when he said Mary’s name. Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11), and chose a woman with a questionable past to be the first person on earth to witness his resurrection. Jesus obviously saw the dignity of each human being with whom he came into contact. Are you open to associating with those who are considered outcasts? Can you share the good news with them? Do you see in each person, no matter what their station in life, their God-given dignity?
Pray today, O Jesus, risen Lord and Savior, you are the hope of glory! My heart rejoices at the sound of your voice. Thank you for awakening new hope in me and lifting me up to new life in you.
This is a selection from A Year of Celebration: Experiencing God through the Feast Days of the Church, ed. Patricia Mitchell (The Word Among Us Press, 2001).