A Take on Mary Magdalene for Passion Week

We stepped out the church doors into the mild winter evening and my two-year-old son, Basil, burst into tears.

“I didn’t do it well!” he sobbed.

“What? What didn’t you do well?”

“The high five. I didn’t do it well!”

“Oh. Do you just need to be sad? Or do you need to go back and try again?”

“I need to go back and try again.”

“Okay, then.”

My husband took Basil back inside the church.

“I’m sorry,” he said to the pastor who was standing by the doors to greet the congregants on their way out. “My son really needs to try that high five again.”

Smiling she raised her right arm and enthusiastically high-fived Basil. He beamed. Tattooed on the pastor’s forearm is a portrait of Mary Magdalene. When asked why (not by us), she responds, “I guess to remind myself that I have the authority to do this.”

I realize that my cute story just took a really sharp turn and may have landed you smack in a puddle of discomfort if not a pile of questions. I’ve been there. But I believe that the sacred scriptures tell a story, a redemptive one, and not just for the redemption of our souls. Let’s follow a very rough recount of this story.

Man and woman are partnered in the garden in peace and with purpose, but then everything falls apart. As a result of the curse the man rules over his wife (Genesis 3:16). Patriarchy becomes a way of life, of organizing and cataloguing people groups, embedded in culture, inherited by tradition, generally unchallenged and exported. We modern folk inherit a form of it and become progressively uncomfortable with some of the inherent abuses and inequities, so we liberate and assume that what remains is as God intended it because it is in the letters of the brilliant apostle Paul. But some theologians have postulated that during his times and in his places, Paul’s teachings and writings were radically progressive, particularly for women.

Could there be more good news for us? An exhilarating curse-crushing crux of the story?

In another garden the most significant moment in a real relationship between a man and a woman is a new thing. Mary Magdalene is weeping, alone now, outside of the empty tomb. She’s already spoken with angels. Peter and John have been there and gone away. The other women have left, but Mary Magdalene…where else would she go? Even now, she knows there is life nowhere else.

“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said. (Luke 20:15-16, NLT)

And she knew him. She knew the sound of her name on her Savior’s lips. As the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus, he instructed her to go find the men and give them a message. She found them and announcing, “I have seen the Lord!” she gave them his message (17-18).

Mary Magdalene isn’t edgy because she had seven demons and maybe a past, or because she wasted her money and affections as a loyal disciple and financial supporter of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is as sharp as steel because she showed up when there was nothing left to show up for, she encountered and she believed. And believing she didn’t hold back. We don’t derive authority from Mary Magdalene; ours comes from the same place any believer’s comes from: God who in the person of Jesus Christ made himself known to us and dwells in us by His Spirit. We see it modeled in Mary Magdalene.

So, do whatever it is that you do. Bless the children, be excellent in your work, pursue knowledge, think, question, ask for what you need, own a mistake or failure, make a change, speak up when you know something to be true, teach it at the kitchen table or from a podium. And listen. Listen for the sound of your name on the Savior’s lips and his instructions for you that are bursting with newness and life. And then go do it, with authority.

How do you hold back? What would you do if you knew you had the authority to do it?

Photo Credit: mnd.ctrl via Compfight cc

18 Comments

  1. morielle April 15, 2014

    “Mary Magdalene is as sharp as steel because she showed up when there was nothing left to show up for, she encountered and she believed. And believing she didn’t hold back. ” Wow . Yes.  Also, in relation to your last question: We don’t have a preacher in the group of believers I meet with. We just sort of look around and ask, “So, who’s got something to say?” when the “preaching” bit of our meeting comes around. I’ve been getting all these ideas of scriptures it seems the group needs to hear — but I’m scared (I don’t feel wise enough, fluent enough in Chinese, able enough to relate to these people with backgrounds and ways of thinking so different from my own). But, what if I’m feeling these tugs in my heart because God wants to bless one or more of my brothers and sisters through my words? I think I need to prepare these ideas into short messages, so that if today I hear His Voice asking me to stand up and share, I can.

    1. Kimberly Todd April 16, 2014

      And with that you put hands and feet on this and sent it walking on down the road. I’m in your corner.

  2. Amy Young April 15, 2014

    You know I’m taken with the idea of the Garden of Eden — and Eden Lost and Eden Regained! “Believing she didn’t hold back.” Oh the twisted irony it was through doubting and listening to a lie we’ve been exiled from Eden. But we weren’t left in our exile!

    How do I hold back? By being afraid of rocking the boat.

    1. Kimberly Todd April 16, 2014

      Me too, friend. Me too.

    2. Elisa April 16, 2014

      Me three.  I too hold back by being afraid of rocking the boat.  The hardest thing for me is letting go of the fear sometimes or letting go of the desire to rock the boat, other times.  How can I tell difference between when He is nudging me to “rock the boat” and when he is saying, “Elisa, let me be the one to rock this boat.  You leave it to me.”  This is the tension I feel like I live in.

  3. Elizabeth April 16, 2014

    I love how Jesus treated women! And I used to really dislike Paul, because I thought he was oppressive and disdainful of women. Then I studied more and realized that he was actually completely overhauling the system of the day. I guess he wasn’t as different from Jesus as I had previously thought. So now I like Paul. Which is convenient, because I’d hate to have to overlook all his teachings on Grace simply because I didn’t like *him*.

    And I love these two garden scenes — the one before the Fall, before Patriarchy, when things were right, just as they had been created, and the one after the Incarnation, after the Resurrection, when things were made right again. Beautiful picture. Thank you for putting them together.

    1. Kimberly Todd April 16, 2014

      That was my experience, too, Elizabeth. There was a disconnect in my heart because I couldn’t figure out why we were going backwards in Paul’s letters after Jesus turned everything on its head. I marvel still that we the Church can be soooo slow to set the marginalized free indeed, but I am also convinced that Christ is still redeeming and will until the good work is finished.

  4. Danielle Wheeler April 16, 2014

    I held back for quite a few years, believing my role to be in the home.  And it most definitely is.  But God’s been taking me on a journey these last few years, a journey of unearthing my voice and finding the courage to share it.  I too have wrestled with these passages.  But I am coming to celebrate the redemptive curse-crushing.

    1. Kimberly Todd April 16, 2014

      I am so glad because this space is born out of that journey, and I wouldn’t have guessed that it would mean as much to me as it does.

      1. Elisa April 16, 2014

        Kim, once again I have to “second that!” on what you said about this space meaning as much as it does to you.  I wouldn’t have guessed it myself.  But it’s been an amazing place to dig in deep to the Word with all of you hear.  I’m so grateful for how He brought VA into being!

  5. Ruth April 16, 2014

    Love this.  While I had always believed in equality of women in the Bible, when I realized the significance of the resurrected Jesus’ first entrusting the good news to Mary Magdalene and the women at the tomb – it just conveys such value, and like you said, authority as well.  Having trouble actually making thoughts into complete sentences and such since it’s SO late (9pm), but I love pondering Mary Magdalene and remembering her part in the story.

    1. Kimberly Todd April 16, 2014

      You crack me up. Do I see a Mary Magdalene tattoo in your future? 😉

  6. Elisa April 16, 2014

    Kim, thanks for sharing this post.  I loved how you connected the story of the re-do high five with the beauty of our identity in Him through the story of Mary Magdalene.  The second time reading it though, I was struck by “And Listen.  Listen for the sound of your name on the Savior’s lips and his instructions for you that are bursting with newness and life.”Our doing cannot be separate from listening to Him. For me that means I often have to be still, wait, and listen before I “do” anything else.

    1. Kimberly Todd April 17, 2014

      Right. And leave space to wait in uncertainty at times.

  7. Sally Todd April 17, 2014

    oh the JOY of the resurrected life! To know release from every structure that binds men and women alike and to be free to be sent out under HIS authority.  You have touched a deep cord again Kim…

  8. Kimberly Todd April 17, 2014

    Yes, and given the truth that we are inextricably connected to one another, propping up the structures that bind does no one any favors.

  9. laura r April 4, 2015

    A year later….  and still having my life changed by Mary Magdalene.   A friend just sent me this quote the other day and I was reminded of this blog post.

    DIVINE EROS “All four gospels insist that WHEN ALL THE OTHER DISCIPLES ARE FLEEING, MARY MAGDELENE DOES NOT RUN. SHE STANDS FIRM. SHE DOES NOT BETRAY OR LIE ABOUT HER COMMTMENTS TO JESUS —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 Holy Week liturgies tell and re-tell the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus, while the steady and unwavering witness of Magdalene is passed over–not even noticed? How would our understanding of the paschal story change if instead of reflecting upon Jesus dying alone and rejected if we were to reinforce the fact that one person stood by him and did not leave? For this story of Mary Magdalene is as firmly stated in scripture as the denial story. How would this change the emotional timbre of the day? How would it affect our feeling of ourselves? How would it reflect upon how we have viewed, and still view, women in the church? About the nature of redemptive love?” Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal Priest

    1. Kimberly Todd April 4, 2015

      Thanks for resurrecting this conversation, Laura. There are some very poignant questions in that quote.

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