Easter Through the Eyes of St. Mary Magdalene

Seeing Easter through her eyes also reminds us that one day we too will meet Jesus face-to-face.

Fritz von Uhde, “Noli Me Tangere,” 1894
Fritz von Uhde, “Noli Me Tangere,” 1894 (photo: Public Domain)

On St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day, we read from the Song of Songs at Mass: “I will rise and will go about the city; in the streets and the broad ways I will seek Him Whom my soul loves.” And then: “I found Him, Whom my soul loves; I held Him, and I will not let Him go.” These words remind us of the day when Mary went to the garden to anoint Jesus’ body.

She has always been one of my favorite saints, because like her, I have a checkered past. In my college years, I turned my back on God and committed too many sins to count. Many demons were prowling around in my life, which led me to atheism and radical feminism. In my 40s, I had a conversion experience, when the Good Shepherd followed me to the cliff I was perched on, and carried me gently back to the fold. How merciful he was to heal me and forgive me for abandoning him!

Some people assume Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, although there’s not a shred of biblical evidence to prove this. True, she is described in the gospels as someone from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, but her specific sins aren’t mentioned. When the Good Shepherd healed her, she had a total conversion experience. She abandoned her old way of life and became his faithful friend until the end, and beyond.

All the apostles except John abandoned Jesus when he was crucified, but Mary Magdalene stood faithfully beneath the cross with John, along with the Blessed Virgin and other women. She had the heart-wrenching experience of watching her beloved friend bleeding and broken, as he died from asphyxiation. But she also was an eyewitness to the most outstanding act of mercy in recorded history, when Jesus forgave the brutes who tortured and killed him.

Whenever I read about Mary Magdalene rushing to the tomb and finding it empty, I imagine how terrifying and upsetting that would be. I imagine myself driving to the cemetery where my husband is buried, and discovering someone had dug up his grave. I would be beside myself with grief and fear. We are told that she wept, and I can almost hear the deep, desperate sobbing.

Mary didn’t realize Jesus was standing nearby, witnessing her sorrow, and waiting to comfort her. How perfect that she doesn’t recognize Jesus and thinks he’s the gardener. After all, God created our first parents in a garden, and Jesus wept bloody tears in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus at first addresses her informally, calling her “woman.” He asks two poignant questions: “Why are you weeping?” and “Whom are you looking for?”

Mary is worried this gardener might have taken away Jesus’ body. “Tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Again, I return to the scene in the cemetery in my imagination. If there were a man nearby, I might suspect he was involved in the desecration of my husband’s grave. It would take courage to talk with him, but, like Mary, I would desperately want to make things right.

Jesus once said the sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice, and will only follow that sound. Now the Good Shepherd speaks her name, “Mary,” and she immediately knows who he is. She says one word to him, which is filled with wonder and love: “Rabboni.”

Realizing this man is Jesus, her dear friend, she wants to hold onto him, of course!

If it were my husband standing there, I would embrace him tightly, and beg him to never leave again. But this wasn’t part of Jesus’ plan, which is why he tells Mary not to touch him. His mission isn’t over. He still has to ascend to the Father, and doesn’t want to be held back.

Jesus gives her a vital mission: “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” I can imagine the joy I would feel if I discovered my husband were still alive — and the speed with which I would rush to see my friends. I can imagine how breathless Mary would be after running to deliver the news: “I have seen the Lord.”

Seeing Easter through Mary Magdalene’s eyes helps us experience the tremendous amazement and joy that came from her encounter with Jesus. Seeing Easter through her eyes also reminds us that one day we too will meet Jesus face-to-face.

Let’s pray to taste this same amazement and joy on Easter morning, when we meet Jesus within the gardens of our souls. Let’s answer his question, “Whom are you looking for?” with the simple words, “You, my beloved Lord Jesus!”