One Way becomes Another

Apr 17, 2022

The Resurrection of our Lord
Text: John 20:1-18
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Mary Magdalene is the ONE, she is the focus of the Easter story from the Gospel of John. Well…Jesus, is too, of course…but it is Mary Magdalene on whom the spotlight shines. Well… I guess I must amend that statement too, because in John’s Gospel the day we call Easter begins in darkness. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark….”
     The narrative is oh, so, understated; there is no pulling out all the stops on the organ or blowing the trumpet for this Gospel writer, as is true of Matthew’s account in which there is an earthquake, an angel whose appearance was like lightening descending from heaven and fainting guards. Mary is alone, she finds her way to the tomb.
     Unlike the other Gospels which describe the purpose of the women’s early errand as, “bringing spices so that they might anoint him,” it’s not clear what Mary Magdalene intends to do once she arrives. Perhaps she is simply going to mourn at the grave of her loved one. As soon as she sees that the stone blocking the tomb’s entrance has been removed, she believes something horrible has happened; the tomb has been tampered with, and without investigating further she runs for help.
     So, Peter, and presumably John, appear on the scene and investigate, noting that the stone has been moved and the tomb is empty except for the burial wrappings. How odd it is that they are still there, neatly folded. Would grave robbers have bothered to unwrap the body and leave everything neatly behind? In any case, it is noted in the text that John believes – at this point probably not that Jesus was raised from death to life, but that Mary’s report was true and that something odd was going on. Just like that, home they go!
     But what about Mary Magdalene? She is still there, weeping. Easter has begun in darkness, confusion and tears. But that is not the end of the story. She looks into the tomb and sees angels – why didn’t they appear to Peter and John? Were they intended just for her? Then, she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. Twice she is asked why she is weeping, and twice she responds that she seeks her Lord’s missing body. Can either the angels or the gardener help her find him?
     Then…Jesus identity becomes clear as he says her name … “Mary!” Why Mary Magdalene? Why is she the one mentioned in all four Gospels as being at the tomb? Why this woman in a culture where women were without power or value?
     Of course, we do not know why; we can surmise that Mary had been so touched, so transformed by Jesus, and he was so trusting of her faith and her love for him, that she was honored, blessed with the role of proclaiming (preaching) the first Easter sermon. “I have seen the Lord,” she told the disciples, and then shared with them her encounter with Jesus.
     In the Bible, the only background given about Mary Magdalene is in Luke 8, where it says that she and other women, along with the 12 disciples, were with Jesus as he went through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The women, Luke says, had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities; seven demons had gone out of Mary, called Magdalene. She was present at the crucifixion, faithful to the end, or so she thought.
     Those of us who have been watching the TV series, “The Chosen”, can easily grasp that Mary Magdalene is unique among Jesus’ followers. She is portrayed as having been freed by Jesus from the oppression of emotional and physical trauma, the result of loss, violence and suffering. Mary frequently shows wisdom, insight and faith that the other disciples lack.
     The actress, Elizabeth Tabish, who is in the role of Mary Magdalene (her photo is in the bulletin) is bringing her alive for thousands of viewers. But here is the interesting thing – just before being cast as Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth Tabish had endured depression and was planning on quitting acting.
     She felt loss and despair, according to an interview with her in the “World” publication. In fact, she had told her manager to stop submitting her name for parts; but he did so for “The Chosen” without telling her. “Thank God he did”, she said in an on-line interview. When she auditioned, she was immediately recognized by the series’ creator as “the one” for the part.
     So it was that as the Mary Magdalene character experienced transformation, so did the woman portraying her. I’ll quote her, “I’ve been able to work through my own hurt or pain or past, and this role has taught me some things about myself.” She has a sense of, “I belong here. I’m supposed to be here,” she said. (1)
     Just as Jesus took the weight of trauma away from Mary Magdalene in the series, and that made a difference in her life, the same was true for Elizabeth Tabish. “It has been life-changing for me,” she said. Or, as Mary Magdalene says in the first episode when asked about her healing, “I was one way, and now I am another.”
     Perhaps in that 21st century portrayal, we find a hint of the truth concerning the question, “Why Mary Magdalene?” She experienced the power of the resurrection both before and after Jesus was raised from the dead. Indeed, that can be true for any of us.
     Easter often arrives while it is still dark. It comes to the real world in which we live. In the midst of our own darkness and sorrows, to a world still torn apart by war and its terrible aftermath, it IS Easter. As commentator Scott Hoezee notes, “Somewhere in the shadows of your life, and my life, a truly risen Savior is lurking, bursting with new life. The darkness of this world does not have to lift completely … for the truth of Easter to be available. It’s here. It’s now.” (2)
     The Easter promise of light and life in the face of darkness and death means that for Mary Magdalene and all of us, “(Life) was one way, and now is another way”. Thanks be to God!
     “He is Risen!” (He is risen indeed!) AMEN
(1) “Portraying a Biblical Woman with Depth and Integrity” by Sharon Dierberger, “World”, July 20, 2021
(2) “Easter: While It Was Still Dark” by Scott Hoezee,