Mary Magdalene’s Encounter with the Risen Jesus

This is the first week of an Easter series on the Resurrection. This week, we encounter the Risen Jesus from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.

By: Rev. Robert Wagner, Secretary to Bishop Loverde

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear that a group of women who ministered to Jesus while he preached throughout Galilee had gathered on Calvary at His crucifixion and burial. Among them was Mary Magdalene. As Matthew describes the burial of Our Lord, we get a glimpse of how emotional this experience was for her. After a huge stone was rolled in front of the tomb and everyone departed, she “remained sitting there, facing the tomb” with Mary Salome, wife of Zebedee. We can only imagine the great sorrow that kept her there as the sky grew darker, stunned by the death of her Lord.

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The next time we hear from Mary Magdalene is on Easter morning when, according to the Gospel of John, she went to the tomb while it was still dark – so great was her desire to be with Jesus, even in death. When she arrived, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty, so she ran to tell the Apostles. She accompanied Peter and John as they, too, inspected the empty tomb in disbelief, “for they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” The two Apostles returned home, and again, Mary Magdalene remained behind at the tomb. As she wept, Jesus appeared to her. She confused Him for a gardener until He spoke her name, “Mary.” In her excitement, she must have thrown herself at His feet and embraced them, for Jesus rebuked her, saying, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

This response seems so cold! Why would Jesus command that she not cling to Him, when she was obviously overwhelmed by seeing Him again in the flesh?

Perhaps it is because Mary Magdalene was clinging to Jesus in a way that was reminiscent of their relationship before the Resurrection, and the Resurrection changes everything! Jesus was going to ascend into heaven, which would change the way Mary Magdalene could encounter Him. He was not abandoning her. He was embracing her, even after His Ascension.

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Now, she would encounter Him in His Church, where He is the Head and we are the Mystical Body. Now she would experience Him in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, in a way that she never could when she walked with Jesus in Galilee. Now she would be united to Him in her suffering and pain, which she could offer through His merits for her salvation and the salvation of the world. Now she would encounter Him in Scripture and prayer, her experience lifted up and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, sent by Jesus to unite and give life to His Church. Now she would be united to Jesus in those she served, in those with whom she worshiped, and in everyone – including the saints and angels – with whom she shared her life in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. No, Jesus was not abandoning her.

Today, we have the advantage of 2,000 years of reflecting on, and living out, the radical transformation of the Church that came about through the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, we know there are still times when we long to experience Him in the flesh, as Mary Magdalene and the Apostles did. We desire to talk to Him as one person speaks to another. We desire to see Him reach out and touch those who are ill, or blind, or possessed, or broken in any way, and free them from what keeps them bound. We desire to grasp Him in a reverent embrace, as Mary Magdalene did, longing for such an intimate encounter. These are all real desires, inspired by the daily encounters we have with those we love. Yet Jesus, who promises to remain with us always, offers us even more – an intimate encounter within His Living Mystical Body, the Church. Let us pray that He may increase our faith and understanding that we may always know to find Him there, that He may teach us, strengthen us, and save us through our encounters with Him in this life.

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