(first published in April, 2011)
There is a wonderful term for the women who prepared Jesus’ body for burial – the Myrrhbearing Women. These were the women, including Mary Magdalene, who faithfully followed Jesus in his final troubled days, stood at the foot of his cross, and were the first to find him missing from the tomb and witness his resurrection. The Orthodox Church celebrates The Sunday of the Myrrhbearers as their Second Sunday of Easter.
But for those in the non-Orthodox traditions, this Second Sunday of Easter is known as “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. How very different, and yet equally worthy, are their approaches to the risen Jesus. Skepticism has a place in any thinking person’s approach to religion after all. Thomas needed proof, while Mary simply believed. There is value in both.
I’m embarrassed to admit that my knowledge of Mary Magdalene was originally shaped more by Jesus Christ Superstar and the song she sang in that musical, I don’t know how to love him, with its suggestive lyric, he’s just one more. She was never actually identified as a prostitute in the Bible, but apparently it was broadly hinted at in a sermon given by Pope Gregory I in the late 6th century, and the Roman Catholic Church found it convenient to portray her as a fallen woman who repented, while the Orthodox church saw her as a virtuous one throughout her life. (How the medieval church viewed women is another whole topic, far beyond anything I can authoritatively write about, but my gut tells me that Mary Magdalene has been unfairly framed as a prostitute, and beyond that, becoming a prostitute is hardly a choice any woman freely makes.)
Virtuous or repentant? I have no need to make that judgment, but am inspired by the idea of showing love by simply showing up, which I see as the essence of Mary Magdalene’s part in the Easter narrative. There is much music that takes up her story, including this lovely work by 17th century Mexican composer Francisco López Capillas: with its text:
Alleluia. Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
I saw the tomb of Christ the living, and the glory of the risen one.
I saw the angel witnesses, and the sheet and clothes.
Christ, my hope, is risen: he will go before you into Galilee.
We know that Christ is truly risen from the dead: have mercy upon us,
thou triumphant King. Amen. Alleluia.
Thomas also has his story told in music, found in The Hymnal 1982 at 206, v. 3:
When Thomas first the tidings heard,
how they had seen the risen Lord,
he doubted the disciples’ word. Alleluia.
On any given day we might waver between Mary’s belief and Thomas’ doubts. How fortunate to have both to lead us on our faith journeys.