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© Matthew Septimus 2011


I’ve always loved Easter. As a child, I divided the chapters of my Bible storybook to extend across Holy Week, reading each event on the day that it occurred. I recognize that the gospels are not a history lesson, but a bridge to truths otherwise beyond our comprehension.

I’ve also learned that the Easter story doesn’t revolve around crucifixion, an empty tomb, or even the glory of a resurrected spirit. It revolves around Mary Magdalene.

The Gospel of John tells of Mary going to the tomb in the darkness of early morning. Already we’re given the powerful image of a woman walking alone through dark streets and among hillside graves. Finding the tomb empty, she hurries to tell Peter and John, and returns with them so they can verify her story. As they rush off to report the news, she hangs back, to mourn.

In her grief, Mary sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for a gardener. He even speaks to her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Still she can’t allow herself the truth.

It’s not until He says her name that she cries out in recognition. In that world-shifting moment, she doesn’t call him “Savior” or “Christ” or even “Jesus.” She calls him “Rabboni.” In a telling parenthetical, the gospel’s author reminds us that the word means “teacher.”

These few lines from the Gospel of John hold great meaning for us. It’s a woman who rises early and walks through darkness to visit the tomb. It’s a woman who stays to mourn, unafraid of her grief. And it’s this particular woman, shunned by society, who is first called by the risen Jesus.

The denominations that still deny women their place at the altar, might take another look at John 20.

But the story holds an even deeper significance, for Mary represents all of us. We are slow to see, slow to consider the truths that challenge the comfortable limits of our understanding. And perhaps we all need to hear our name spoken — to be called — before we can recognize the opportunity that stands before us.

Most important, at the heart of this story lies the relationship between a student and her teacher, a man who challenges and annoys and demands the impossible. Easter isn’t about the resurrection of Jesus. It’s about the enormous achievement of his star pupil, who has the courage to open her eyes to new possibility.

Norman AllenNorman Allen is a playwright living in Washington, DC. His plays include In The Garden (Charles MacArthur Award), Nijinsky’s Last Dance (Helen Hayes Award), and The House Halfway, to be produced at this summer’s Source Theatre Festival in Washington, DC.

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61 Comments

A beautiful commentary and it coincides with the Easter sermon at Myers Park Baptist, a free Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. Mary not only arrived in the dark of morning to find to her horror that Jesus missing, she was there at the cross when he was crucified, obviously risking her own life so Jesus would not die alone. The disciples, all men, fled, and she stayed to the bitter end. It is a lesson of love at its best, courage and strength that goes beyond the resurrection. Your point about women being kept from the ministry is so true, especially in the light of the Easter story.

I just read Pauline Schneider's post in response to Norman Allen's provocative essay, and here I am one year later wishing the discussion about Mary Magdalene would continue. Based on my readings about her, the orthodox version of who she was is badly distorted and at variance with her role as the disciple who was closest to Jesus, one whose role as the "soul mate" of Jesus Peter and others grew to resent. This is a complicated but under-told story well worth exploring further if you're curious. The body of work people can read if they want to become knowledgeable includes: 1) Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels; 2) Susan Haskins' Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor; 3) Magaret Starbird's Magdalene's Lost Legacy and The Woman With the Alabaster Jar; and 4) Mary Ellen Ashcroft's The Magdalene Gospel. I think people owe it to themselves to probe deeply on this topic and not swallow the false contention that the Magdalene was a prostitute when she actually was trusted and beloved by Jesus.

"Easter isn’t about the resurrection of Jesus." Is this from one of your plays? It's certainly not from the Gospels, or any source in Christianity - as it unfolded - not as you might wish it, from a playwright's perspective, to be.

I disagree that Easter is not about the resurrection. To me from this author's perspective it continues to move along our culture's "it's all about me" thinking. From a Christian's perspective everything in the history of the faith points to the resurrection. As much as I do appreciate drawing additional secondary perspectives from the reading I couldn't disagree more.

A beautiful way to wish everyone a Blessed Easter

The whole of Christianity is based on these claims of a woman

Beautiful observation! A perfect way or start my Good Friday

Thank you so much. What an insightful piece. Love love love to you in the Spirit of Mary Magdalene.

Peace and blessings.

I find your piece quite insightful and moving, the feminist polemics notwithstanding.

Just an added thought: what if the gardener really was the gardener and Mary only later recognized the risen Christ in him later thanks to subsequent prayerful revelation. Herein lies the true transcendence of Christianity, it seems to me.

I love the points that you brought up. You are absolutely right.
However, you say: "I’ve also learned that the Easter story doesn’t revolve around crucifixion, an empty tomb, or even the glory of a resurrected spirit."
By saying Easter doesn't revolve around the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus, you dismiss the truth about Easter. It IS about the crucifixion. It IS about an empty tomb. It IS about a resurrected tomb. It IS about Jesus.
I'm not dismissing Mary and everything she has done.
However, don't dismiss the real reason for Easter.

Yes, so true what you’ve said. It is about the Resurrection of Jesus, and FORGIVENESS of our sins. I’ve always said Jesus was comfortable with women and I’m sure He had many women friends that we don’t read about. So why are women so still considered 2nd class even in the 21st century by religious denominations and society?

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