It’s interesting that the culmination of this year’s Women’s History Month just happens to coincide with a worldwide celebration of one of the most significant women of all time: Mary Magdalene.
That celebration, in case you’re wondering, is Easter.
Well, not exactly. Everyone knows that Easter is actually the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But in his moving essay on the subject, playwright Norman Allen reminds us that it was Mary Magdalene, waiting alone outside an empty tomb, who was the first to recognize, and to be recognized by, the risen Christ.
“Mary represents all of us,” writes Allen. “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.”
That opportunity, of course, is to live the life exemplified by the Master Christian – to be kind and courageous, forgiving, compassionate, patient, and so on – whether or not we consider ourselves Christian, “spiritual but not religious,” or even agnostic or atheist.
To be called is to be seen for who and what we really are and what we’re capable of. Although in Mary’s case this calling involved a face-to-face meeting with the Messiah himself, we’re all destined to discover, in our own way, God’s unique and wonderful plan for us – again, whether or not we choose to describe this in religious terms. All it takes is the humility and the courage to accept it.
“Through all the disciples experienced, they became more spiritual and understood better what the Master had taught,” writes Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy. “His resurrection was also their resurrection. It helped them to raise themselves and others from spiritual dulness and blind belief in God into the perception of infinite possibilities.”
In an incident that took place well before his resurrection, we find Jesus being approached by a different woman – described simply as “a sinner,” but also someone worth celebrating – entering the home of a respected Pharisee. She begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointing them with oil – an unmistakable indication of her deep affection for the goodness and purity this man embodied.
“Her reverence was unfeigned” writes Eddy, “and it was manifested towards one who was soon, though they knew it not, to lay down his mortal existence in behalf of all sinners, that through his word and works they might be redeemed from sensuality and sin.”
No one can say for sure what was going on in this woman’s head at the time. It’s probably fair to assume, however, that her reverence was inspired by the promise of seeing this same goodness and purity reflected in herself; of expressing Jesus’ same spirit of forgiveness; and experiencing the mental and, in some cases, physical transformation that inevitably results.
“Thy faith hath saved thee;” says Jesus to the woman, “go in peace.”
Certainly none of us will ever encounter the Christ in the same way that either this woman or the Magdalene did. But that doesn’t mean we can’t entertain the same sense of affection for the Christ, benefit from the same sense of forgiveness, or see the same healing effect.
In this way Easter becomes for us not just a once-a-year event, but an everyday celebration.