Among the gospel writers it is a unanimous fact that Mary Magdalene is the first of the disciples to see Jesus risen and spread the news that he was back from the dead. All four gospel writers mention that on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, she makes her way to the tomb (where mercy resides).
In John’s gospel, she first spreads word that the tomb is empty. This leads Peter and the beloved disciple to go off on a foot race to the tomb. Mary is also on her way there though. Peter and the beloved disciple see peer inside the tomb and only find the burial clothes. They both walk away from the tomb amazed at what had happened, but still not convinced beyond all doubt that Jesus had been risen. Mary ends up staying by the tomb alone. It says that she “bent” over into the tomb and it is then that she sees two angels.
Presumably, she does not return with Peter and the other disciple because she is simply too distraught to go anywhere. She is emotionally weakened; she cannot make the trek back to where she is staying just yet. Her Rabbi was killed. He was the one who restored her from seven demons, the one who she traveled with for several years. Now all she wants to do is anoint his body properly while saying one last farewell. Even that is taken from her because someone has seemingly taken Jesus’ body from his resting place.
In her uncontrollable weeping there appears a man that seems to be one of the gardeners. She asks him to tell her where he placed the body so she can go and give Jesus the proper preparations for burial. This is evidence that she has no inkling that Christ was going to be coming back, she is convinced that he is gone forever. In Mary’s mind, all is lost. It is only then that Jesus says to her, “Mary!” (John 20:16). Once a personal connection is made between her and Jesus, once she hears his voice, she knows exactly who it is in front of her. It is not the gardener. This is her teacher, it is the Lord.
Mary goes looking for Jesus, but he ends up being the one to find her. Many have asked, why Mary, why should she be the one to first see the Risen Christ and not Peter or John or the Blessed Virgin Mary? There are many plausible answers, but there is one that I think is most rooted in the evidence we find for who Mary of Magdala is. If we know who she is than we should have a better idea about why she is the one chosen for this special privilege.
Despite what most History channel shows and other documentaries state, Mary Magdalene is never once mentioned in the gospels as being a prostitute. The only reference we have to her identity is that Jesus removed seven demons from her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). In the Jewish faith, seven is recognized as the number symbolizing perfection. The Hebrew scriptures have multiple occasions when the number seven points to a reality of completion, perfection, and fullness (creation is in seven days, Joshua and the Israelites march around Jericho for seven days, etc.). So when Jesus encounters Mary Magdalene she is possessed by evil, not just regular old evil that Jesus would conquer in his travels. Mary was consumed by seven demons, the fullness or perfection of evil. However, Jesus confronts that intense evil that is in her and he conquers it. Then she not only lives a decent life, but gives up her whole existence to begin to follow Jesus wherever he went.
With the crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ God’s plan to defeat sin and death is finally accomplished. On Calvary the whole reality of sin is attached to Christ and in his death he destroys evil’s dominion over humanity. Death only enters the world because of the sin of Adam and Eve. We were originally made to live and be with God forever in perfect communion. However, with their real decision to choose themselves over God, death will now be a part of life.
In a real way, death is the climax of evil and sin. With the Crucifixion and Resurrection though, death is no more; Jesus conquers the fullness of evil. Maybe this is why he first appears to Mary after his death, because she knows what it is like to be taken over by perfect evil, and she knows what it is like to have that destroyed. She has the resume to best understand what his Resurrection means for all of us. Therefore, she will have the true courage to run and tell everyone about it: he has gloriously returned, he has come to us again, and he is never going to leave us on our own. That is the message of mercy.