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Mary 6:1-7:4 and John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday

Karen Hollis | March 31, 2024


Mary 6:1-7:4 Peter turned to Mary and said: “Sister, we know that the Saviour greatly loved you above all other women, so tell us what you remember of his words that we ourselves do not know or perhaps have never heard.”
Mary replied: “I will tell you, then, as much as I know of what may be hidden or unknown to you.” And she began to express these things to them: “I saw the Master in a vision and I said to him, ‘Lord, I see you now as vision,’ and he answered me ‘you are blessed, Mary, since the sight of me does not disturb you. For where the heart is, there is the treasure.’”
John 20:1-18 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.
They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him “Teacher!”
Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Today is about love and what love can do in and through this world in which we live. Specifically, I will explore with you how love worked in and through Mary Magdalene and how love helped her to see. We don’t talk about Mary Magdalene a lot, though I hope that will change. Much of the scholarship and insight around her role in the early church comes from a practice of slowing down and listening deeply – slowing enough for us to feel spirit and matter commingling, with love shared between them. I invite us to come with openness and listen with our hearts, as well as our minds.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be reflections of your word to us today, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen


Today is about love and what love can do in and through this world in which we live. I’m not talking about a love that is naïve or sentimental or idealistic or romantic. I’m not even talking about the love of a parent protecting their child or the love of a 60 year partnership or the love of God and community that wraps around us when we experience a crisis. I understand there is an even deeper and wider love available to us . . . which is difficult to imagine. But what is easier to imagine, is that the gateway to this love is through the heart.

Science tells us that the heart creates an electromagnetic field as it beats away, pumping oxygen-rich blood through our bodies. I’ve spent a lot of time with horses in my life. Horses have larger hearts than humans, which create a larger and stronger electromagnetic field. Spending time in that field changes me. It sooths my rough edges, loosens my ego’s tight grip on my day, and leaves me grounded and centered once again in the person I want to be. The heart is a remarkable organ in that way.

The contemplative tradition teaches us that the heart is the organ of spiritual perception. The heart opens to us a whole world that is yet unseen. When we talk about Jesus as a Wisdom Teacher, one who teaches in parables, inviting people to find themselves within these surprising stories, releasing the various layers of the ego, and learning how to engage the heart in spiritual perception would have been included in the teaching.

This is very difficult work, as you may be aware, and Jesus’ disciples were not universally competent at this practice. Peter perhaps never learned this skill, but several of the early Christian texts that have been recovered and studied over the last 130 years indicate that Mary Magdalene was the first disciple to master herself in this way. In the passage we heard this morning from her gospel, she is instructing the others in things she has learned that they have not been able to perceive. In the vision she recounts, the risen Jesus even praises her, saying: “you are blessed, Mary, since the sight of me does not disturb you. For where the heart is, there is the treasure.” She’s able to remain with the vision, without getting distracted with thoughts like, “holy cow, is this really happening?” She is so skilled that she is able to engage with the experience without breaking the connection.

This picture of Mary Magdalene is quite different from what the broader Christian tradition has taught about her for the past 1500 years, which is that she was a prostitute . . . who Jesus heals and redeems and reforms. But none of the Christian scriptures actually say this. Now, there are a lot of Marys in the Christian texts. So many Marys that it’s a little difficult to keep them straight. Each story about a “Mary” gives a bit of detail that, putting them all together, still doesn’t quite get us to this conclusion . . . but it’s a leap that Pope Gregory the Great took anyway in a sermon he preached in 594 CE.1 He put together pieces of several Marys from the gospels and declared that her sin was prostitution. Why did he do this? Theologian Cynthia Bourgeault postulates that “in an emerging church hierarchy founded on the assumption of a male-only and celibate succession from the original apostles, Mary Magdalene’s [identity as an apostle] was clearly an anomaly and a threat. A means had to be devised to undercut her original authority.”2

One noteworthy scriptural detail about Mary Magdalene comes from Luke’s gospel, where she is described in this way: (Luke 8:2) ‘The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out . . . and some others.’ The common interpretation is that she was demon possessed and Jesus healed her. The rigorous scholarship of (Jean-Eve Lelou) Jean-Yves Leloup suggests that it has more to do with letting go of the various layers of the ego – seven, perhaps – and she was the first of Jesus’ disciples to accomplish this feat.

Mary Magdalene’s own gospel reveals that she did the inner work. According to Bourgeault, “She . . . tamed the inner beasts, confronted the passions that hold human beings enchained to the powers of this world. The fruit of this work is not only psychological wholeness, but the capacity to see. Her clear heart is her intimate channel to the fullness beyond time.” Both she and Jesus have the capacity to access a depth of love that stunningly goes beyond what we experience in everyday life. What was that journey like for the two of them to sit together in meditation, descend into their hearts, enter a kind of “in-between zone where spirits become embodied and bodies become spiritualized?”3 Perhaps they shared a regular practice for, what, a couple of years? If Jesus’ ministry was only 3 years or so, I can’t imagine they would have had more time than that.

The Christian scriptures tell us that from the moment Jesus was put on the cross, Mary Magdalene was there. A ways off, yet present. Perhaps practiced enough that she was able to be present with him in meditation while he was on the cross.

Perhaps she was experienced enough in the in-between zone that she could even be present with him beyond the cross . . . still in the space of Agape love, unitive love, the source of all love. What is this love capable of? Is it strong enough to unite them, even in death?

The stories tell us she was there, watching Joseph take Jesus’ body down from the cross and place it in the tomb. And perhaps she remained there in the garden during the Sabbath.

Even with her considerable skill, she is still human. As she discovers Jesus’ body is missing, I imagine her distraught, and aching for his physical form. Suddenly she hears him say her name and he is there. According to the texts, resurrection appearances are different from visions. I don’t know more than that, but somehow, he was there.

After he calls her name, he says to her, “don’t cling to me.” Reminding her about kenosis, a word I’ve mentioned here a few times in the weeks leading up to Easter. Kenosis is the Greek word for the act of emptying. It’s the act of releasing the ego’s idea – the ego has lots of ideas – when we are able to release them, we make room for us to follow the movement of the divine in us.4 He invites Mary to let go of the man he was . . . because he is no longer that person. He is not outside her . . . He is inside the walls of her mystical heart . . . where he has always been, and will never leave.5 When he disappears from view, Mary, in the early stages of letting go, leaves the garden to fulfill her role as first apostle and tell the others what she has seen.

When I think about Jesus appearing to Mary and then some of the others, I remember that Celtic Christian term, Thin Place, where the veil between the physical and spiritual is thinner, such that we can have an experience of the divine. I think what the disciples experience in these resurrection appearances is similar. In the words of Bourgeult, “they experienced Jesus as present: alive, palpable, vibrantly connected; their experience was that the walls between the realms are paper thin and that our embodiment is no obstacle to the full and intimate participation of relationship with him here and now. The kingdom of heaven is not later, it is lighter: it exists right here, right beneath our noses.”6 In that space he was present with them, their hearts learned their way to him,7 and he is still present today.

For Mary, the disciple who never left him, and was the first to see him, resurrection made all the difference in the world and helped her move forward in her work of engaging the in-between zone, teaching the others, and spreading the good news.

My own perspective on the resurrection this morning is in a stage of listening and wondering as I continue studying Mary Magdalene’s gospel and some of the rigorous scholarship that accompanies it. I was raised in a Uniting tradition, like this one, that is very comfortable with the symbolic and metaphoric understandings of the resurrection. Like many of you, when I experience an ending of some kind in my life, I look to the resurrection with hope that death is not the end of the story. I’m also a progressive Christian, one who aims to remain open to the continual unfolding of God’s story, I am more open now than I have ever been to new layers of understanding about the resurrection. I don’t know what that is, but I am once again intrigued and curious about what the heart can do and what love can do.

And What about you this morning? Where does the resurrection find you on this Easter morning? What does the resurrection mean for your life today?

1 Bourgeault. The Meaning of Mary Magdalene. 22

2 Bourgeault. 22.

3 Jean-Yves Leloup. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. 153.

4 Meggan Watterson. Mary Magdalene Revealed. 114.

5 Watterson. 115.

6 Bourgeault. 217.

7 Bourgeault. 217.