When Women Were Priests


Mary the Magdalene returns first to the tomb to honour their dead Teacher. She finds the tomb opened and empty. In her confusion she meets her resurrected Lord but doesn’t recognize him until he calls her by name. He then directs her to not cling to him as he is not yet ascended but rather to go to the others and proclaim his resurrection.

Meanings and Questions

Folks seem to be leaning towards the Manichean approach here. He is a new creation and we cannot cling to his old physicality if we are to fully embrace the newness.

I’m not sure if this is going on here. All the gospels take great pains to demonstrate that Jesus is not just a spirit freed from the body but a somehow transformed body. Whether these accounts are literal and historical accounts or metaphors — they are trying to say something about the early church’s experience of the resurrection.

I have not yet ascended to the Father.

His transformation is not yet complete. He has more work to do. And maybe it is the physicality of Mary and his old life that is a temptation to him that is the concern. His work now is elsewhere and he cannot tarry.

Another possibility. Not the the clinging to the physical and but a clinging to the mystical. There are times in meeting for worship where the rise of meeting and the sudden busy-ness and activity seems to be a violation of the worship. I cling to the interior silence. Maybe Jesus is saying to Mary — you have experienced something amazing here but you cannot stay — rather this amazing thing needs to be integrated into your life you need to go out into the world and make this new knowledge bear fruit. You cannot hoard it in secret for yourself. The service begins when meeting for worship ends.

A last question. Not recognizing the resurrected Christ. This echoes the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke. Something is happening here. Not sure what. A part of it is that we meet the Resurrected Teacher in chance encounters on the road, in gardens, in ordinary places. And it is only when we hear him speak through those ordinary experiences that we recognize them to be meetings with God. Maybe we don’t even recognize it until afterwards. Jesus disappears as soon as the disciples recognize him on the road. Sometimes we say, surely God was in this place and I did not know it. Sometimes I have no startling experience in prayer or worship. It feels dead and I feel like God has not touched me. Then days later — Thursday perhaps. I become aware that I am responding to situations with greater grace and I see that God was working in me Sunday morning after all.


6 responses

  1. You write, “we meet the Resurrected Teacher in chance encounters on the road, in gardens, in ordinary places. And it is only when we hear (him) speak through those ordinary experiences that we recognize them to be meetings with God.” Isn’t this just the greatest gift? And we never know just when or from whom we will meet, face to face, God. However, it is just as likely that God comes through you! This is an amazing experience, as you say, yet we cannot cling to it – it is always purely in the moment. And there is a gentle grace in this that is carried with us, and shared by our being. Thank you for a lovely post!

  2. David, I agree with you about the risen Jesus’ body – he doesn’t seem to be a “spirit” but to have a real physical body that still bears the wounds of the cross, that can be touched, that feels hunger.

  3. Thank you Meredith.While I think certain places are always powerful encounters with God (like sunsets) — mostly they happen in social encounters — with other people — and I have this funny way of not realizing it until after its over.Sad in some ways. Like the poets say perhaps: emotion recollected in tranquility. Not sure who said that. One of the Victorian Brits I think.

  4. Yes Crystal. A body — but maybe not physical — or totally physical either. Thomas can put his hands in the wounds but they don’t hurt and he can go through locked doors.Its like totally changed. Totally new. Not just a ghost. But more than just being raised like Lazarus. Transforamtion into something utterly new.

  5. I do think the gospels are talking about a real physical body. But what strikes me, in your “don’t linger in this experience” interpretation, is how it parallels the story of the Transfiguration, where Peter wants to build booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus says, no, now we go down from the mountain. It never occurred to me to look Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene this way before, but I think you’re right.

  6. I meet him with some regularity when I go to the hospital. I pray with someone: this is serious; this is life and death; this is a spiritual crisis. Two pray, and he is there. It’s pretty tangible sometimes.One other instance 47 years ago: in a large church filled with well wishers Ellie and I stand in front of the pastor. I’m only conscious of three people at that moment: Ellie, me, and God. Oh my, but yes.

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