Saint Mary Magdalene

Love is the strongest force that exists.  Anyone who is not sure of that has not loved much.  But love is not only powerful when it is being experienced in its unitive dimension: it is even more powerful in separation.  Longing is produced in the heart whose love is unrequited.  When this longing is mere passion, it will eventually fade – but when it is rooted in something deeper and more spiritual it will never be destroyed.

Jesus comes to us in the flesh and kindles in our hearts a deep longing.  He does not come to satisfy some passing craving of our heart, instead, after uniting with us He separates Himself.  “It is good for you that I go.”  “Do not touch me.”  The heart that has experienced the flicker of divine love will be constantly reminded of their longing and dissatisfaction with this present world.  All attempts to ignore the deeper longing and replace it with something passing result in frustration and anxiety.  Perhaps this is Jesus’ meaning for Mary Magdalene: the part of your heart that is drawn, that loves and longs for Me, aim it beyond the dark veil of earth – My Spirit will be in you to guide your heart to the other side.


What then does it mean, that, as she wept, she stooped down and looked again into the sepulcher? Was it because her grief was so excessive that she hardly thought she could believe either their eyes or her own? Or was it rather by some divine impulse that her mind led her to look within?1


Mary Magdalene, who had been a sinner in the city, loved the Truth and so washed away with her tears the stains of wickedness. Her sins had kept her cold, but afterward she burned with an irresistible love.… We must consider this woman’s state of mind whose great force of love inflamed her. When even the disciples departed from the sepulcher, she did not depart. She looked for him whom she had not found.… But it is not enough for a lover to have looked once, because the force of love intensifies the effort of the search. She looked for him a first time and found nothing. She persevered in seeking, and that is why she found him. As her unfulfilled desires increased, they took possession of what they found. … Holy desires, as I have told you before, increase by delay in their fulfillment. If delay causes them to fail, they were not desires.… This was Mary’s kind of love as she turned a second time to the sepulcher she had already looked into. Let us see the result of her search, which had been redoubled by the power of love.2


The angels who appear say nothing about the resurrection. But by degrees the subject is entered on. First of all they address her compassionately, to prevent her from being overpowered by a spectacle of such extraordinary brightness. And they say to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”3


Observe that the tears shed for Christ do not lose their reward, nor is it long before love for him bears fruit. Rather, his grace and rich restitution will follow closely in the wake of pain. Notice how—as Mary was sitting there, her cheeks bedewed with mourning for her beloved Lord whom she had lost—notice how the Savior granted to her the knowledge of the mystery about him through the mouth of holy angels. They tell her to stop crying because this was no occasion for tears. She was making a subject for rejoicing a cause of grief. Why, indeed, they say, when death has been subdued, and corruption has lost its power and our Savior Christ has risen again and made a new pathway for the dead back to incorruption and to life—why would you misunderstand what is going on now? Why are you so distraught with pain when what is actually going on calls for rejoicing? You should be glad, even ecstatic! And so, why then are you crying and, in effect detracting from the honor due to what amounts to a celebration?4


This was foretold in the Song of Songs: “On my bed I sought the one my soul loves. I sought him in the night and did not find him.” Of those also who found him and held him by the feet, it is foretold, in the same book, “I will hold the one my soul loves and will not let him go.”5


Mary calls her Lord’s inanimate body her Lord, meaning a part for the whole. It is the same as when all of us acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, our Lord, who of course is at once both the Word and soul and flesh, was nevertheless crucified and buried, while it was only his flesh that was laid in the sepulcher.6


Be the first to see the stone taken away, and perhaps you will see the angels and Jesus himself. Say something. Hear his voice. If he says to you, “Do not touch me,” stand far away. Reverence the Word, but do not grieve because he knows those to whom he appears first.7


Jesus says to her, “Woman, why do you weep?” He asked the reason for her sorrow to increase her longing still more, so that when he asked whom she was seeking she might feel a more fervent love for him.8


Perhaps this woman was not as mistaken as she appeared to be when she believed that Jesus was a gardener. Was he not spiritually a gardener for her when he planted the fruitful seeds of virtue in her heart by the force of his love? But why did she say to the one she saw and believed to be the gardener, when she had not yet told him whom she was seeking, “Sir, if you have taken him away”? She had not yet said who it was who made her weep from desire or mentioned him of whom she spoke. But the force of love customarily brings it about that a heart believes everyone else is aware of the one of whom it is always thinking.… After he had called her by the common name of “woman,” he called her by her own name, as if to say, “Recognize him who recognizes you.” … And so because Mary was called by name, she acknowledged her creator and called him at once “Rabboni,” that is, “teacher.” He was both the one she was outwardly seeking and the one who was teaching her inwardly to seek him.9


And this is why the Lord said to Mary Magdalene (who represents the church), when she hurriedly approached and touched him, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father,” that is, I would not have you come to me as to a human body or recognize me by fleshly perceptions. I want you to wait for higher things. I prepare greater things for you. When I have ascended to my Father, then you shall handle me more perfectly and truly, for you shall grasp what you cannot touch and believe what you cannot see.10


See how the sin of the human race was removed where it began. In paradise a woman was the cause of death for a man; coming from the sepulcher a woman proclaimed life to men. Mary related the words of the one who restored her to life; Eve had related the words of the serpent who brought death.11


  1. TRACTATES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 121.1.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 343). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 25.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 343). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 86.1.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 344). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 12.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 344). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. COMMENTARY ON THE APOSTLES’ CREED 30.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 344). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. TRACTATES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 121.1.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 344). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. ON HOLY EASTER, ORATION 45.24.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 345). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  8. FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 25.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 345). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  9. FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 25.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 346). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  10. SERMON 74.4.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 349). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  11. FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 25.  Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 354). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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