Mary and Mary: The First Apostles (Easter Day, A)
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
“Mary and Mary: The First Apostles”
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Oh yes! Jesus Christ is risen today. He came back to life as the sun came up over the horizon. And his first priority after rising is for that message to be spread. The most important thing is that people begin to hear this Good News that God has won the victory over sin and death for us.
The messengers don’t have to be educated. They don’t have to be ordained. They don’t have to be white or male or have any other earthly qualification.
Instead, they just have to be faithful enough to hear God’s message and brave enough to share it.
In the first century, to Jews, Greeks, and Romans alike, the Resurrection story was all kinds of messed up. Every social rule in their cultures would say that the something here is faulty, even backwards.
The problem is that the first witnesses to this supposed “resurrection” are women. But women can’t be the first to know. They aren’t credible witnesses. They can’t be trusted with such important news. And they certainly would never be chosen by our “masculine Lord God.”
But our God is always surprising us. The Maker of Heaven and Earth does not think that way. God’s way are higher than our ways. God doesn’t wait around for the “right” kinds of people to show up. God doesn’t stick to our man-made social conventions. God is not interested in supporting unfair hierarchies that keep the lowly pressed down and elevate the privileged.
Instead, God chooses these faithful women, and sends them. They become Apostles, which simply means “sent ones.” God’s Angel appears to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” and delivers the Good News to them. The only qualification that God has for messengers, for evangelists, for preachers and apostles, is that they show up.
Mary and Mary showed up when it mattered the most. They followed Jesus and were faithful disciples during his life. And then when he was crucified, they were there watching, praying, and mourning as their Lord hung on the Cross (Matthew 27:55-56). When Jesus’ dead body was pulled down from the Cross and prepared for burial and stowed away in the tomb, Mary and Mary were there (Matthew 27:59-61). And on the first morning after the Sabbath, as soon as their holy rest was over, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Matthew 28:1).
The Eleven Hand-Chosen Disciples were cowering away in an upper room. The men who would become the first Bishops of the Church were too afraid to show their faces in public and be recognized as followers of this fallen Jesus. The men who were closest to Christ, who heard all the teachings and explanations, who had all the stories written about them in the Gospels, they couldn’t bring themselves to visit the tomb.
But do you know who did? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. These two women got it in a way that even the Twelve Apostles never did. They knew the importance of showing up and expressing love through time, attention, and devotion. They understood that, even in death, Jesus was their first priority.
In the Gospels the male disciples failed where their sisters succeeded. The people with privileges, with earthly authority and respect, didn’t show up. Instead it was the women, whose social status was next to nothing.
Women who were constantly disrespected and underappreciated heard Jesus’ message and it clicked. When Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,” the sisters knew that “God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Jesus came preaching life, love, and liberation. The women -- along with all others who were overlooked by society -- knew that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life. They trusted him because he loved everyone, beginning with the least of these. He honored the dishonored, and lifted up the lowly.
And this surprising pattern continues in the Resurrection Story. The women arrive at the tomb, and are visited by God’s Angel. The Angel didn’t ignore them because they were women. Nor did the Angel didn’t withhold the news of the Resurrection from them because they were women. No. The Angel told them, “He has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 28:7). He directs them to tell the other disciples and go ahead of Jesus to Galilee.
The faithful Marys say yes. They run to tell the disciples about what happened, when suddenly Jesus himself arrives to confirm the message. The Risen Jesus appears to these women before ever appearing to Peter, John, James, or any of the Eleven. He tells them to proclaim the news of his Rising to the whole family of disciples, “his brothers and sisters.”
Mary and Mary are sent by the Angel and by Christ himself, which means they become Apostles (sent ones). They are the Apostles to the Eleven Apostles. As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15; Isaiah 52:7). These women become the first Evangelists, and they are sent to minister to the future Bishops and Priests of the Early Church.
Once again, the reason that these women are selected as messengers is not because of any worldly qualification. It’s not because they were super-Christians who worked really hard and earned it. No, God freely and surprisingly chose to speak to them.
They just heard the message of Christ and believed in God’s truth. They accepted the love of God in Christ and decided to keep showing up. They stayed faithful even when things were hard. And now people all over the world know about the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
For us, here and now, it is easy to forget this simple lesson. How often do we worry about what we don’t have or who isn’t here? We act like this Church isn’t the Body of Christ because it’s not as big or as full as the church around the block.
But the Holy Spirit doesn’t look for the best, brightest, and most impressive. The Holy Spirit dwells with us in our faithfulness to God and because God is faithful to us. When we show up, even in our weakness and sin, God is glorified.
So don’t worry about outward appearances. Don’t doubt yourself because of any knowledge or qualification you may think you lack. Every single one of us has heard the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And every single one of us is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit of God. And every single of of us has already shown up to be with Jesus in this place.
The call is simply to be who God has made you to be, to offer who you are to Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, we are the ones we have been waiting for. We already have everything we need to share the Good News and do God’s work in the world.
We’re going to sing a couple verses from the classic hymn, "There is a Balm in Gilead," because singing and making music is one of the gifts God has given to me. But as we sing and as we continue our worship, I encourage you to look closely at what your gift is and what offering you can bring to God and the church. How can you become an Apostle, like Mary and Mary? It may be as simple as showing up and sharing love in the ways you know how.
There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the holy spirit
Revives my soul again.
If you cannot preach like Peter,
If you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.
Don’t ever be discouraged
For Jesus is your friend,
And if you lack for knowledge,
He’ll ne’er refuse to lend.
Lyrics: Traditional; reprinted with permission from Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal, #203.
Image Credit: Icon of Women at the Grave, Anonymous (Russian, 17th C.)