Lenten Devotional Series: The Women Who First Followed Jesus
Introduction | We are walking together through the Church season of Lent. Lent, which means “springtime or renewal,” began to be observed by the Body of Christ sometime during the 4th century. Lent spans forty days (not counting Sundays) modeled after Jesus’ time fasting in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry. Lent is a sacred time of remembrance, renewal, and spiritual preparation in our journey of faith with Jesus.

Over these next few weeks of Lent, we invite you to take up the practice of reading and reflecting on the women who first followed Jesus. We all know that the four gospels emphasize the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to “Come and see.” But several women also follow Jesus as he teaches, heals, offers miraculous signs, and purposefully makes his way towards first, offering himself on a Cross, but ultimately rising to a life beyond death.

Each week, we will look more closely at one of these women to better appreciate what they each saw in Jesus and how they learned to follow his lead with their lives. Each Tuesday, I’ll provide an overview and some brief reflection on the life of each of these women. On Thursday, a female member of our staff will offer their thoughts. Each Saturday, I will provide a Lectio Divina prayer exercise so that we can reflect more deeply in the Spirit in terms of each week’s devotional theme and focus.

Reflection | With Holy Week behind us and the miracle of Easter fresh in our hearts and minds, we conclude this lenten devotional series by taking this week to reflect again on the figure of Mary Magdalene. Other than Jesus, Mary Magdalene is the one person who is mentioned by name in all four Gospel’s accounts of the resurrection. What are we to make of this distinction?

Before addressing this question, allow me to briefly review some of what Pastor Chris shared with us in our preceding look at Mary Magdalene. You’ll recall that for all the prominence that Mary is given throughout the Gospels, very little is known about her for certain. From historical context and tradition, we can assume that Mary was a woman of relative means, without a close living male relative to speak out, from the region of Magdala. Luke’s Gospel also informs us that Jesus healed Mary, casting out seven demons that had been tormenting her. It is after this restorative encounter with Jesus that Mary (and several other women) chose to follow Him, helping to fund His ministry from her own pockets.
Pastor Chris also spent some time discussing the various misperceptions that surround Mary Magdalene. She was not a prostitute as so much of Church art would have us believe. Nor was she Jesus’ secret wife, the way some Gnostic scholars and modern day conspiracy theorists have speculated. Such depictions, while false, also serve to distract us from who the Gospel’s do depict Mary to be–namely, a devoted disciple.

Mary Magdalene stayed beside Jesus through everything. Present at the foot of the cross during Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary did not flee or deny Him out of self-preservation the way so many of the other disciples did. Today’s passage from Mark tells us that Mary remained even after Jesus was dead; we’re told she and Mary the mother of Joseph watched as Joseph of Arimathea laid Him to rest in the tomb. And then, at the very first opportunity–“very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise”, Mary returns to the tomb with her fellow female disciples to care for Jesus’ body.

There is a kind of mirroring here between Mary’s initial encounter with Jesus and what happens at the Garden Tomb. While we are not told the full story of Jesus casting seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, we can look to other stories within the Gospels of people suffering under demonic possession to give us some idea of what Mary must have been going through before Jesus intervened. And if examples such as the Gerasene demoniac are anything to go off of, this affliction must have caused Mary immense physical pain. When Jesus heals her, He frees her from this physical affliction certainly. But out of this healing comes an even greater spiritual transformation; Mary leaves her old life behind and follows Jesus. Through His teaching and ministry Mary is enlightened to the Kingdom of God, and that Kingdom picture she receives is so remarkable that she commits her life to Christ.

Here again, at the tomb, there is a physical need to be met. Because of the proximity of Jesus’ death to the Sabbath, His body was not given the full burial treatment that would have been customary. Mary goes with her fellow women to ensure that Jesus’ body is treated properly. She goes to perform an act of service for her Lord whom she believes to be dead. And it is in the midst of this that an even greater spiritual revelation occurs. There is no need for Mary to treat Jesus’ body; Jesus has–literally, physically–risen to life. Jesus’ resurrection has supreme spiritual ramifications–for Mary and for all of us! As the angels in Luke remind the women, this means Jesus’ words fulfilled. This means that the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that Mary committed herself to, reigns. Death has not had the final say.

Whereas after her first encounter with Jesus, Mary was invited to come–to follow and learn, now Jesus commands her to go and tell. Mary is not only the first person to witness the fullness of the Gospel, she is also the first person to share it. In her commitment to Jesus–in life, death, burial, and resurrection–and her eagerness to share what Jesus has shown her, Mary models for us what discipleship ought to be.
Before we start feeling inadequate or unable to measure up to Mary’s example, let’s remind ourselves that Mary wasn’t perfect in her understanding. Indeed, all four Gospel writers assure us that her initial response to Jesus’ empty tomb was confusion

and fear. Even after encountering angels, Mary still had questions and doubts. John’s account tells us that when she first came face-to-face with the risen Jesus, Mary did not recognize him. Despite what we may think, questions and doubts are not antithetical to faith. In the midst of her questions and confusion–even after Mary fails to realize it’s Jesus who she is talking to–Jesus still sends her to share the Good News with others. Her doubts and uncertainty do not disqualify her from discipleship.

In her response to uncertainty, Mary yet again models healthy discipleship to us. Once she understands that the man before her is, in fact, Jesus, John tells us that “she turned toward Him”. Jesus then tells her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” One can imagine that in response to this Mary still had a lot of questions! This was an unexpected and miraculous event, and Jesus’ words, while awe-inspiring, are not exactly a straightforward explanation.

Nevertheless, Mary goes and tells Jesus’ followers just as He instructed. Mary orients herself towards and relies upon Jesus. She recognizes that while she may not have all the answers, He does.  This is a posture of faith I strive to adopt. Through the example of Mary Magdalene, we see a picture of what it means to fully live for Christ. She models for us what it looks like to follow Jesus day in and day out–in our greatest moments of triumph and in our bleakest times. Her story reminds us that following Jesus is not about sweeping our doubts and questions under the rug; it is bringing those doubts and questions to Jesus and opening ourselves up to the was in which Jesus wills to work through us.

Consider & Discuss | Do you find yourself wrestling with questions or doubts in your walk of faith? How have you handled or engaged these doubts? Have you leaned into Jesus, or have you been attempting to rely on your own strength?

Prayer Focus Gracious God, thank you for the miracle of Easter. Thank you for delivering all of us through your Son, Jesus Christ. We know that your Kingdom reigns, and we long to live within that Kingdom. Empower us to share your grace and mercy with the whole world. Help us to live in a posture like Mary’s, fully committed to you.
Help us to rely on you in all things. Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Emma Tweitmann