It was still dark in the early morning hours when Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb.

She had been with Jesus when the Roman soldiers came to arrest him, when the Twelve and his other disciples ran away.

When they crucified him, she was there at the foot of the cross, alongside Mary, his mother, and St. John, the only apostle who didn’t run.

She watched him die and then with the other women helped prepare the Lord’s body to be placed in the tomb.

And as the light began to dawn on that first Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene would be the first one to see Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

It is a beautiful mystery that the story of salvation begins with two women, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who carries the incarnate Jesus in her womb, and St. Elizabeth, who is the first to proclaim this Child as “my Lord.”

God chose a third woman, Mary Magdalene, to be the first witness of his empty tomb, and the first to see him alive, and the first to proclaim the truth of his resurrection.

One of the ancient prayers for Easter remembers the scene: 

Tell us Mary,
What did you see on the way?
I saw the tomb of the living Christ
and the glory of his rising,
the angelic witnesses,
the shroud and his clothes.
Christ, my hope, has risen:
He will go before his own into Galilee.

In the life of Mary Magdalene, we see the paschal mystery unfold, the mystery of Our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, the mystery of his love for every one of us. The mystery of Easter.

We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene. The Gospel tells us she was possessed by seven demons and that Jesus set her free. In gratitude and love, she became one of his first and most devoted disciples.

She followed him in faith and the journey led her to his cross and then to his resurrection.

The story of her meeting with Jesus in the 20th chapter of St. John’s Gospel is filled with specific details: when she stood and when she bent down, the position of the angels where the Lord’s body had been; what she said to Jesus, and the things he told her.

It’s as if Mary Magdalene didn’t want to forget a single moment of that Easter encounter.

“Why are you weeping, whom do you seek?” The questions that Jesus asked her, he asks now of each one of us.

Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize Jesus until he said her name. When he spoke, “Mary!” her eyes were opened and her heart understood.

In his love, the Risen Lord now calls our names. If we hear his voice, and if we don’t harden our hearts, we will realize, as Mary Magdalene did, that long before we were a thought in our mother’s womb, he has known us and loved us and longed for our love.

Christ is risen, he is alive! He will turn our every sorrow into joy. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, for death is no more, and whatever came before has passed away.

On Easter he calls us to rise up and to follow him away from his empty tomb.

Like Mary Magdalene, we can find freedom in accepting the Lord’s forgiveness and living the new life that he has won for us by laying down his life on the cross and rising on the third day.

Jesus said he would never leave us orphans, that he would be with us until the end of the age. On Easter, he keeps that promise.

Because he has destroyed death by his death, the dividing wall between heaven and earth has been broken down. 

He goes with us now as a friend, a companion. As he shared in our humanity, he understands everything about us.

We can speak to him of our deepest thoughts, our hopes and fears and dreams. He is with us in our joy and suffering. Though we do not see him, we know by faith that he is at our side.

In the Eucharist he comes again and makes a gift of himself, in the breaking of the bread, he continues to draw us more deeply into the mystery of his dying and rising.

“Do not hold me,” Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “But go to my brothers and tell them.”

Jesus calls us now too, to go out and tell others the truth of his resurrection, the truth of his love.

The encounter of Easter is a call to mission, a call to proclaim with Mary Magdalene: “I have seen the Lord!

In our Easter joy, pray for me and I will pray for you.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to keep us always close to her Son and our Risen Lord.