Mary Magdalene – becoming known – 22 August 2019

At the beginning of the day of resurrection, Mary Magdalene has made her way to the garden tomb, bringing with her the jar of ointment that she plans to use to anoint the body of Jesus. She is wrapped in a sumptuous, and very well painted, grey silk cloak. She is a covered and hidden figure, her face part shaded from a light shining from her left. She cannot yet be properly seen or known, she will be fully revealed, to herself and to us, in a later moment, when the light will shine upon her face and she will hear her name spoken by the risen Jesus. This painting depicts the moment before revelation and knowing.

In the background is the Venetian lagoon, and it would be easy to rush to the view that here Mary is depicted as a Venetian prostitute. Yet when we look more carefully, although there is a glimpse of a red dress, no female flesh is revealed to gratify the male gaze. Rather it is very likely that this picture was painted for a wealthy female patron in one of the northern city states, where Mary was admired by some of Italy’s most powerful and sophisticated women.

Girolamo Savoldo painted this picture of Mary Magdalene (1535-40) and three others very similar to it. This one is in the National Gallery in London.


Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

John 20:11-16

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant, we pray, that through her example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect of Mary Magdalene