Apostles to the apostles


In today’s Mass reading, Matthew’s gospel reports:

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the news to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

Often these two Mary’s are described as “apostles to the apostles” because they are the first to meet Jesus and to let the apostles know of Jesus’s rising from the dead. Today’s reading emphasizes the idea of preaching and letting others know of Jesus’s Resurrection. It notably gives a voice to women in the church—if one is looking for direct evidence that Jesus wanted women to go and tell the good news, there is plenty of it in the Resurrection stories. Often we think of preaching more formally, for example, giving a homily, or evangelizing the church by speaking about doctrine (and plenty of Christian women do both.) But in this case, the preaching is one of personal story. When Mary and Mary went to the apostles, they must have shared their personal experience of meeting the Lord in the Resurrection: e.g., to have described their tears and sorrow in waiting at the tomb, their fear at first, then the joy of realizing that Jesus was alive again.

Jesus easily could have just appeared to the disciples themselves without first asking these women to testify to the Resurrection. Certainly he had the power to do so. Why use an intermediary at all?

Already Jesus is pointing to life in the Church that is not only about one on one relationship with Jesus, but also about the life of the community, about which we will hear much in Acts between now and Pentecost. Part of how we share in the Resurrection is through sharing our personal stories and listening to those of others. I know that when I hear of the gifts of faith from my “brothers” in prison that my own faith is strengthened and I learn more because each person’s story is so different, unique to him just as each of the Resurrection narratives shows Jesus being with each individual person as he or she needs to know him.

These two moments that the women knew are also common: both fear and joy. In various resurrection stories we see that motif again and again: fear at what it all means, followed by joy. Men at the prison often describe their initial Cursillo experiences, where many first meet Christian community within prison, as ones that start with fear (is this real? can this be trusted?) followed by the joy of the Lord. As we continue to hear the Resurrection stories, we’ll see such a variety of emotions in the encounter–but the two that point most to the Lord are joy and peace.