Mary of Magdala near Capernaum was one of several women who followed Jesus and ministered to him in Galilee. The Gospel according to Luke records that Jesus "went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out ..." (Luke 8:1-2). The Gospels tell us that Mary was healed by Jesus, followed him, and was one of those who stood near his cross at Calvary.
It is clear that Mary Magdalene's life was radically changed by Jesus' healing. Her ministry of service and steadfast companionship, even as a witness to the crucifixion, has, through the centuries, been an example of the faithful ministry of women to Christ. All four Gospels name Mary as one of the women who went to the tomb to mourn and to care for Jesus' body. Her weeping for the loss of her Lord strikes a common chord with the grief of all others over the death of loved ones. Jesus' tender response to her grief - meeting her in the garden, revealing himself to her by calling her name - makes her the first witness to the risen Lord. She is given the command, "Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17). As the first messenger of the resurrection, she tells the disciples, "I have seen the Lord" (John 20:18).
In the tradition of the Eastern Church, Mary is regarded as the equal of an apostle; and she is held in veneration as the patron saint of the great cluster of monasteries on Mount Athos.
Anglican bishop N. T. Wright argues that a biblical case for the full participation of women in the orders of the Church includes, among other material, John 20. This is the chapter of the Gospel according to John in which Mary Magdalene is the first person to both discover that Jesus' tomb is empty and to encounter him raised from the dead. And not only that, but Mary is also the first person to be commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the good news of his resurrection. Check out what Bishop Wright has to say in the following video beginning around 2:25.
Wright notes in his comments that in the ancient Jewish and pagan world, the commissioning of Mary Magdalene as the first messenger of the resurrection is "so counter-intuitive," and he's correct. As I noted in another posting few years back, women in Jesus' day were not allowed to testify in court and they were regarded as unreliable witnesses. And so, in light of Mary Magdalene as the first witness and messenger of the resurrection, Wright says:
In the resurrection there is a radical reevaluation of the role of women. ... Apostolic ministry grows out of the testimony that Jesus is alive. That to me is the basis of apostolic ministry. And I cannot understand why that should be problematic if you're a biblical Christian.
Thank God for Mary Magdalene, and also for Mary, Salome, Joanna, and the other women who not only discovered the empty tomb of Jesus, but who also had the courage to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is risen indeed.