Editorial: What happened, in your own words?
Four students in big trouble at school. They are questioned together by the teacher, but each is clearly just repeating what the others say. So they are put in separate rooms and questioned alone. What happened, in your own words? No copying!
This, if I can say so without irreverence, is what I think of when I read the Gospel accounts of the first Easter. Throughout their four books, we have got very used to Luke and Matthew copying Mark’s stories, and adding their own, and John keeping us guessing about what relationship his story might have with theirs. But then, when we get to the resurrection, they go their own way and tell their own story.
Mark seems to clam up, for some reason. Matthew goes for big Hollywood production values – earthquakes, trembling guards, angels shining like lightning. Luke takes the ‘I was out of town at the time’ approach. John tells an intimate and touching story from Mary Magdalene.
It is interesting how the four Gospels connect with each other when they are each telling their own story. I am fascinated by the way that both John and Luke have stories where people talk with the risen Christ without recognising who this is.
But perhaps the most striking convergence between the Gospels is on the central role of Mary Magdalene. She and Peter are the only two people named in all four Easter stories – Peter who has been Jesus’ right hand man throughout, and Mary who has one single mention in all the Gospels before the crucifixion.
Luke tells us that seven demons had left Mary, and that she was one of a group of women who ministered in the community of Jesus. There’s nothing there to prepare us for her finding the tomb empty, receiving a message from God, telling the Good News to the other followers, or meeting the risen Jesus face to face and being given his message.
This agreement from all the witnesses suggests that it is pretty reliable information, that Mary was indeed among the first to believe, experience and preach the resurrection. Already by the time the non-canonical Gospel of Peter was written in the second century, the story had been massaged to ensure a man – and a Gentile for good measure – did it all first.
The Church that produced the biblical Gospels seems to have been more comfortable with Mary having that honour. I just wish they had got round to telling us a bit more about her.
This article was published in the April 2023 edition of Reform