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By Rev. Anne Howard
Executive Director, The Beatitudes Society
In light of the ongoing kerfuffle about Fox commentator Glenn Beck’s attacks on Jim Wallis and “social justice” Christianity, it’s high time for a bit of clarification about what it means to be a Christian. It’s high time for a bit of the chutzpah of Mary Magdalene.
Legend has it that Mary Magdalene staged a protest in the court of Caesar. As the story goes, Magdalene, the First Apostle of the resurrection, was a woman of means and influence (and chutzpah), and sometime soon after the crucifixion of Jesus, she procured an invitation to dine at the court of Tiberius Caesar. She had a mission. She went to Rome to protest Pilate’s miscarriage of justice, and to announce the resurrection. The ancient tale says that as Magdalene stood up to speak, Caesar was about to peel a hard-boiled egg. When he heard her announcement of the resurrection, he held up the egg and said, “He can no more be raised from the dead than this egg can turn red.” And there, in his hand, the egg turned red.
(Read more about the Roman Catholic vision for society at Patheos.com)
This may not be a story with historical weight, but it does account for those Eastern Orthodox icons of Mary Magdalene holding a red egg, the color that Eastern Christians dye their Easter eggs today as a reminder that God can always do something entirely unexpected.
I have Mary’s story in mind this year as we head toward Easter Sunday, because we need the chutzpah of Mary this coming Easter Sunday. Easter is the day when regular churchgoers–those who find themselves in the pew or the pulpit–have the opportunity to put out the welcome mat and tell our story for the visitors who don’t hear it too often. This year, this Easter Sunday, we need to tell our story with the bold clarity of Mary.
We need to speak up, and what better day than Easter? Imagine if Easter churchgoers left our churches with a clear picture of social justice Christianity? They could know, as the old song goes, “that we are Christians by our love:” active love for the creation, compassionate care for the vulnerable, radical welcome for the stranger, brave acts of reconciliation in the face of hate speech and hurled threats, love that challenges the prevailing orthodoxy of the day, love that is expressed in the public realm as, yes, social justice.
Imagine if Easter preachers–and all the rest of us–had the chutzpah of Mary Magdalene. That would be as unexpected as Mary’s red egg. That’s the Easter egg we need.
Rev. Anne Howard is Executive Director of The Beatitudes Society and author of “Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation” (Alban, 2009).