As we explored the resurrection appearance texts taken from the Gospel of John this Easter morning I noted how John’s stories reveal 1st century competing narratives, leaders and traditions – all vying for preeminence. What tradition and which leaders should be viewed as authoritative? For John, a tension existed between Peter of the Jerusalem community, the “beloved disciple” of the Damascus community, and the Mary Magdalene community. He didn’t even touch on Paul’s missionary churches and his Gospel re-fitted for the Gentiles. All of these movements – and many more – existed simultaneously in an incredibly diverse tapestry of Jesus followers.
Following this earliest generation, the diversity continued. There never existed anything like a homogeneous church. There were always movements of Jesus people. This continued until empire eventually established uniformity in creed, Bible and leaders and defined what was and was not orthodox. Then non-dominant groups came to be labeled as heretical and persecuted with abandon.
That simple knowledge of the first generation of Jesus people corrects a false impression that we in the 21st century are the only ones who have ever waded through incredible theological diversity, competing Christian claims and multiple movements. That is not true. It has been that way from the beginning. In our own time and place – in a context of religious freedom, mass communication, wide cultural immigration – the American ethos is incredibly religiously diverse. But not unique.
Of special interest to one of my friends in attendance was the influence of Mary Magdalene, her leadership and community that was systematically suppressed. She was part of the inner circle of Jesus, the first to witness the resurrection, and the one who would share the Gospel first-person authority:
“Mary Magdalene gives me extra enthusiasm and inspiration. Thank you for reminding me of her important role. It’s all very mind boggling but exciting and hopeful!”
Happy Easter. May you find in the empty tomb not emptiness at all. May you find the presence of something absent, a mystery haunting the world, the spirit of life that prowls the cosmos and the hearts of those who dare receive it.