Sunday, July 22, 2018
Mary Magdalene, Apostle
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, your Son first entrusted the apostle Mary Magdalene with the joyful news of his resurrection. Following the example of her witness, may we proclaim Christ as our living Lord and one day see him in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Ruth 1:6-18 Ruth stays with Naomi
Acts 13:26-33a The raising of Jesus fulfills God’s promise
John 20:1-2, 11-18 Mary Magdalene meets Jesus in the garden
Title: Resurrecting Mary of Magdala
When you hear her name, Mary Magdalene, what are your first thoughts? What do you see in your imagination’s eye or hear in your imagination’s ear? Who is this woman whose life and ministry we remember today? Do you think of a woman who doesn’t know how to love him? Or maybe you see a woman dressed in striking red as so many painters have depicted her. She who tradition teaches had a questionable past, before she met Jesus. Her “sinning woman” red is always there in contrast to the gentle blue of that pure Mary, Jesus’ mother. But rather than taking cues from rock musicals and renaissance painters, let’s take a few minutes on this day set aside to remember her, and see her for the hero of faith that she is as she continues to encourage us onward as part of the great cloud of witnesses.
We first hear of Mary from the town of Magdala on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, mentioned as part of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. Luke, in his gospel, makes a point of describing this group as the 12 disciples and a group of women, Mary being one of them. The first one named in fact. He also describes them as recipients of Jesus’ healing ministry. He notes that Mary was the one from whom seven demons had gone out. (Luke 8). So right off the bat we see that part of Mary’s witness to the church, the world, and us is that her response to the healing power that Jesus brings is to follow him, to become a disciple in thanksgiving for what he had done. Whatever her previous life had been, world’s oldest profession – homemaker, or manufacturer of some product, she claimed her restoration through Jesus, and followed him.
And speaking of her profession, she might have been a woman of some means, because Luke, in that same passage, goes on to note that these women who followed Jesus “provided for him out of their resources.” One could easily – and would be encouraged to – assume that Mary was a woman of some means. And that she gave from freely from her abundance. So we can add to her witness a model of stewardship. She had received richly and responded by giving so that Jesus might continue to travel the countryside bringing his message of God’s love and his acts of healing to others.
But along with her spirit of generosity and thankful giving, this passage from Luke also points out that she and the other women were also courageous. For, in that time, it was not acceptable for men and women to so freely travel and associate and commune together. Jesus was calling his friends and followers to live radically, to relate counter-culturally, create new communities around his presence. And Mary was one who did not shy away from that call out of fear or in the name of conformity.
We best know Mary from Magdala by her presence during those events in Jesus’ life that we call Holy Week. While the four gospel writers don’t always agree on details, one thing that all four agree on is that Mary was present throughout the week. She was there with Jesus every step of the way on this road that challenged him to his godly core.
She was one of those who stood there at the foot of Jesus’ cross. She would not allow him to go through this ordeal of pain and humiliation alone. Although her heart must have been breaking every which way that it could, she insisted on being present in the midst of his deep sorrow. While the disciples ran off and hid in fear, Mary stood and watched, albeit helplessly, as the one who had saved her now died. Add an enormous dose of compassion to her courage.
Now do not hear this as a perfecting of Mary of Magdala as some have tried to do with Mary of Nazareth. It is a great disservice to both them and us when we try to turn these heroes of faith into superheroes who are in some way beyond human and therefore unlike us. No, the great miracle of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of sinners who have become saints (that includes us) is that we are all flawed, broken, wanting humans. In Jesus, Mary found healing, found meaning, found compassion, found life. But she also didn’t always trust everything he said. She didn’t pop up on the first Easter morning, after having witnessed the brutality and seeming finality of his crucifixion, and think immediately, “Oh right, he said he would rise on the third day. I’m going to go see him.”
No, she go up, before dawn, while it was still dark, and made her way to the tomb. She was even bringing the necessary spices for proper burial. Faithful friend, yes. But perfect disciple who trusted everything he said, not entirely. But then no one could be. (And please note, no one is ever punished for that.) But she goes, and when she sees the empty tomb her first thought is that the body has been stolen. And all she wants is to get it back. Just for her friend to have some final dignity. She tells Peter and John who check it out but then return home. But then Mary does the thing that perhaps is one of the most faith-filled thing that is recorded in all the gospels…She stays.
Against all hope, in spite of all fear, filled with anger over the desecration that assumes has been committed, she stays there at the empty tomb of emptied dreams. And soon, she is being asked the greatest “Duh” question of all time. “Women why are you weeping?” Did she really have to answer that one? Seems pretty obvious to anyone paying attention. Her lord is gone. Dead and now stolen.
Then piercing through her hopelessness, stilling all fear, and pacifying all her anger, that voice calls her name – Mary. And restoration beyond her earlier healing fills her very being. Her resurrected lord resurrects her. And she all she can do is run and tell the good news. And by her proclamation, the world is changed forever.
But there is one more thing to take note of as Mary speaks to us from this great cloud of witnesses that is encouraging us onward in the midst of our own hopelessness, fear, and anger. And it is that part of her story that goes beyond her earthly life. Why did tradition and the church ever insist that Mary from Magdala must have been a prostitute? I know, Dan Brown has his theories, others have theirs. Its not that she couldn’t have been and still had the impact and lived the blessed life that she did. But for so long the depth have her witness has been shrouded by this label turning her into an off-color joke. (One commentator I came across years ago suggested that she couldn’t have been a prostitute because Jesus would have never had someone like that in his inner circle. Well, that’s just as offensive as labeling her one if she wasn’t. What part of “he ate with sinners and tax collectors” did that guy miss.) But this mis-labeling of Mary for so long can, perhaps bring some encouragement and resurrection to those of us who have also been mislabeled by tradition and the church for so long, only to now be recognized for being part of the family of God, disciples of Jesus, and instruments of the Holy Spirit. For we have all been called by name, we have all been restored to life, and we are all called to go and tell the good news of Jesus who we see in the word, in the meal, in one another, in all creation.
Through the presence of the resurrected Jesus, we have hope, we have joy, and we have peace. And so with Mary of Magdala and the whole cloud of witnesses, even on this muggy July morning, we shout: Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia! And so have we.
The Rev. Mark Erson