Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, July 22
“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20:18
In the name of one God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.
Today we celebrate the church’s feast day for Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles. The story of Mary Magdalene and her witness to the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection, his appearance to her at the place of empty tomb is the root of her title as Apostle to the Apostles.
But this is probably not the part of Mary’s story that you know best, nor is it the aspect of her relationship to Jesus that you and I hear about the most in our contemporary context.
Thanks to a history of distortion by church fathers who have confused and conflated this Mary of Magdala with other Mary’s and unnamed female “sinners” in the Gospels, the first word you probably think of when you hear her name is prostitute… maybe repentant. Or, even more recently than that, the phenomenon of Dan Brown’s popular novel and film The Da Vinci Code, has put into the mainstream an image of this Mary as, perhaps, Jesus’ secret lover, wife, the mother of his child. Could it be that Mary Magdalene represents the elusive Holy Grail, a divine bloodline that might mean that descendants of Jesus walk among us?
Of course Dan Brown is not the only one to have purported these images of Mary. Medieval folklore exists that describes Mary as a woman banished to the South of France, who spent her life in prayer, fed by angels, and raising a child believed to be the progeny of Jesus. The 1960 novel and 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ questions whether Jesus made a choice between a life with
Mary Magdalene as a husband and parent, or death on the cross. And even Broadway has had its crack at the story with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, capturing an image of Mary Magdalene singing to herself: “I don’t know how to love him.” Caught between his presence as a human man, and the divinity that exuded from him, this Mary struggles with how to relate to Jesus – an ongoing question in Christian theology – how to understand and hold onto one who is wholly human and wholly divine?
These versions of the Magdalene story that are best known can be a lesson in the reality that oftentimes women are spoken of only in their relationship to the male counterpart in scripture. “Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza” (Luke 8:3), Jeptha’s daughter (1 Kings), etc.
So many of the images used when discussing Mary Magdalene describe her in relationship to Jesus in light of her bodily self– be it as the repentant prostitute whose body was a source of revenue or as the potential partner in marriage and motherhood – whose body was the vessel of growth and new life - reproduction.
Though vastly different images, they are both very body-centered images of femininity. Again, her work, and her companionship amongst the followers of Jesus are overshadowed, and we do not think of her first as Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles.
Given this new awareness, this new understanding that there is more to her story than we may have thought about before, how might we open ourselves to all that Mary Magdalene has to teach us? What other words might we begin to associate with Mary Magdalene and her ministry? Today I would suggest to you: Commitment, and Leadership.
Mary is first described in the Gospel of Luke as one of several women traveling with Jesus and his twelve apostles. The women are noted as providing for this group out of their own resources. Mary and these women were present with Jesus at the foot of the cross and committed to the care of his body after it had been placed in the tomb. Their loyalty and presence amidst his disciples from the beginning to the bitter end of their journey sets a powerful example for us.
It causes me to wonder, where are the moments in your lives, in your experiences, in your hearts, where you met Jesus and knew that you would follow Him throughout the journey of your life? Some of you have made commitments similar to this in relationships such as marriage, parenthood, partnership, and in the various personal commitments that you have made to one cause or another. Something burned in your heart and you knew that you would work every day, in some way to work toward the betterment of that relationship, or that need of the world.
Mary Magdalene’s moment of transition, of knowing that she would follow Jesus is told in the context of a healing experience, having 7 demons removed from her. It resulted in her commitment to follow, to learn, to be in community with Jesus, the Apostles and the others whose lives were changed by Jesus’ words and actions. Following Mary’s example, of loyalty and commitment, how are you being called to respond to Jesus in this community, this country, this world in need?
As a congregation we do this through our financial commitments to support diocesan and national church ministry funds, as well as the variety of offerings that we take each month – ERD, York Place, the Day School, RAIN, Christians Feed the Hungry, Cange, Haiti, etc. This week members of this congregation will host a group of diocesan youth and young adults traveling to
Leadership. Mary Magdalene is an example to us of the presence and importance of female leadership from the earliest Christian community. There is an important piece of history that goes along with the misconceptions about who Mary Magdalene was, and how women’s leadership in Christian history has had to be recovered.
The fact that a woman was the one who first shared the message of Jesus’ triumph over death is another example of God’s work taking place in an unexpected vessel. She was given the commission to go and tell, she was given a voice to speak the truth: that Jesus’ love for God’s people had allowed him to take the fear out of death – that what he had said all along really was the truth. She was the first, sent to proclaim this Good News to Jesus’ followers.
This question was posed to me recently, “Where does it say in the Bible that women should not be leaders in church?” It was a woman calling from another denomination, not with malice in her heart, but with a true and real desire to reconcile the teachings that had been rooted in her religious education as a child, that women ought not take places of leadership in the church, pitted against the fact that a woman pastor had been called to serve at the congregation she now attends. In the same week I responded to a phone call requesting a pastoral visit with a female clergy-person.
The witness of female leadership that this church provides, both in this community of
Each of us sees, hears, experiences and tells the stories of our experience of Jesus in the voice and understanding that is unique to our context, our understanding of the world. Following in the example of Mary of Magdala, what witness will you make to the life changing experience of knowing the risen Christ, of being fed by the worship and sacred meal that we share together as followers of Christ, of the work and commitments that we make as a community and as individuals as living examples of God’s love in the world?
Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles, a loyal, committed and faithful leader. How will her story nourish yours? And to whom will you go and tell, “I have seen the Lord!” Amen.
Delivered by The Rev. Mary Catherine Enockson
Delivered by The Rev. Mary Catherine Enockson
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Rock Hill, SC. July 22, 2007