for the Feast of Mary Magdalene

[from a homily first preached at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Eastern Passage, NS on 23 July 2017]

Scripture: II Corinthians 5:14-15; John 20:1-3, 11-18

In the name of the One God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

As she walks along the path just before dawn, she finds herself alone with her thoughts. She isn’t conscious of the darkness or the morning chill. The events of the past days remain with her like thick, muddy waters. Random thoughts—the memories of her life run wildly through her mind—even things she has not thought about in years and the things she prefers to forget come rising to the surface unpredictably. That’s what grief does, after all.

“In all of the confusion of my life, he understood.” This is the thought that keeps her taking another step, then another. When it comes to him, as stricken as she feels, she wants to remember. Yes. She wants to always remember life with Jesus. And, that’s what she is doing on her way to care for his cold, lifeless body. She is remembering. Yet, somehow, there is this lingering sense that he is nearer than she can ask or imagine.

Looking back beyond everything, he cast out seven demons within her in God’s name (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). And, beyond her wildest imaginings, she is now whole in body, mind and spirit. She knows God’s imprint within her and it is good.

But, it’s the life before Jesus, the life before she came to know herself wholly as God created her to be, however—that’s the story about her that others like to tell. She’s learned, over time, to pay no mind to those who cast doubt on her living into her “being-ness” as God has created her to be.

“Who does she think that she is, acting as if nothing is wrong with her? She thinks we don’t know…you would think that she’s forgotten her place in the world,” they mocked.

“Well, at least they got that part right,” she told herself. “In him, I have been made new. And, that has made all the difference.”

The thought of it makes her smile inwardly, but just for a moment before she is once more fully aware of the purpose for this morning’s excursion.

Her old place in the world, the passing away of her former self—it was now as if her life had never been that way. Ever since he brought her to wholeness she’s been one in the Kingdom—a follower of Jesus, a disciple among disciples that grew in number from the Twelve to include her and any number of children, other women, and men. She was only too happy to share in the work of God’s good news. It gave her great joy to provide for the economic needs of those that she joined. For the first time in her life she felt a deep sense of satisfaction, purpose, and home among those whom Jesus included as his own (Matt. 12:46-50).

marymagdaleneAnd, she faithfully followed. She faithfully stayed at the place provided for her around the proverbial Kingdom Table. She stayed through thick. She stayed through thin. She journeyed with the others, even to the foot of his cross (Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). She wouldn’t have had it any other way. Then, when Joseph placed the body of the Lord in the garden tomb, she and Jesus’ mother comforted one another by the cold, heavy stone that sealed the entrance before departing for home (Matt 27:61; Mark 15:47)

With this memory, her thoughts return and she begins to ponder the problem of how to move past the stone. Determined, she draws her mantle closer against the morning chill. She grasps the parcel of cloth strips and anointing spices all the more closely (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:10). As first light approaches, she reaches the tomb only to discover that her worry is for nothing. The stone is already rolled away. Her relief, however, gives way to horror in discovering that the body of the Lord is gone.

She quickly goes to tell a few others. They come back with her to fact check her story before returning home. Their grief is only compounded by her news. After everything that they had been through, the thought of his body having been stolen under cover of darkness compounds their hopelessness.

Distraught beyond her understanding, gut wrenching sobs now burst freely from her deepest place. This is the moment of her deepest loss. It is the time of her deepest pain.

And, in it…she discovers her greatest joy, as if for the very first time. As God’s holy messengers comfort her, she hears her name spoken kindly and plainly from behind. “Mary.” And, she turns to face him exclaiming, “Rabouni!” before running to declare to the others, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:16-18). These are some of the most beautiful words I can imagine ever being spoken. “I have seen the Lord.”

What do you think of this story? What is it that you are noticing? How does it make you feel? Does it move you?

Would you be surprised to know that this is all that the Bible has to say about Mary-from-the-Galilean-seaside town of Magdala? Her name is only mentioned thirteen times in the Bible. Now, there are those places where one of the writers will say something like “and the women” or simply state the name “Mary” without any clear designation of which Mary. Mary was one of the most popular names given to first century Jewish women, adding to the confusion.

I find myself wondering, “Is Mary Magdalene’s story hard or easy? Is this Mary Magdalene the Mary Magdalene that I thought that I knew?” I can see that I fell for some of those neighborhood whisperings about her.

What is the Holy Spirit stirring up in your heart as you further reflect on Mary Magdalene?

Bart Ehrman writes that “[m]aybe public intrigue and veneration come easier to those whose real lives are vague and shadowy.”[1] And, this is where I am challenged by the story of Mary Magdalene. I once believed the worst bits of her story, too. I believed the gossip. I spread the rumors. I participated in her shaming. But, where do the pieces of her story come from? I don’t find them in the Gospels. Further, what I’m noticing is this. When I attempt to fill in the gaps of someone else’s story I never get what it’s really all about. When it comes to Mary, what is not there has been made up by others who have inserted imagined parts of her story as others would have them be. I can now see how these attempts diminish Mary as a child of God. These are attempts to hold Mary back from being the person that God authentically created her to be…attempts to diminish her “yes” to God…attempts to destroy her healing by Jesus…attempts to deny her ability to sincerely turn, serve and follow the one who made and loved her as his own. Because, that is who she is—one of great worth known and loved by the One that made her and loves her—as if anyone could discredit the presence of God’s good news in another.

Upon further reflection, I realize that I don’t think that Mary’s story is hard at all. The Gospels give us no glimpse of this. Mary’s story is beautifully about a life of freedom and release into the will of the God who made and loves her. She demonstrates for us deep truths that are not just for the Greats of the Bible. They are deep truths for us, too.

I confess to you, though, that there was a time when I believed in the hardness of my story. I lived into and believed the deceptions and rumors of others about me. I was shamed into accepting the shaming and embarrassment from others instead of the Gospel truth of my own origins and destiny which is God.

This is the point of Mary Magdalene. She shows us what it looks like to be found by God. In her finding, we can find ourselves known by God. How many times does God lovingly and patiently tap on our shoulders, calling each of us by name?

I believe that there’s a bit of Mary-Magdalene-as-God-created-and-loves-her in each one of us. The love of Christ urged Mary onward. Mary saw for herself that the One has died for all; therefore all have died. He died for all so that Mary might live no longer for self, but for the One who died and was raised for her (II Cor 5:14-18). This is the same One that urges us on to live into our deepest truth.

Like Mary, we are created and loved beyond our wildest imaginings. May we see for ourselves the One that has died for all. The next time that you think that you hear your name, know that you did, you do…turn and respond so that you, too, with Mary may say, “I have seen the Lord!” Amen.

In the name of the One God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

© Douglas A. Beck, 2017

[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Peter, Paul, & Mary Magdalene, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). 179.