Sermon for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen
Readings: Song of Soloman 3: 1-4
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
John 20:1-2, 11-18
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In recent years St. Mary Magdalen must have become one of the most written about characters of the early church. Yet even before Dan Brown she seems to have been a woman around whom myths and legends have gathered. These have included that she was descended from a noble family, that she was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, that she married Jesus and had his child, that she was a high priestess in a roman temple at Magdala, after the crucifixion and resurrection she went to France or she went to Ephesus with Mary the mother of Christ. Both those last two statements can not be true, so what do we know of the real Mary Magdalene?
In the New testament she is introduced as Mary who is called Magdalen. The most likely explanation for this is that she was from Magdala, a town on the shores of lake Gailee near Tiberius. We don’t really know much about her family background, however she is listed as one of the women who travel with Jesus and support him financially, therefore she must have had some sort of independent source of income. According to both Mark and Luke, Mary had had seven demons driven out of her by Christ. She was present at the crucifixion, the burial and of course, as we heard in the gospel today the resurrection of Christ.
Now, there seem to be several key scenes missing from that little summary, wasn’t Mary the woman caught in adultery, and didn’t she pour ointment over Jesus’s feet and wipe it all up with her hair? We don’t know who the woman caught in adultery was. The Mary who poured ontiment over Jesus’s feet in John’s gospel was Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus and from about 591 until 1969 the Roman catholic church did say they were the same person, although the Eastern Orthodox church has always claimed they are two separate people. However the story of the anointing of Jesus’s feet in Luke’s gospel doesn't name the woman. It may have been Mary Magdalene we just don’t know.
So it would seem that the Mary Magdelene that most people think they know didn’t exist. So, how would you feel if Mary Magdalene were to walk through the door when we’re having coffee later on? Would you accept that you know nothing about her and try to find out more? Or would you have in the back of your mind all those rumours about her, thinking well they might be true, they say there is no smoke without fire? Would your judgement be based on Mary Magdalene the person, or the Mary Magdalene created by gossip and rumour. If we’re honest then I suspect the answer would be the second one. We all tend to make judgements first and find out the facts later. The writer of Isaiah recognised this when giving a prophecy of the one to come who would be better than us
“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.”
If as Christians we are supposed to follow Christ, to try and become more like him, then we have to be conscious of the fact that we do pre judge people, we do like to listen to gossip and we need to try and counteract that. We all carry our own prejudices based on who we are, what we have experienced and where we are in life.
Mary Magdalen as someone who suffered from mental ill health had probably had to put up with a large amount of negative responses from people. After all no one would want to go near that mad women, parents would warn their children to avoid her in case they got possessed too. Yet Jesus reached out to her in kindness, he reached out to the real Mary, the Mary behind the one that people saw. The real Mary behind the tales that had been told of that strange, mad woman that lived in Magdala. Mary responds to this by giving up the rest of her life to following Jesus and supporting his ministry. No matter what the cost, financial and emotional, would be. Now, we are not Christ and we can’t go around healing people in a few minutes and earning their undying love and gratitude. So what can we do? We can reach out to people, and as we don’t get instant results, this involves us taking risks. People with mental and emotional problems often struggle with relationships, this may be because they have been so badly hurt before that they would rather not take the risk of letting people get close and then get hurt again, or people can feel so overwhelmed by what is going on inside their own minds that they don’t have the emotional strength to deal with other people. So, the risk to us is of getting involved in a relationship that may seem demanding and one sided, that may leave us feeling hurt. So, what should we do? Jesus shows us that we need to reach out to people to love and care for all God’s children no matter what. Mary shows us that that means following the path Jesus sets us on, right to the end, staying on it when we are suffering, when we feel everything we have tried to do to help others is going wrong, that we aren’t getting anywhere in trying to reach people that may seem difficult. I am sure those last few days in Jerusalem and especially those hours at Golgotha, watching the one who had healed her suffer and being powerless to stop it must have been torture for Mary. Yet, who knows, maybe her presence there was a comfort to Jesus. We know Jesus came out the other side of that difficult time resurrected and whole, and Mary? She became the apostle to the apostles, the first to witness to the resurrection. In the 2nd century a gospel was written in her name. At that time using the name of someone famous as author on your own work was common practice. The fact that the name of Mary Magdalen is used in this way shows that she must have been an important figure and leader in the early church. When Mary met Jesus it was a life changing moment, one that would take her down an at times difficult road from mad woman of Magdala to respected Church leader. How many Mary’s are there in our community around us, who are waiting for that person that will help them out of the dark place they in are and into new life, and how many of us are prepared to show them the way and support them along it?