Mary Magdalene 2017

Sermon Title: Mary Magdalene 2017
Date: 23rd July 2017
Preacher: Rev Susanne Chambers
Church Calendar Date: 7th Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary Reading: Song of Songs 3:1-4a, Psalm 63, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, John 20:1-18

The other day I was stopped at lights and a tram pulled up alongside me.  As you know they advertise various events and this one was advertising the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ which will be shown here in Melbourne at the end of this month.

Many of us have seen this musical and know many of the songs off by heart including ‘I don’t know how to love him’ sung by Mary Magdalene, known to many as the prostitute.

In other stories, Mary Magdalene has been depicted as Jesus’ wife.

The interesting thing here is our mixed feelings of who she really was and how we really want to portray her.

I suspect, that many of us, although the evidence in the New Testament says she wasn’t a prostitute, would still secretly like to think that she was.

Because if she was, wow! That means that we are all accepted and acceptable to God in Christ!

I think this is very important.  We are all accepted and the story in the New Testament of the ‘unnamed woman’ who was a sinner, who bathed Jesus feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and then anointed his feet with her ointment, is a most beautiful story of forgiveness, faith and peace. Jesus was at a Pharisee’s house when this event occurred and the Pharisee said to himself “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him- that she is a sinner.  Jesus said to this unnamed woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:37, 38 & 50).

A truly powerful story.

This is not Mary of Magdala.

Mary Magdalene is named 12 times in the New Testament, making her the second most mentioned woman, after the Virgin Mary.  Why would any woman, ‘not named’ or just called Mary, have to be thought of as Mary Magdalene?

I could go into the four archetypes of woman, I think first thought by Jung: Queen, mother, wise woman and lover, and each have strong characteristics positive and shadow sides to them.

We often think only of virgin (Mother Mary) and prostitute (lover) (Mary Magdalene) but it’s important to know these are not the only archetypes that we have! The archetypes of mother and wise woman are also important… and maybe Mary Magdalene was a wise woman.
In three of the four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus. She is a witness to his crucifixion (Matthew 27:55–56; Mark 15:40–41; John 19:25) and his burial (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47). She is one of the first to arrive at the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–10).  And she is the first to witness the risen Christ (Matthew 28:9; John 20:14–18).

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary Magdalene is named in connection with Jesus’ daily life and public ministry. There, Mary is listed as someone who followed Jesus as he went from village to village, bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. “And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:1–3).
Mary came from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. She must have been a woman of some means, to leave her hometown and able to support Jesus and the other disciples… disciples which includes Joanna and Susanna.  (They weren’t just hanger-oners!)

From an article by Birger A. Pearson:  ‘Interestingly, the legend of Mary the penitent whore is found only in the Western church; in the Eastern church she is honored for what she was, a witness to the resurrection. Gregory of Antioch from the sixth century, in one of his homilies, has Jesus say to the women at the tomb: “Proclaim to my disciples the mysteries which you have seen. Become the first teacher of the teachers. Peter, who has denied me, must learn that I can also choose women as apostles.”[i]

Last year, the Pope declared Mary Magdalene as ‘apostle to the apostles’. One wonders why then women aren’t ordained in the Catholic Church!

The Apostle Mary, the first witness to the resurrection, a woman of faith, helps us to see the unexpected, beautiful and impossible moment of resurrection!

Richard Rohr says that ‘faith points to an initial opening of the heart or mind space from our side. Foundationally, this is all that faith is, but its effects and implications can be enormous.  Faith is our small but necessary “yes” to any new change or encounter.”[ii]

Mary Magdalene had an experience with Jesus that changed her life. Whatever the seven demons were (probably a mental illness), she was suddenly free of their debilitating effect on her life. Her faith in Jesus grew as she got to know him.

All of us have our ‘demons’ that hinder us from being our true selves. I have them and it is my life’s work to understand them and not let them have such control on my life. This taps into my passion to see Mary Magdalene as a wise woman who was a devoted disciple of Jesus, without the baggage of her demons or the history the Western church has put on her. The risen Jesus knew her by name indicating to me this intimate relationship Jesus wants and does have with each of us… no matter our demons.

Mary was a disciple of Jesus. She listened to his words, saw how he lived and loved and healed people, no matter who they were, and was devastated when he was killed.  She dearly loved him and all the writers of the gospels knew that as they told her story.

Jesus was the one who gave her new life.

“For whom are you looking?”  This is a question Jesus asked Mary as she wept, distraught that Jesus was not in the tomb assuming someone had taken him away.

Can I ask this same question of you: For whom are you looking? Is Jesus missing?

Are you stuck in your life right now that you are not sure what to believe, what to do about your life?  Do you know your demons?

Be inspired by Mary Magdalene whose love was strong and so let the Spirit open your heart to hear the risen Lord call your name.

The Lord be with you.

[i] “From Saint to Sinner” by Birger A. Pearson originally appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Bible Review. The article was first republished in Bible History Daily in October 2011.

[ii] Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation ‘Faith and Belief’ July 18, 2017