The bible, perhaps especially the gospels, fascinate me! Perhaps you should be relieved to hear me say this, I am after all a priest; your priest. I think the bible fascinates me most because of its characters and, as a Christian I of course believe that Jesus is the leading character, the one whom the rest of the narrative revolves around. But, I really enjoy reading about the other characters in the gospel stories, learning from them, identifying with them, allowing them to both act as a mirror into my own shortcomings and as a source of hope.
I am perfectly capable of being all bravado like Peter, only then to crumble at the last. Like James and John I am perfectly capable of seeking preferment. Like Thomas I am perfectly capable of my moments of doubt. But, is there anything of Mary Magdalene in me? Is there anything of Mary Magdalene in you? In some ways this is a hard question to answer because we don’t know much about her. Perhaps, the best place to start is with the challenges she poses.
What we do know about Mary is that she was the first to arrive at Jesus’ tomb. We do know that she was so disturbed by the emptiness of the tomb that she ‘ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple.’ And, we do know that the risen Jesus first revealed himself to Mary. What can we deduce from this chain events?
Well, first of all I would want to suggest that Mary Magdalene was an intimate not only of Jesus but also of the apostles. She was fully included as integral member of the emerging Jesus movement. And in greeting her so tenderly just outside the empty tomb Jesus affirms her status as the ‘apostle to the apostles.’ It is a remarkable fact that Jesus revealed the resurrection first of all to a woman. Women in first century Judaism ranked way behind men in the pecking order. It is a fact we would do well to ponder on, for one of the amazing things about Jesus is that he always seems to subvert the hierarchical order of things. Mary Magdalene unashamedly receives Jesus' affirmation of both herself and, Jesus’ subversion of the assumed order of things.
That too is worth pondering. How often do we seek to preserve the status quo? Not many of us are natural boat rockers. But, the world needs more boat rockers. We need more modern day Marys; women and men who allow themselves to be affirmed by Jesus and who then go on to spread his message; a message that subverts the assumed order of things. A message that makes it clear that the Kingdom of God is available to all on equal terms.
I think it likely that Jesus chose to reveal himself to Mary Magdalene because she, over and above all the characters in the gospel stories, is the one who dared to truly love, even adore, him. This again is a challenge to us? How deep is our love for Jesus? Do we, like Mary Magdalene, adore him? The reading from the Song of Songs clearly expresses the kind of love that Mary Magdalene seeks: ‘I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him who my soul loves.’ Do we seek such love? Do we locate such love in the person of Jesus Christ; for that is Mary’s challenge to us? In a few months’ time we will sing ‘oh come let us adore him,’ but why wait? Let’s start our journey of adoration right now. Let’s adore Jesus through the simple act of sharing in the Eucharist this morning.
Mary of course gets one thing wrong. She believes that her adoration for Jesus is contingent on his physical presence with us. Note that I said physical rather than real, for as Christians we start every celebration of the Eucharist by proclaiming that ‘the Lord is here,’ and that ‘his Spirit is with us.’ So another challenge from the story of Mary Magdalene is to allow our love for Jesus to take shape through the work of the Holy Spirit, for it is the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus real to us in the here and now.
So there you have it a series of challenges provided for us by Mary Magdalene:
The challenge of accepting our own status as dearly beloved by God. The challenge of critiquing the assumed order of things and of working for inclusivity and equality. The challenge to love and adore Jesus by accepting his very real presence with us through the work of the Holy Spirit and, the simple act of sharing in the Eucharist together. And, the challenge to rush off to tell others of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown