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Upholding the Faith and Order of the Church
Saturday September 23rd 2017

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Mary Magdalene and Easter

By Marianne Dorman

Apostola Apostolorum (Apostle of the Apostles) – an evangelist not only to the bewildered disciples behind shut doors but also to us at Eastertide.

When we first meet in the Lucan Gospel the one who will be bearer of the news of the risen Christ to the disciples, she has been healed by Jesus of her severe illness. If seven demons were cast out of her, it would seem she had suffered from a mental sickness rather than a physical one (Lk.8.3). To be made whole is what Jesus came to give, not only to this woman of Magdala, but also to all who come to Him. Probably for the first time in her life, Mary was able to see herself as God had made her. More importantly, she accepted this, a lesson we could all learn. That enabled her to minister to the Son of God unconditionally as she accompanied Him from village to village in Galilee. Mary teaches us that we are not much use to God until we can see ourselves as God has made us, that unique being, with a specific role in His kingdom. Once we have thrown off the cloak, we are able to discover that the only important thing in life is to do what the Lord wants, irrespective of barriers, difficulties or even the opinions of others.

From her healing the Magdalen also discovered what love truly meant. In the words of Julian of Norwich, “He who made woman for love, will by that same love restore her to her former blessedness – and yet more.”Mary’s love in return meant that as she travelled with Jesus, she helped to supply His day to day needs from her wealth. Yet I think more important for her was to listen to His teaching, which would make her more aware of what loving others truly meant. She knew the two great commandments, to love God and one’s neighbours but until she comprehended deep within herself the measure of love as taught by her Lord she could not fulfil these. That she did gain that measure, is illustrated in her running to tell the disciples of the extraordinary and joyful news that their Lord is alive and will ascend unto His and their Father. “For when God is loved by us with all our heart and mind, undoubtedly both our neighbour and every other lovable thing is loved as well”.  That means for us that as we follow Mary’s example, Christ Himself becomes more apparent in our brothers and sisters, and thus fulfils the demands of Judgment as illustrated in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Matthean Gospel.

Mary Magdalene’s love brought her to Jerusalem and in those last days, her Lord would not have been far from her or the other women who recognised her as their leader. Did she understand that the net was tightening around the One she loved so much? I am sure she would have been amongst the disciples who heard Jesus give what we know as the High Priestly prayer on His last night here on earth. The Lord’s words, “keep my commandments”, “the Spirit of truth … abides in you”, “love one another” and “those who love me will be loved by the Father” would resonate not only during the next twenty-four hours but also for the rest of her life. Like the blessed Mother, Mary of Magdala inspires us to ponder on the deep well of Jesus’ teaching for us.

The Magdalen as a true disciple does, walked behind Jesus to Calvary. Here she stayed and lingered at the foot of the cross whilst her Lord embraced all mankind with His outstretched arms. Amongst all the clamour at Golgotha Mary wept silently within. “If only” must have pierced her soul many times as the day changed into night. Hadn’t Jesus spoken so often about the light overcoming the darkness? Now it seemed that “darkness comprehended it not.” If we are going to be outreaching in Christ’s name by venturing into those darkened parts of this secular world, we too have to linger gazing upon the crucified Lord. “Shall we always receive grace, even streams of grace issuing from Him Who is pierced, and shall there not from us issue something back again?”

Mary just wanted to be as close to Jesus as she possibly could in His suffering, even though she felt herself swooning at the pitiful sight, but stay she must. There is that delightful story, told by the Cure d’Ars, Jean Vianney, of an old peasant who spent hours each day in the church very quietly. One day the priest’s curiosity made him ask the old man of what he did during his time in church, to which the peasant replied, “I look at him, He looks at me and we are happy”. Although Mary of Magdala was not very happy at Calvary, she nevertheless teaches us to spend time in sheer adoration in His presence where stillness is a precious presence. Like even the sparrow, let us spend much time close to the altar where we can contemplate the goodness and love of the Lord. Nevertheless, like the swallow’s chicks we have to leave the nest and go out into the world to share the fruits of that silence, one of which is hopefully to be a good listener. That way we are open to hear the needs of our neighbours, through the suffering of Christ.

Another significant factor about lingering at Calvary as Mary Magdalene did, is to grasp that the Cross is the central part of our Christian faith. How often did Mary hear from her Lord, about how the Son of Man must be lifted up in order to draw all unto Him, and those who were to be His disciples must carry the cross? The weight of that cross can be heavy, burdensome and almost unendurable when we encounter the sufferings and pathos of others as well as our own personal struggles and sadness. But put it down we must not! That Cross will cut across so many desires, attitudes, and preconceived ideas, that we shall find ourselves having to rebuild afresh on the foundation of that blessed Tree. That Tree as life is a very common theme in the Byzantine Liturgy as illustrated by this extract:

The tree of your cross, Christ God,
has become the tree of life for those who believe.
By it, defeating the power of death,
you have given us life, who were dead through our sins.

Mary’s love brought her to the tomb very early on Easter day. While most of the disciples were huddled in fear over Jesus’ death, she came to the tomb that “very first day of the week, the very first part of that day, in the morning; the very first hour of that first part, very early, before the sun was up.” She came “to anoint Him”, not with some cheap ointment, but costly, sweet-smelling spices. Henceforth “so long as this is a Gospel, … [on] Easter day … the buying of odours, the embalming of whatsoever is left us of Christ, is and will be still a sign of our loving and seeking Him.”

What her coming to the tomb commends to us is that we must continually seek Christ, even in those situations that seem dead and hopeless. A tree always appears dead before it bursts into life, and manifests its beauty and strength. This is what Mary experienced as she sobbed outside the tomb on that first Easter morn. What she thought was dead was alive. Her tears rolling down her cheeks were wiped away in that two syllable word she heard from whom she thought had been the gardener. Jesus had taught her that his flock knew His voice. How could she forget? She knew her Lord loved her, but to hear the His first words spoken after He burst forth from the grave was an honour. But a greater honour awaited as he made her Apostola Apostolorum.

We too must have our Easter garden where we encounter the risen Lord. Then we too will receive our commission like the Magdalen to preach the good news that Christ has conquered death; death no longer has its sting; it is no longer our enemy; “death shall be no more; death, shalt thou die.” Like a gazelle Mary ran to the disciples knowing in her heart that “the winter is passed, the rain is over and gone. … the flowers appear on the earth, [and] the time of singing has come.”

Another lesson that we can learn from Mary of Magdala on that first day of the new creation is that she ran to the tomb; she did not idle on the way because she wanted to be with her Lord as soon as possible. John Cosin, a Caroline Divine, once remarked, if we knew we were meeting our Lord in the Sunday Eucharist, we would run to our church in order receive what should be our greatest joy for the week. What he preached was beautifully expressed in this prayer by John Evelyn, a devout layman who lived during that same seventeenth century.

Come, O come holy Jesus! Thou delight of Thy
Father, the love and admiration of Angels;
the desire of nations. The joy of Saints:
The sanctuary of Souls; Come, O come Lord
of life and love. Come my sweet and holy Jesus.

If we all had Mary’s excitement and anticipation of serving the Lord then our Sunday Eucharists would be a time of joy and thankfulness. We have feasted with the Lord. “Come and see how gracious the Lord is,” would be our invitation to others. This excitement would also spill over in being Christ-bearers in this world, and being prepared to spend and be spent wherever He sends us. We are the humble, the pure, the joyful, the peace-maker, the merciful, the compassionate, and the loving in our homes, offices, shops, universities, parish halls or wherever we find ourselves. This is the “royal priesthood” for all believers in Christ’s death and resurrection that give a living hope to all.

Probably the last reference to Mary Magdalene is in “Acts” where we are told awaiting in prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit were women disciples. Along with the Twelve, the Mother of the Lord, and the faithful followers of Christ, Mary of Magdala was empowered by the gift from on high at the first Christian Pentecost. If she had become a member of the Johannine community, which I think she probably did, as only the Johannine gospel has her at the foot of the cross and her Easter story, she would know that the Paraclete was her only teacher who would lead her to know the Truth. That she knew was her Rabboni.

Holy Spirit teach us this Easter season to know the Truth in a fresh way.