On Tuesday at the 2pm service we remembered Mary Magdalene, a woman whose life was completely changed as a result of meeting Jesus. As a result, she joined with other women who had been healed by Jesus, in supporting his ministry from her private means. More shocking perhaps, she travelled with him, listening to him, learning from him. When Jesus’ earthly life ended in agony on the cross, Mary was one of those who did not abandon him, but stayed faithful to the end. As a result of her great love and dedication Mary became the Apostle to the Apostles. It was unthinkable at that time that a woman should be trusted to give testimony, but Jesus had a habit of challenging cultural norms.
The readings were those for the first Evening Prayer of Mary Magdelene: Psalm 139, Isaiah 25:1-9, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. The sermon follows.
If you read the Gospels you can be forgiven for thinking that Jesus only chose men as his followers. It’s true that the 12 disciples were men and they probably had to be. They were sent out in twos to preach and heal. That would hardly have been acceptable for women to do in that culture. Nevertheless, women followed Jesus as Luke makes plain. It seems that these women each owed a great debt to Jesus as we are told that Jesus had either healed them or driven demons out of them. In a time when doctors had little chance of healing most things, you can understand their gratitude.
Among these women was Mary Magdalene, which probably means Mary from Magdala by the Sea of Galilee, who is mentioned in all four Gospels. She has a special mention as she had seven demons driven out of her. It’s difficult for us to know just what is meant by these demons. Were they actual evil spirits or was it more like Mary had different personalities, something that we sometimes see today in people who have suffered abuse over a long period? Whatever was the case Mary must have enjoyed the most wonderful freedom once she was helped by Jesus. Mary joined Joanna, Susanna and other women in following Jesus and contributing to his support from their private means. This really is a revolutionary thing to do. We don’t know much about the women, but Joanna was married to a high official of King Herod’s. She should surely have been at home with her husband, occupying a domestic role.
There’s no doubt there must have been comments made about the behaviour of these women. In the first century, Jewish women were usually treated as second class citizens with few of the rights that the men enjoyed. They were certainly not allowed to be taught by a rabbi. Jesus was no stranger to breaking cultural rules of course. Had he had a problem with the women being there, he could have sent them away. Instead he seems to have welcomed them, accepted their support, and treated them with respect. They in their turn loved him greatly.
It was the women who stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die. All the disciples had deserted him, except John. The beginning of the Sabbath prevented Mary giving Jesus’ body respect by embalming it. She had to wait until the Sabbath was over, but only just. She arrived at the tomb while it was still dark, not waiting any more time than she absolutely had to. It was she who was the first to see that the stone had gone from the tomb entrance. She ran to tell Peter the terrible news and he and John went to the tomb to confirm it.
Unlike the disciples, Mary’s love wouldn’t let her leave. She stayed and wept. Hoping against hope perhaps, she looked into what she knew was an empty tomb. She saw two angels sitting there where Jesus should have been. Then Mary must have seen a shadow because she looked over her shoulder and saw what she thought was the gardener. Perhaps the early morning sun was in her eyes, perhaps her tears made it difficult to see. At first she was addressed in the normal way for the times as ‘Woman’. Then Jesus used her name, Mary, and she recognised her beloved master. Her perseverance had been rewarded.
Much as she must have wanted to stay with Jesus, to cling on to him and hold him fast, Jesus would not allow it. Instead, having found the risen Jesus, Mary was sent to spread the Good News among the disciples. A woman, one who could not give testimony in court in her culture, was commissioned as the apostle to the apostles, witnessing to the most important event in history: ‘I have seen the Lord!’
Let’s listen to Mary’s story again, in the poem by Janet Morley called ‘They have taken away my Lord.’
(The poem is not reproduced here for copyright reasons).
The poem ends with Mary saying, ‘I have a gospel to proclaim’. Like Mary, we too have a gospel to proclaim.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor