As per usual in my congregation, there are monthly "Pentecost Preacher's" during the summer months which follow Pentecost. I was asked to preach last month, but the days leading up I caught a fever and wasn't able to finish the sermon. So, I traded with my Priest, and seeing that Mary Magdalene was remembered this week I asked to transfer her Feast Day. I'll admit that I finished this cutting close to the 11th hour. My laptop is down and I've been writing this in my head the past week, finally getting down to the church to get it all on paper. So luckily it wrote itself. That being said, forgive me my grammatical sins. Comma-splices are too ignorable when punching out at the last minute. Whats been fun about this sermon wasn't the writing, but the speaking. There are so many opportunities to voice act considering the range of emotions in this text. As always, honest feedback is truly appreciated.
July 20, 2014
Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene (Transferred from July 22)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church-Bakersfield, CA
2 Corinthians 5:14-18
2 Corinthians 5:14-18
Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is a saint? According to Roman Catholics, narrowly speaking, a saint is popularly a person whom through God has lived in extraordinary virtue, and by signs and miracles associated with them, we know that they have bypassed purgatory and have gone straight to heaven. According to Protestants, a saint is a person whom has believed in the message of the Gospel and has undergone Sanctification to live a Godly and righteous life. What about Episcopalians? The answer is easy: Someone who provides both the wine and the cork screw.
I love the Saints. When looking at the lives of those whom professed the faith of Christ we can find so many wild stories, so many sad stories, and much more inspiration. The problem with the Saints, however, is that they can potential turn into revered and popular celebrities. Not that the Saints shouldn’t be revered or be popular, but that we make them into that which we what we want to see. We say to ourselves, I want to be just like THAT, or maybe, thank God I’m not like that, instead of allowing God to use us to be perfectly ourselves. Looking at the Saints can be like looking at the ecclesiastical version of People magazine; we have stories and pictures and keep up with what went on in their lives. We have a snapshot Peter, the rock; the one whom Christ said he would build the church. We have a snapshot of Thomas, the doubter; whom we see touching the holes in Jesus’ hands. We have a snapshot of St Mary the Virgin, in the scene of Annunciation, pondering those things in her heart. Sadly, in celebrity culture we also have to deal with the dreaded tabloids, and the paparazzi has been following and photo shopping Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today, for years. The Catholic tabloids, have called her the prostitute. The Dan Brown tabloids will call her the secret wife of Jesus who lost community power to Peter and moved to France where she raised the child whom Jesus fathered. Personally, these conjectures alone make me think that Mary Magdalene is one of the most interesting women in the world. But setting these aside, let’s take a quick look at what history has done to Mary before we get to know the real her.
It was Pope Gregory in the 4th century who preached a sermon which identified Mary Magdalene with the “sinner “who anointed the feet of Jesus in Luke, and Mary of Bethany who was the sister of Lazarus and Martha. It was in this association that Mary was known as the “penitent”, the full force harlot who was changed by Jesus to the point where seeing his death as a sacred death, anointed his body with ointment in grief even before Jesus dies. The reputation stuck. Several theologians in the middle ages tried to do Mary justice, but the effort was put to a stop as the Protestant Reformation gained attention and traction. In art we see Mary partly clothed, pondering her repentance with a cross in the background. It wasn’t until 1969 when the Vatican revised its calendar, making a note that on July 22 Mary Magdalene should only be associated with the resurrection of Christ, separating the Mary’s into their rightful historical persons. There is no evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.
In fact, we know very little about Mary. Mary is mentioned in Luke as being one of several women who supported Jesus’ ministry out of their own funds. So we know Mary had money. She is also mentioned as having seven demons whom Jesus has cast out, but the author provides no detail. Mark confirms this account as well. Her name “Magdalene” suggests that she was from the town of Magdala, a town not far from Capernaum. Given her name being a derivative of the Hebrew name “Miriam”, she was most likely Jewish. The Gospels cite her as being the one who was present at the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. She was definitely a follower and in the inner circle of Jesus disciples.
Today’s Gospel reading from John 20 actually picks up in the middle of the narrative. Backing up to the beginning of the chapter we have Mary who is coming to the tomb while it’s still dark early in the morning. She is coming to anoint the body of Jesus as was costumed. She finds the stone which concealed the tomb has been rolled away and the body is not there. She runs to Peter and John and tell them what happened and they run back to the scene. Peter gets their first but doesn’t go in the tomb, as probably not to defile himself as unclean on the Sabbath Passover. John catches up and just doesn’t care and goes into the tomb. Peter follows. They see the bandages which were wrapped around his body, and the bandages which wrapped his head were wrapped in a ball on the side. They saw and believed, and returned home. Here, our part of the story picks up. Mary did not return home. She peers down one more time into the tomb and sees the angles who ask her, “Why are you crying, who are you looking for?” She replies that they have taken away her Lord and that she does not know where he is resting. Then Jesus comes from behind and asks the question from the angels, “Why are you crying, who are you looking for?” Not recognizing him and thinking him to be the gardener she says, “If you know where he is please stop this torment and take me to him so that I may carry him to rest.” And the moment happens. Where he calls her by name, and she recognizes him. She runs back to Peter and John and tells them “I have seen the Lord”!
This is the celebrity snapshot of Mary. Not the penitent prostitute, not even the woman at the Crucifixion or weeping by the tomb. This is the Mary who has seen the Lord. Even after his death, Mary never stopped looking for Jesus. When others left the Cross, when others left the tomb; she remained. She loved and served Jesus in her life by supporting him with her own means. When Jesus was left to die, she was the one who was there, fulfilling the call of Christ to serve to the “least of these”.
Forgive my conjuncture, but I don’t think the writer of John did her full justice. I can see her going from Peter and John, to Martha and Lazarus, to Luke and Mark and Matthew, to the whole community of disciples shouting at the top of her lungs “He’s alive! It’s just as he said it would be! I’ve seen him! Come, come and see the tomb where he was laid to rest! He’s not there!”
Mary was persistent and her example should inspire us to also persist. How often do we look for God? We expect God to be in one place and at one time. When God isn’t there, we go into our own dark tombs to sigh and confirm and then carry on with our emotional and spiritual baggage. When we persist, when we wait by that tomb we can be assured that God will show up just as God promised. God will call us by name and we will see him in something we never recognized before. May we who with Mary share in the witness of the Resurrection never cease to seek it and find it and recognize it for the greater glory of God in the communion of ALL God’s saints. Amen.