Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

Lectionary: 395/603

Fr Ken and nephew go
topsy-turvy
as his niece laughs
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
He is my God, I praise him;
the God of my father, I extol him.

People love to speculate about Saint Mary Magdalene. An article in the New Yorker, a few years ago, traced the history of that speculation through the millennia of the Church's memory. She has been saint and sinner, ascetic, female apostle, and mistress of the Lord in the popular imagination. 

So long as there are love, romance and idle minds people will wonder if the Evangelists told us the whole story of Jesus and this woman. 

I, for one, am willing to regard her as one of the holy women who followed Jesus. I am satisfied with the stories the gospel give us about her. I appreciate the feminist critique that points out how the Magdalene has been conflated with several other women in the gospels. She is not the "woman caught in adultery," the "woman of Samaria" or the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair in the house of Simon the Pharisee. 

The Evangelists were not especially interested in her story. Their task was hard enough: to get the story of Jesus right. First, Mark created a new literary form which he called a gospel. Then he had to show how Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified as a revolutionary nuisance by the Romans, was the Son of God. Luke, Matthew and John would make important additions to that narrative, integrating Hebrew prophecy and apocalyptic expectations into the Greek language in a reasonably brief format. 

Their achievement has stood the test of time and will remain for all eternity; a testament to the Holy Spirit at work among fallible human beings. 

Saint Mary Magdalene had a small part to play in that story, as did many other people. She loved the Lord and could not bear the thought of his body rotting in the grave without the funerary balms a Jewish corpse should have. She came to the tomb on that first day of the new week after his death to anoint his lacerated body. 

When she found the tomb open and the body missing she was horrified beyond words. How could these people be so insane as to violate the body further, on the second morning after his death? 

She ran to tell the disciples, who ran to the tomb to discover what she had already told them. The body is gone. 

But still she could not tear herself away. And he appeared to her. 

Anyone who loves the Lord has to feel the overwhelming drama of this story. Who would not throw her arms around Jesus and weep uncontrollably after what has happened? Even the Resurrected Lord shining in all his divine glory must pay attention to her. He must let her joy and relief and affection flood into his transcendent body. 

Some have suggested that Mary of Magdala was the leader of the women disciples, the distaff of Saint Peter. I see her more as the complement of the unnamed "beloved disciple." It's not clear whether she clasped her arms around him on that Easter Sunday morning or not, but the impulse is certainly there, just as the beloved disciple was impelled to rest upon his breast during the Last Supper. 

Jesus appears to Mary as her beloved friend and Lord. Her story, entwined with his, invites us to rest upon his breast, to cling to him in our grief and sorrow, and to hope in his tender mercy with our every breath. 

In that vein of welcome to God's tender embrace, the Letter to the Hebrews says, 
You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them, for they could not bear to hear the command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” 
No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.