St Mary Magdalene (tsfr) – Pentecost + 7
21 July 2017
Judith 9:1, 11-14
Psalm 42:1-7 pg 758
2 Corinthians 5:14-18
John 20:1-3, 11-18
O God, patient and forbearing, strengthen our spirit when we are slow and temper our zeal when we are rash, so that in your own good time you may produce in us a rich harvest from the seed you have sown and tended; through Jesus Christ, the promise of a new creation. Amen.
Today we commemorate St. Mary Magdalene, and even in just saying that, in thinking about Mary Magdalene we can have mixed emotions, at the thought.
Our recollections of Mary Magdalene are equally mixed, but throughout all that we know, all that we’ve heard, all that we remember what stands out are two things.
We know that she was a woman of remarkable faith, and she was also one to come to the foot of the cross as our Lord and Saviour was crucified and died for you and for me. While the others ran, hid, grieved, and panicked, she stayed and witnessed the death of Christ. She would have then followed his body and seen where it was laid so that she could return to minister, for the last time, to the one whom she unreservedly loves.
At the foot of the cross, as a follower of Christ, she witnessed the ridicule, and the pain of the one who died for each of our burdens of sin.
Although John chapter 8 never gives a name, some in antiquity say she was the woman caught in adultery, and because no name is given, we have to make our own determination on that. But whether she was, or whether that was a nother woman, what we can see in John 8 is God’s mercy and compassion that none of us are truly without sin, if we live without God in our lives.
Jesus said: “‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ … 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, … until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 ‘No one, sir,” she said.
‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (jn 8:7b-11)
What we can clearly see, today, is that in her life, in her deeds, in her love, Mary Magdalene is an example to us of a strong woman, one who loves and is loved with passion and with strength.
In addition, she is the first one to proclaim the resurrection of Christ, to those whom Christ has loved most in the world, and this includes you and me.
So, today, I’d like to look at the idea of strong women and I’d like to look at how we, as a congregation populated by strong women, can tell our stories of faith to the world, in word, and in action. And in saying that I know, I recognize that the strength of some can bump against the strength of others, yet at the same time, it is only in strength that we are able to find ways to work together for the benefit of all around us, and for the peace and love in our hearts as well.
Today, we find Mary coming to the tomb of Christ, with the intent to finish any unfinished embalming practices that haven’t happened three days before.
If you remember when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it was four days after his entombment, and Mary and Martha pointed out that the body had already began to smell because of the time that has passed since he died. (Jn 11:38-40)
So, we find Mary Magdalene doing what she needs to do for one whom she loves, for one whom she feels has left her alone, regardless of the time that has passed since he died. In her actions, in her determination to do what is right for the ones who have gone on before, we can see her strength, we can see her determination.
Yet, in the end, her efforts to embalm, to preserve, or even to protect the deceased aren’t needed. Rather what is now needed are her efforts to open the doors of not only her heart, but the hearts of those closest to Jesus in order to share the revelation of the resurrection, to those who are so far in the dregs of their grief that it will take a road map and a flashlight to get them back.
“2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.” (Jn 20:2-3)
I’m sure her strength doesn’t seem like strength, today. After all, her heart is wrung with grief as well. Until she encounters the angels at the tomb, we don’t even see that her words, her actions have strength, not just for her life, but for the lives of those who followed her to the tomb, for the lives of those who stood in shock and tried to process this new information.
In the same way, in each of our lives, she discovers what we, equally, discover, in the aftermath of her actions that there has been strength. In her proclamation of the resurrection, she has been and continues to be the first proclaimer of the gospel.
She discovers that her words, her actions have more strength than she’s thought.
Now, for most women, as it is for you and for me, this is often a revelation.
In most cases, the women of the bible aren’t even named. In most of our lives, we’ve been told that women are weaker, that women are second rate citizens, that men are stronger and smarter, are natural leaders.
But allow me to set that aside and say that this isn’t necessarily true.
After all, the first instructors our children experience are their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunties. The most complex work we’ll ever do is keep a home, a house, raise a family, and ensure that those in the home are loved, cared for, instructed in the social graces and in their lives of faith.
But this isn’t the only way women show strength, it’s not the only place where women are able to shine. We are also able to provide aspects of wisdom outside in the world. We are able to be stewards of creation, we’re able to be captains of industry, we’re able to hold public office, we’re able to be leaders of our communities, in every sense.
Today, we see that Mary’s message to the disciples is possibly more difficult to deliver, and to get it to stick, than their proclamation to the rest of the world of Jesus love and of Jesus resurrection and ascension.
She has to wake up these men, these followers of Jesus who are enmeshed in their grief at his death. She has to open their minds and their hearts, and make them realize that he is alive.
Jesus tells her: “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (Jn 20:17b-18)
Yet, in the midst of such heroines as Mary Magdalene, as Mary the mother of Christ, as Judith from the Old Testament reading, as Deborah, the judge, and many others, we see the texts we see history trying to regulate, trying to disparage, trying to tell women that they’re better off ‘barefoot and pregnant’, and ‘not to worry our pretty little head about such things.’
And over the generations, we have fallen for such lines, for such place markers that have allowed the men in history, in society to grind the self-esteem of women under their bootheels.
Now, I don’t mean to reawaken the battle of the sexes, but to know that this ‘battle’ has a place throughout history is also a comfort. It’s not just a 19th and 20th century argument. Rather its some thing that has come up repeatedly since the dawn of creation.
These are the lessons we need to teach not only to daughters and granddaughters, but to sons and grandsons, as well.
We need to remember that its not a battle of one way, one person, one gender over another, but that we are meant to walk hand in hand with each other.
Today, we’ve been looking at the idea of strong women, but in reality, women are only strong when the men in our lives equally encourage our strength, who don’t seem threatened by an equal partnership between husband and wife, between souls whom God has joined together for the betterment of both lives.
When God created Eve, she was a helper to Adam. She wasn’t intended to be the one who gathered fruit, and prepared fruit salad, while he was out naming animals. Even after the fall from Grace, she wasn’t scrubbing floors while Adam was ploughing fields. Rather as a helper, as a helpmeet, she was right beside him, braking the earth, planting the seed, and harvesting the crop. She was right there helping with the lambing, and the animal husbandry that was taking place, in and for their lives, their survival.
Too often we continue to find issues being divided between genders. Too often, still, today, we find people promoting the education and advancement of one gender over the other. Instead, we need to show our women, our girls, as well as men and boys, that we’re stronger together, under God’s guidance, for all of humanity.
We are strong women, all of us. But we are only strong women because we’ve looked at the world around us, and we’ve seen where we need to be strong, not just for our lives, but for our community, our church, our families.
Like Mary, we see a message that needs to be communicated. We see where our strength is a by-product of who we are, always, but now, today, it comes to the fore as we step in to the roles that God has ordained for us from the beginning of the world. For Mary, it is to be the first proclaimer of the resurrection amongst those who were the first to follow where Christ leads.
Like Eve, we stand beside our life’s partners, and we pull together, wherever and whenever possible.
We stand up for the right, we stand up with each other. We stand up to make life, faith, and our families better, stronger, aware of the love of God, not just for 12 men in a room in Jerusalem, but for the whole world.
This isn’t an easy task, but that’s why its up to strong women to do it. Its not an easy thing to accomplish, to change the world, at the same time, we have examples such as we see in the texts for today, showing us that when we do what is right, then God stands with us.
Paul tells us, today, “14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor 5:14-15)
We are alive in Christ, and we are strong. We are able to be the leaders, today, and equally encourage the leaders for tomorrow.
We are grounded in tradition, at the same time, we embrace the unknown because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know who we are, and where we come from.
As strong women, as strong individuals, we need to share our lives, our stories of faith, the stories of the bible so that tomorrow will be brighter than today, so that more strong people realize their strength and take up the reigns of leadership, of citizenship, of faith in God.