Sermon podcast: Mary Magdelene16 Jul 2018 By Sermon Podcasts
Georgina Byrne, Residentiary Canon of Worcester Cathedral, 22 July 2018
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Song of Solomon 3: 1-4; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17; John 20: 1-2, 11-18
Today is the feast of Mary Magdalene. For centuries Mary Magdalene has been depicted as the tart with a heart, the scarlet woman who abandoned a life of prostitution to follow Jesus. In the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, she sings of Jesus, ‘I’ve had so many men before in very many ways, he’s just one more’. In the film The Last Temptation of Christ she is introduced to us on her bed. Such imagery is undeniably powerful, but has no basis in scripture.
A number of passages have been put together to create this image of the reformed scarlet woman. Luke mentions some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities among them one Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had gone out (Luke 8: 2). Elsewhere in the gospels an unnamed woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair – a scandalous but loving and generous act. It is traditionally assumed that this woman is Mary Magdalene and that her past life is sinful, and sensual.
This is speculation – and it ignores the one thing we really do know of Mary from John’s gospel: that the risen Jesus met her at the tomb and sent her to proclaim the resurrection to the disciples.
It’s such a rich story, but it hinges on that moment when Jesus says her name. When he says her name, the scales of grief fall from her eyes and she sees Jesus, alive.
It is the saying of her name that opens her eyes to the resurrection and its meaning and its possibilities. The speaking of her name takes us right back to the story of creation, where, in order to bring something to life, God names it. He says, let there be light and there is light. He names a thing in order to bring it to life. Jesus speaks her name, and she is brought into life. The resurrection is life for her.
But once she has been made alive, the risen Jesus gives her a task, a calling. Mary wants to hold on to him. She wants to keep him close. But Jesus tells her that she is to go and tell the disciples about the resurrection. Being alive, being part of the resurrection, means sharing the news, telling others that Jesus is alive.
Of course, this has implications for us. When we are baptised, we are given our name. At confirmation, the bishop makes this explicit: God has called you by name. God has brought us into new life. And, as people called into new life, into resurrection life, by God, we too share the responsibility to tell others about the good news of Jesus.
When we receive communion, we come near to Jesus in the bread and wine. We touch and hold Christ in our hands; we touch him with our lips. It is tempting to linger. At the end of the service come the words: go in peace to love and serve the Lord. We who have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands the Lord of life are called as Mary was, to go and tell of the life we know.
God has called us by name, we are called to open our eyes and live the resurrection life. To rejoice that he is present among us always. To have our lives, like Mary, overturned by that rejoicing. And like her, we who are named, we who encounter the living Christ in bread and wine, are likewise commissioned to go and tell. We who have reached out and touched him, and been united in communion with him, have the same task: not to linger, but to depart and proclaim the good news.
- Why do you think that the non-biblical imagery that so often describes Mary Magdalene is so powerful? Can you think of other biblical characters who have strong non-biblical traditions attached to them?
- What do you remember about your confirmation or baptism? If you don’t remember those events, what strikes you most about those services when you attend them?
- What does your name mean to you? Do you like it, or wish you could change it? Why are you named as you are? If you have named someone else (a child, for example), how did you go about decided on the name? ‘God has called you by name’. It doesn’t matter what age we are, or what we are doing: God calls us to live the resurrection wherever we are. What is God calling you to be or do in your life at the moment? Where is there energy, joy, life and excitement in your life? Is God revealed to you in that? Spend some time this week thinking and praying about what God is inviting you to do.