“Which saint would you most hope to have walk with you during Lent?” I loved the question, and Mary Magdalene is the saint I knew at once that I would choose.
In the early 1600’s, Launcelot Andrewes, mystic, theologian, bishop, and preacher to the Court of King James, preached three consecutive sermons on the Gospel of John’s account of Mary Magdalene’s experience of the risen Christ. These sermons proved hugely pastoral for me when I read them, and it was through them that Mary Magdalene not only came to life, but came with the power of an Everywoman, an Everyman. From her experience, I am still learning what this blessed lady learned in a single moment for which her devoted love had well prepared her.
We know this Gospel passage well. (John 20:1-18) Andrewes first two sermons pictured Mary Magdalene’s grief so compellingly the reader knows it for her own. Mary cannot leave the tomb, even though she knows it is empty. Weeping, she continues to look in, not able to believe that her Lord’s body is not there. When the Angels are suddenly present, Mary barely notices. “Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask, a question still haunting the centuries. She cannot say “Because my Lord is dead” – not to these strangers, not even to herself. Instead, she replies, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Still weeping, Mary turns and sees a man behind her. He too asks the question – and then adds, “Whom do you seek?” Hope rises—Perhaps this is the gardener. “Sir,” she begs, “If you have carried him from here, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away!” And then Jesus speaks her name, “Mary!” At the sound of his voice, Mary turns, incredulous, heart pounding, swept into sudden joy. Rabboni!” she cries.
But Jesus stops her. “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” It is for the moment of this seemingly cold rebuke that Launcelot Andrewes waited for his third sermon. For this is the moment of Mary Magdalene’s transforming. Her love for Jesus had been centered and entire, but she had loved him only as teacher of God, the one in whom her spirit soared.
When Jesus called her name, it was as Rabboni, teacher, that she beheld him, miraculously restored to life, ready to resume the old paths of love and teaching and service. But Jesus had not been restored to his old life as Lazarus had been. Jesus had been raised victorious from the dead, his divinity and humanity fully and inseparably united, his earthly life among us fully, wonderfully accomplished.
In that single instance between “Do not touch me” and “But go and tell my brothers,” Mary Magdalene’s eyes were fully opened. In that instant, Andrewes makes clear, she saw Jesus not as her teacher of God, not as her dear, dear Master – but as God whose very Light filled every corner of her being, a seeing that for most of us is the journey of a life-time. Mary saw, and Jesus knew that she saw.
“But,” the Lord now continues, “Go and tell my brothers that I ascend to my Father and your Father, to your God and my God.” With these words, Jesus proclaims our adoption complete. No longer are his disciples to be only “servants” or even “friends” – for his resurrection has made us his brothers, his sisters, the closest kinship our humanity can name. Jesus is fully our brother now “on both sides.”
It was by this so-important charge that Jesus himself made Mary Magdalene “an apostle to the apostles.” For them, and for us, Good News indeed!
St. Mary Magdalene is remembered on July 22.
Katherine Clark is a clergy widow and mother, grandmother, and great grandmother whose daily thanksgiving is for the love and companionship that blesses and enriches this evening of her life, both God’s love unfailing and the love of her dear family and the host of good friends of a life-time. She became an Associate of the Community of St. Mary in Kenosha, WI when she was 23, a relationship that continues to nourish her. After years of service to her Indiana parish and Diocese and 22 years of high school teaching, Kitty served for 17 years as spiritual programs coordinator for The DeKoven Center, a large Episcopal Retreat House in Racine, WI, a volunteer position she looks back on with particular thanksgiving. In 2009 Kitty was named an honorary canon of the Cathedral of St. James by the Rt. Rev. Edward Stuart Little, Bishop of Northern Indiana, a gift and an honor she treasures. She now lives in Greeley,where she is a well-contented member of Trinity Parish.