“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them all the things he had said to her.”
Today, the world-wide church honours Mary Magdalene. In 2016, Pope Francis decreed that her feast day, which used to be known as the Commemoration Of Mary Magdalene, The Penitent, was changed to The Feast of Mary Magdalene, Apostle. And so, even though her actual feast day is tomorrow (22nd July), as with Saints Peter and Paul, her Feast Day may be transferred to, and celebrated on, the nearest Sunday.
The Gospel of John, (chapter 8); and) emphasize the special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ. Hence, she came to be called "the apostle to the Apostles". Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first human being to bear witness to the risen Jesus, before the male Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men.
— St .John Paul II
Mary Magdalene, sometimes called simply the Magdalene or the Madeleine, was a Jewish woman who, according to the four canonical gospels, travelled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. She is mentioned by name twelve times in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles. Her closeness to Jesus is a sign, that of all those who were taught by Jesus, it was Mary Magdalene who most fully understood the teachings of Jesus the most fully.
Mary is well known as the most dedicated follower of Jesus. She is also well known for the vast amount of false details and unproven facts about her.
Mary was not a prostitute – there is no Biblical evidence for that, whatsoever; neither was she the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet; neither was she the Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus; those are the usual misconceptions about her. And to deal with the more outrageous ones: she was not married to Jesus and neither was she the writer of the Fourth Gospel, we call John’s Gospel. No evidence exists for any of these claims. Her name suggests that she came from Magdala a small town near Tiberias (in present day Israel), but that is not known for certain. So, what do we know about her, and why do we honour her today?
Well from the 8th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we do know that Mary Magdalene is identified in a list of women who provided for Jesus and the disciples out of her own resources. We know that she was freed, by Jesus, from seven demons – but it is not clear what kind of bondage she was freed from. Physical illness? Mental illness? Sexual enslavement? Again, we just do not know.
We do know that she loved Jesus deeply and remained loyal to him throughout his ministry. She was present at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion and at his burial. And we do know that she came to the tomb in the dim light of dawn on Easter morning and was the very first human being to meet the risen Christ.
There is so much we do not know about Mary, but what we do know is that she can teach us how to love Jesus completely. We can learn from Mary’s complete devotion to Jesus.
We can learn persistence from Mary. Unlike all the chosen disciples, apart from John, Mary remained at the foot of the cross as Jesus was dying. Early on Easter morning, she visited the tomb of Jesus: it was the custom to spend a three day vigil at the tomb of a deceased loved one. Mary was not going to let Jesus down. When she saw that the tomb had been opened and the body was gone, she remained there; she couldn’t pull herself away. It was her persistence that led her to meet the risen Jesus. She wanted to meet Jesus, even though it looked impossible.
Often, we give up on God quickly. When our quick prayer for help seems to be ignored, we move on quickly after no immediate intervention. If only we could learn to wait by the empty tombs of our despair and suffering, and await the appearance of the resurrection of God’s love for us.
We can learn enthusiasm and joy from Mary. Once she realised to whom she was speaking, once she recognised the “gardener” to be her precious teacher (“Rabbouni”) once Jesus called her by her name - Mary - and restored to her the dignity of her individuality loved by God. Once Jesus had told Mary to go share the news of his resurrection with the others – nothing could stop her. St. Bernard of Clairvaux called Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the apostles”, because she was the first person to tell the whole world about the reality of the risen Jesus; she made Jesus real for others in the body and the blood. She became alive because of Jesus. Her hope was restored, because she saw with her own eyes the living power of God’s love that is Jesus.
Have you ever been overflowing, bursting with enthusiasm to share some news? Perhaps you have just had some real success or perhaps become a parent or grandparent for the first or next time – you just want to share your joy with everyone. That’s the kind of enthusiasm Mary experienced about meeting the risen Jesus. The kind of joy that made her want to share her renewed hope in the mystery of God’s love that had just become a reality in her life. That self-same joy is why we are all here this morning: go and tell all your friends about God’s love, met by you in the risen Jesus…tell all your family, friends and neighbours with the persistent enthusiasm of Mary Magdalene. Let’s go and tell others we have seen the Lord – and God’s love will shine forth in all we think, speak and do. Amen.