Mary Magdalene, Apostle Day
“I have seen the Lord!”
It’s a great phrase found in our Gospel reading today from John chapter 20. We usually hear this Gospel reading on Easter morning.
One can say that you can boil down every sermon to one phrase– “I have seen the Lord!” Not bad…a sermon in 5 words. But you know your pastors… we could never boil down ANYTHING into 5 words. Okay, never mind an entire sermon from a preacher… “I have seen the Lord!” can be anyone’s phrase to describe who they are and what they believe.
Think about using that phrase as a way to describe yourself.
Sometimes we call them an “elevator pitch”…what’s your succinct and persuasive way to describe your faith? Describe your faith in 5 words, “I have seen the Lord!”
Never mind the elevator…how about your next tweet or Facebook update. When Facebook asks you “What’s on your mind?” You respond “I have seen the Lord!” The next time you’re at one of your kids’ games and someone asks what you’ve been up to…get their notice by saying, “I’ve seen the Lord!”
Believe me… the phrase “I have seen the Lord!” gets people’s attention. It does today, and it did that Sunday morning that we call the Blessed Resurrection. Shouted out to the disciples and anyone who would listen. It was the good news after a bad string of events. It was the light in the midst of the dark. A sunburst on a gloomy day.
In the excitement of the Resurrection story, we’re filled with the mystery of a garden with a grave, the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, our imagination captured with images in our heads of angels in white robes. When we usually hear the Resurrection story it’s on Easter Sunday and we’re surrounded by lots of music, celebration, family, and let’s not forget the Easter meal…and all the chocolate. Oh so much chocolate to be had on Easter morning….
But back to my point, in the midst of all of the Easter celebration, it may be easy to miss that the first witness to speak of resurrection…
…the first to utter those words “I have seen the Lord” is Mary Magdalene.
We remember Mary this day as one of the first apostles.
Mary Magdalene. Her name may elicit a lot of opinion. Every few years there seems to be a major story about Mary.
Dan Brown made a killing with his famous novel The Da Vinci Code where Mary Magdalene and Leonardo Da Vinci play pivotal roles. Just this past spring the movie Mary Magdalene came out–to some consternation. Let’s not forget the Broadway hit “Jesus Christ Super Star” and Mary belting out, “I don’t know how to love him..” There’s the Gnostic Gospel attributed to Mary…though most likely this ‘first hand’ account was really written 200 years after she lived.
Mary from Magdala. Magdala is a small town in the area of Galilee where Jesus centers his teachings and ministries. The Gospels in our Bible, indicate that Mary is one of several people Jesus healed. In Mary’s case, Luke chapter 8 mentions that Jesus cast 7 demons from her and in response to her healing she began to follow Jesus along with the 12 disciples. She’s mentioned in the group of women, who from their own resources, provided for Jesus and the 12.
Mary is one of the few followers of Jesus who follows him to the cross, and doesn’t abandon him. And she is one of the few women who go to the tomb that early Sunday morning, ready to prepare their Lord for his burial. And she is the first to encounter the risen Christ. To which she calls him “Rabouni”… Hebrew for the word Rabbi, her teacher, the one she followed even to his death. She witnesses Jesus, risen. Just as he promised.
And for the longest time the church hasn’t quite known what to do with Mary. Maybe it began back in the year 591 when a pope declared Mary Magdalene a “sinful woman.” It could have begun before then, when church fathers felt a need to quiet or discredit church mothers.
We’ve always been a product of our culture…whether it’s the 21st or 1st century culture. At the time that some of our later Biblical books were being written, the cultural codes of the day put men at the head and women down below. And with those cultural codes, trying to make sense of female leaders, disciples and apostles didn’t quite jive with the times.
But since then there’s been a long, sordid history when it came to Mary. Sometimes she was painted with the broad stroke of a saint, sometimes sinner, sometimes wife, sometimes antagonist. One can surely say “There’s Something About Mary.”
Mary can teach us a lot about our human nature. Her legacy–and how it’s been treated– is a witness to the whims of others’ stories.
It was pretty easy to discredit Mary and put she and other female witnesses of the Lord into a corner. Gone from leader and apostle to woman interrupted with reputation smeared.
Discrediting and smear campaigns…how easy it is for that to happen even today… whether the slander is written on a bathroom wall “for a good time call so-and-so” or a lie spread by gossip or a hateful word about who you are is shared on social media. We so often find ourselves living on the edges with Mary. And it can be a pretty frightening and lonely place.
And in truth, Mary Magdalene may have lived on the edges. Life could have felt like hell on earth for a young woman who was facing some major demons in her life. Whether these demons come in the form of spiritual possession or with so many of us today being possessed by hopelessness or being possessed by the demons of substance abuse or the demonic drive to always have more. In the end, we can find ourselves on the edge.
And Mary’s family or her culture may have continued to see her on the edge–not being settled down, but traveling with Jesus, an itinerant teacher and healer. In Gospel truth though, Mary was drawn in from the edge of her darkness into the light that is Christ. And her life changed. For good. This is the power of Christ in our lives.
I can think of so many times in my life that I’ve felt on the edge along with Mary. So many dark nights waking up feeling uncertain and alone. So many episodes of my life where my own choices have left me feeling as though I’m being tossed around in the storms of life. I think many of us keep company with Mary on the edge.
And yet, in those dark nights, in those stormy times of our life, Jesus is there. He’s calling out our names, waiting for us to recognize him as our “Rabouni,” our teacher, our Lord.
Reaching out to us for a healing touch, and a hand to draw us from the darkest edges into his light.
Whether that holy presence comes to you in the midst of worship–when Christ’s light warms you as you sing a beloved hymn or Christ’s presence fills you in body and blood with Holy Communion. Perhaps the hand of Christ reaches to you through a healing touch of a nurse or doctor who tends to your need. Perhaps you recognize the Christ in the voice of a dear friend who reaches out to you on one of your more edgier days.
“I have seen the Lord!” What a great way to describe our life lived. What if this week, you review your life lived and share with another about the ways you have seen and witnessed the Lord at work?
Like Mary, who recognized the Risen Lord by his voice, have you heard the voice of Jesus in surprising ways?
Like Mary who had the gumption to follow Jesus, wherever he may lead, when have you followed Jesus to love your neighbor or forgive someone who has hurt you?
Like Mary, who was the first to go and share God’s good news of life, how can you be the bearer of God’s grace?
“I have seen the Lord!” May that be our life’s refrain, let that be our repeated mantra, may that be our witness, and may that be your story to tell.
“I have seen the Lord!”