+In the Name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, the Protectress of The Order of Preachers.
She has a special place in the history of the church as Mary Magdalene is honored as one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, and received a special commission from him to tell the Apostles of his resurrection. It is for that reason that in Orthodox and Catholic tradition she is referred to as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”
I would today like to look at her in the light of one verse from 2 Cor 5:17.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
When Mary met Jesus, she was a new woman. But what was the old Mary like?
We first come across Mary Magdalene as the woman out of whom Jesus drove seven demons (Lk 8:1-3). St Luke records this as follows: “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another. The Twelve were with him, also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out—and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Lk 8:1-3)
She was obviously well off and supported Jesus in his ministry.
It was only at the end of the sixth century that it was first suggested that she was a prostitute
It was in Pope Gregory the Great’s homily on Luke’s gospel, dated 14 September 59, that he said this about Mary, “She, whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.”(homily XXXIII)
Anyone know what unguent is?
An “unguent” is a semi solid paste – a bit like ointment.
Whether or not she really was a prostitute, we don’t know, but we do know that when she met Jesus her life was changed forever. We can relate to how Mary felt when her life was transformed by Jesus, as Jesus has that same effect on each and every one of us.
She is called Mary Magdalene to distinguish her from the other three Marys mentioned in the Gospel, possibly even four.
- i) Mary the mother of Jesus,
- ii) Mary the mother of James and Joses and
iii) Mary Salome the mother of the sons of Zebedee
And possibly she is also distinguished from Mary of Bethany, Martha and Lazarus’s sister – though some scholars think Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are one and the same.
She is Mary from the village of Magdala, which means in Aramaic,“a tower.” And what a “tower of strength” she was to the early Christian Community! She is the first to meet the risen Lord – and it was this meeting that transformed her from a frightened woman to a tower of strength. Uniquely, she is a witness to Jesus death, burial and the empty tomb.
It is said of Mary: Mary’s role as a witness is unusual because women at that time were not considered credible witnesses in legal proceedings. Because of this, and because of extra-biblical traditions about her subsequent missionary activity in spreading the Gospel, she is known by the title, “Equal of the Apostles”.
Through Jesus, Mary’s life was transformed. Our lives too can be totally transformed by Christ if we let Him into our hearts and live as new creatures in Christ Jesus!
Let me tell you a little story:
A few years ago, a clergy friend and mentor of mine knew of some personal struggles I was having and gave me a book entitled, “Loving Mercy.” He assured me reading this book would be an answer to my prayers. I thanked him and to be totally honest, I placed the book on my bookshelf at home and didn’t crack it open for a long time. Then one evening when I was feeling utterly overwhelmed by life, I happened to come across that book and I started to read it. It’s a book about how encountering Christ should transform us to care for others. In it, I found this fascinating story of Judson Cornwall, an American Pentecostal preacher who, after the war, was invited to speak at a renewal conference in Germany.
Let me quote you a little from that book:
“Remarkably, when his wife emptied the bin, she spotted the invitation, pressed it out and put it on his desk again. It haunted him for days as he shuffled around it. Finally, the Spirit won and he reluctantly agreed to go.
Arriving in Germany he was not relieved of his dis-ease and the Conference center turned out to be in the former headquarters of the SS, Hitler’s elite guard, which aroused all sorts of images and old hatreds in him. He spent two days before the conference praying and fasting and preparing – and avoiding the Germans.
On the first night of the Conference he went down to speak and took Umbrage at his translator, a somewhat stereotypical Aryan Ueberfrau – giant, buxom, blonde hair in a bun.
He spat out his sermon, so it was no surprise that it was badly delivered, badly received and died a death.
He returned to his room and decided to go back to America the next day. Full of humiliation and emotion he cried himself to sleep. In the night, he awoke to demons screaming in his mind; “You don’t belong here! You have no authority here! Go home! Experienced in spiritual warfare, Cornwall recognized the attack and figured it had to do with the demonic history of the SS in the building, and immediately rebuked the demons in Jesus’ name.
Three times the demonic voices woke him; three times he rebuked them.
After the third time, he got up and asked God what was happening and why his prayers weren’t sufficient and the demons kept returning.
The Lord spoke immediately:
“The demons are tormenting you because you really don’t have any authority here. You have no authority here because you don’t love these people. Your authority to minister is related to your love for those to whom you minister. Now you can go on hating these people, pack up and go home tomorrow or you can let me love them through you.”
Cornwall acknowledged his deep racism and prejudice. Too embarrassed to go home, he confessed his sin and asked God to love through him the Germans who he loathed. He knew he needed a miracle of grace. Immediately he was overwhelmed by the Spirit of God and filled with Christ’s love for the Germans. Having spent two days avoiding the Germans and refusing to eat with them, he could not wait for breakfast. He rushed downstairs to the queue for the breakfast and greeted and hugged everyone in the food line.
When he got to his translator he gave her a big kiss and hugged her. Immediately she pulled back and barked: “You hate us!”
“No, no”, he replied “That was yesterday, today I love you!”
Judson Cornwall preached that morning and the power of God was on his words.
At the end of the sermon there was a huge line of people wanting to speak with him personally, something he usually avoided, but he sensed God wanted him to be attentive to the people individually.
One by one, people came and thanked him for helping them to forgive the Americans, whether because they had lost loved ones in combat against them or in the bombing raids.
Cornwall saw pain and resentment cut both ways…but the obedience to the Spirit of Christ heals historic hurts and unites us in the love of God” (p.22-24 Loving Mercy : Simon Ponsonby)
It is our choice how we respond to Jesus. We should follow the example of Mary Magdalene who was transformed from a sinner to a saint. Mary Magdalene shows us that no one is too bad for the grace of God. You might ask, “How can I be a saint?”
St Paul addresses the Ephesian Church with these words:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God to the SAINTS who are in Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 1:1)
A Saint is simply someone who is sanctified – who has set himself or herself apart for follow God.
And we won’t always get it right as Judson Cornwall found out. But God will guide us in the right way, if we are willing to allow him to do so.
On this day of the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, may I challenge you that, as saints, you are ready to allow God to change you into the person He wants you to be.
Just as He did with St Mary Magdalene.