All four gospels give Mary Magdalene a unique place among Jesus’ followers. Probably from Magdala by the Sea of Galilee, she is described as having been healed by Jesus before accompanying him during his ministry. Along with other faithful women, she stayed beside the cross during the crucifixion and was among the first disciples to discover the empty tomb on Easter morning. She was privileged with the first appearance of the risen Lord, who sent her to take the good news of the resurrection to the other disciples. This commission earned her the title ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ in the early Church.
The Festival of Mary Magdalene is celebrated on 22 July, starting at Evening Prayer on the previous day.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of mind and body
and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
As the deer longs for the water brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, even for the living God;
when shall I come before the presence of God?
My tears have been my bread day and night,
while all day long they say to me, ‘Where is now your God?’
Now when I think on these things, I pour out my soul:
how I went with the multitude
and led the procession to the house of God,
With the voice of praise and thanksgiving,
among those who kept holy day.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul,
and why are you so disquieted within me?
O put your trust in God;
for I will yet give him thanks,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
My soul is heavy within me;
therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan,
and from Hermon and the hill of Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the thunder of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and waves have gone over me.
The Lord will grant his loving-kindness in the daytime;
through the night his song will be with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
John 20.1-2, 11-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Today the Church remembers Mary Magdalene. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Mary Magdalene is described as one of the women from Galilee who gave financial and domestic support to Jesus and his disciples. She is also described as having been present at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. However, it is in John’s gospel that Mary Magdalene is given pride of place as the first witness of the resurrection and of the risen Christ himself.
Down the centuries a considerable mythology has grown up around the persona of Mary Magdalene, much of it negative. In fact, the gospels give little evidence of her character. It is only in Luke’s gospel that we read seven demons had gone out of her, and it is generally assumed that it was Jesus who had exorcised her. This reference is followed immediately by the account of Jesus’ feet being anointed by a sinful woman at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Rightly or wrongly, it has been assumed by many that the sinful woman was Mary Magdalene.
So, why does the Church remember this little known character from the gospel narrative?
The answer, I believe lies in today’s reading. It was Mary Magdalene, not one of the twelve, who found the empty tomb and first encountered the risen Christ. It was also to Mary Magdalene that something new was revealed. In the midst of the tears and the joy that must have overwhelmed Mary, Jesus gave her news of a new relationship between God, himself and the whole of humanity. Jesus said: Go to my brothers. Previously they had been his disciples, servants or friends. Jesus said: I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God. Previously Jesus had spoken of the Father, the Father who sent me, or my Father.
To this faithful penitent the risen Christ revealed, in just a few words tucked into the shadow of the most amazing moment in human history, an invitation to us all. An invitation to become his brother or sister, a child of the same heavenly Father, the Father who is also the one true God.
I hope and pray that you are rushing to accept that invitation right now!
Prayers of Intercession
With Mary Magdalene and all holy women, let us praise our God and call upon him in prayer.
Father, your Son said of the woman who was a sinner, ‘Her many sins are forgiven because she has loved much.’ Forgive the sins of all who love you and strengthen your Church to show forth your love in today’s world.
Many women ministered to the needs of your Son on his saving journeys. Open our eyes to see you in those in need or sickness and hear our prayer for all those we hold before you.
Mary Magdalene was the first to greet your risen Son and carried the news of his triumph over death to the disciples. Strengthen us to be faithful witnesses to the gospel in the world and grant your grace to all who preach and teach the faith.
Your Son called those who do your will his brother and sister and mother. Teach us to live as members of one family, united in faith and love.
Joining in fellowship with Mary Magdalene and all your saints, we thank you for the recently departed, and all those who have gone before us in the faith. Grant that with them we may see your Son face to face in everlasting glory.
Prayer for the week
Heavenly Father, whose Son taught us
that what we do for the least of his children
we do for him:
help us to see him and serve him
in the suffering peoples of the world,
and to love them for his sake,
who first loved us,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore.