Yesterday, July 23, was Mary Magdalene day. A lady
important to the gospel of Jesus Christ was honored. How do I
know? The Church Calendar showed me.
I trust you know about the Church Calendar. It’s a marvelous
document for people like me, who see the church as a family,
a community, and a lovely body for the Lord. I yearn for all
of Christ’s people all over the world to recognize one
another, literally, as brothers and sisters, closer in bond
than our flesh and blood family, as important as that family
is or should be. We and the faithful in heaven are the Communion
of Saints, now and forever.
I desire with all my being for the beautiful Body of Christ
to be close beyond the natural, because it is supernatural.
Jesus died to bring it into reality and visibility. I want the
Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life (2 Corinthians 2:17
and Romans 8:11, RSV), to rest upon the church as it meets and
to appear as flames springing from our meeting houses everywhere
so that strangers will be breaking the doors down to get in
where God is. I mean that. It has happened before (read about
the Great Awakening as it took hold of the streets of New York,
especially on Fulton Street. John McCandlish Phillips, the best
reporter I’ve known, gave me a copy of "The Second Evangelical
Awakening" by the great and modest J. Edwin Orr, published by
the Christian Literature Crusade, 1955. Get it!).
Back to Mary Magdalene. Scripture describes her as the lady
out of whom seven demons were cast and the one who witnessed
most of the events during Christ’s suffering: the mock
trial in which she heard Pilate pronounce the death sentence;
the beating of Christ and His humiliation by the crowd. Also,
she stood by the cross with Christ’s mother during the
crucifixion itself. I have remembered her well for many years
as the one to whom Jesus first revealed Himself after rising
from the dead (John 20:11-18). I wrote about it this way:
instantly the earth reeled in merriment
and events raced with hymnal accompaniment
as nature’s lover named sun
splashed his caresses
upon that moment
and history’s cymbals clashed
nevertheless the soft footsteps
pierced Mary’s consciousness
and she turned to speak
"if you have carried my Lord
the silence of one second stopped time
until Jesus spoke for eternity "Mary"
At least one scholar I read noted that Magdalene had often
been associated with women of shady reputation, most of whom
were named Mary. This may have accounted for a prominent study
of the Bible’s comment that Jesus may have revealed Himself
as Lord to her first in the Tomb Garden on resurrection morning
because she needed Him so badly. The account noted that the
word translated "weeping" by Mary was better rendered "wailing"
and loud crying. However, there is no Biblical evidence to link
Mary Magdalene to those other women. She simply was close to
Jesus and His mother, also named Mary.
As I studied the calendar, I noted that the Magdalene Day is
followed immediately by a day honoring James the Apostle, as
opposed to James, the brother of Jesus who was the head of the
Jerusalem Church and the author of the Book of James in the
Bible. The apostle, the brother of John, was killed by Herod
following an explosion of the persecution of Christians after
Stephen’s martyrdom. Jesus early on named James and John
the "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17); they were ambitious, craved
to be great, and to sit at Christ’s right and left in
His Kingdom (Mark 10:37, 43), the subject of a famous teaching
It seemed noteworthy to me that Mary Magdalene, like the Virgin
Mary and several others, received significant places in the
gospels for their work to fill the needs of the Lord and presumably
the Twelve as they traveled and ministered. They were hard working
and deep-loving women of ministry, which means service. It seems
to me that we need to learn from their work and their place
with the Lord, and stop dilly-dallying over the role of women
in church ministry. Mary Magdalene was apparently an outstanding
servant, and she was movingly rewarded by being the one to whom
He first revealed Himself that first Easter morning.
Also, consider the honor given to the Lord’s mother.
Let’s stop fretting about sainthood, miracles, and lavish
honor and at least recognize her as a major figure in history
and a major teacher of the Christian faith. Nothing exceeds
the Magnificat for beauty and wisdom. Does Mary heal and do
other miracles today? I have no idea; I hope so. I also am uninformed
about what she did at Ephesus in those early years, but do not
doubt a bit that she and certainly others were invaluable. I
think of Mary and Martha; maybe the woman taken in adultery
who was forgiven and sent on her way; possibly the woman who
anointed Jesus’ feet and head at a meal; perhaps Peter’s
mother-in-law who fed Christ’s cohort and accommodated
an unusual healing service; and who knows, even Priscilla of
"Priscilla and Aquila, the tentmakers," friends of Paul who
moved about the Mediterranean and ministered wherever they were.
It seems a lot of Bible characters were in and out of Ephesus,
which grew an important church.
I’ve told many of you that I met Mother Teresa at a gathering
in Washington a few years ago. I say unequivocally that she
was a woman of God upon whom the presence of God rested in a
manifest way. She is a minister if ever there was one.
Happy Mary Magdalene’s Day, everybody!
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.