In the name of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Early in the Old Testament, God’s faithful people in history were often referred to in the present tense as being with Him- “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, for example. Jesus, commenting on such a passage, said, “He is not God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). It is not surprising, then, that in the early days of the Church following Pentecost, notable Christians, often martyrs, were remembered as the Calendar was developed. We understand that these “saints” are indeed alive in Christ, and we share His life with them as members of his Body. Therefore, we are in relationship with them in the Communion of Saints. In the mystery of the Church, we do not attempt to define these relationships, but are assured that they are real.
Of all the Saints in our Calendar, the most notable are the Biblical ones. Among them, Mary Magdalene is significant for several reasons. Not to be confused with Mary the “sinful woman” (Luke 7:37-50) or Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42, John 11), Mary Magdalene is identified as the one from whom Jesus expelled 7 demons (Mark 16:9), accompanied Jesus on is ministry (Luke 8:2), witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and empty tomb (various verses in each Gospel), and finally was blessed with an appearance of the Risen Lord while alone (Mark 16:9, today’s Gospel, John 20:11-18). At the conclusion of today’s Gospel, Jesus sends her to the apostles with the message of his Resurrection, and is therefore sometimes called “apostle to the apostles”.
You may recall the healing Jesus did for the 10 lepers, only one of whom returned to give him thanks (Luke 17:12-19). In the case of Mary Magdalene, her deliverance from “7 demons” was an extraordinary healing by any standard. In response, she became an active disciple, follower, and supporter (Luke 8:2-3). Her courage and fearless commitment to Jesus was demonstrated by her presence during his death and burial, as well as her return to the tomb to care for his body. For those of us who find it difficult to continue to face Jesus fearlessly when facing difficulties or disappointments in our lives, Mary’s absolute trust sets a wonderful example. She was willing to accept Jesus’ pain and (apparent) failure with complete loyalty, including openly weeping. Accepting his death, she still sought to serve him by insuring an adequate burial place. We see in her no despair, no loss of faith, but only service. As a result of her selfless devotion, her search for his body led to the Risen Lord finding her! It is poignant that when she gets to the apostles to tell them Jesus’ message, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”, the first thing she tells them is simply “I have seen the Lord”. That was the most important aspect of her encounter with the Risen Lord.
One Easter week, I was taking Communion to one of our dying parishioners in a hospital, and this is the Gospel passage I read. When I finished reading it, he asked, “Is that true?”. I said yes, and, before I might have said more, he sighed and said, “Then it’s all right”. Nothing else needed to be said after that. He received Christ in the Sacrament, and died within a week or so. I have often thought of that man, Mr. Ed Parker, and I have often prayed for that peace in the midst of whatever lesser struggles I might be dealing with. I submit that this, Mary’s “reward” for her fearless trust and discipleship, is a model for me and for many.
For those of us who struggle with having this degree of trust, perhaps we can ask Mary’s prayers for us. Perhaps she can help us, on the front end, to reflect more deeply on how we were first “healed” or brought into an intentional relationship with Jesus Christ. If we did not go through a dramatic change like she did, perhaps we can consider what our life would be like if we did not have a relationship with him. Or perhaps, at this stage of our life, we can ask her to pray that our faith may be less formal or taken for granted and more dynamic and effective in our daily lives. We will consider this further in considering the value of Spiritual Communion during this season of isolated worship.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.