This morning's sermon is below. I also strongly recommend anyone wanting to explore this further to take a look at the Rejesus site.
You may notice that we have a smaller version of Da Vinci’s Last Supper on the back of your service sheet. Today I want to explore Mary Magdelene not as the Da Vinci Code would have it -
Wife of Jesus? mother of his children? Centre of a great church conspiracy? but as she is presented in the Bible.
What does the Bible say about Mary Magdalene?
Mary is the first one he mentions as those gathered at the foot of the cross and in the list of women who went to the tomb on the first Easter Sunday and were the first to see Jesus risen
Matthew 27:50-56 Matthew 28:1-10
The Gospel of Mark also lists Mary Magdalene first at the cross and in the garden and who fled from the empty tomb telling no-one because they were afraid but Mary then sees Jesus and here we have some new information about her
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.
Mark 16.9-10 Mark 15:33-41
Luke also lists Mary Magdalene as the first among those to the tomb but this is not her first mention in Luke. In his gospel Luke also mentions Mary somewhat earlier. She is listed, again first in the list, among those women whom Jesus had cured of evil spirits or diseases and who travelled around with him and helped to support Jesus out of their own means. (Luke 8.1-3) (Luke 24.1-12)
As is so often the case, it is the Gospel of John which is different and a little more detailed in its description of Mary Magdalene.
Mary comes last in the list of those standing near the cross – unsurprisingly it is Jesus’ mother that John’s Gospel lists first. But this isn’t a judgement against Mary magdalene’s significance, more an honouring of the place of the Virgin Mary. Indeed John’s recognition of Mary Magdalene’s own ministry is evident in his description of Easter Sunday. In John’s account it is Mary alone who goes to the tomb. She finds the stone rolled away and seeks out Peter & John. After Peter and John have gone home again, Mary stays near the tomb weeping and after meeting with two angels, she is then the first to witness the risen Jesus, though she’s not aware of it at first:
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20.14-18 (John 19.25, John 20:1-2 & 11-18)
So this is what the Bible says, does it tell us anything more?
Well the fact Mary is called Magdalene rather than “the wife of” indicates that she was probably not married. Magdalene indicates she was from a place called Magdala, a town next to the sea of Galilee
Mary’s prominent listing as first in the list of women around Jesus certainly hints to a prominence and importance. Does this mean that the she was MORE than a significant follower?
What about what the bible does NOT say.
There is no mention of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene. If Jesus had been married, I personally see no reason why it should not have been mentioned. As many of us will have heard at weddings:
“Marriage is a gift of God in creation
through which husband and wife
may know the grace of God.
It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust,
they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind,
as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.”
For me, If Jesus had been married, if he had had children, I might question God’s plan which left that family unsupported but the very fact of Jesus being married. For me that would be acceptable, honourable but most importantly the bible does NOT SAY HE WAS.
More importantly, we have nothing in these passages about Mary being a prostitute. This results from a confusion over so many Mary’s in the New Testament. It’s the same as someone hearing about All Saints in a few hundred years confusing David Picken with David Knight or David Cambridge and coming up with a Vicar who plays the organ and used to sit in the front few rows.
Unfortunately even one of the great fathers of the church, Pope Gregory the Great described Mary as a prostitute in a sermon in the year 591.
The Da Vinci code and other books see this as a conspiracy. Something sinister and secretive? If this were so, surely the church would not celebrate Mary Magdalene as they do today, honouring her role.
So, according to the bible, Mary Magdalene, dedicated follower and supporter of Christ, present at his death and resurrection; NOT a prostitute, not the wife of Jesus,
What about these other texts which Dan Brown’s book says presents a “more human” story of Jesus. The Gospel of Philip, which the Da Vinci code cites as describing how Jesus loved Mary above the other disciples an used to kiss her on the mouth. Firstly, a kiss on the mouth then was a common practice. Secondly this book was written some 250 years after Jesus’ death – compare that with Mark’s Gospel which written within a lifetime of the event. Which would you consider more reliable?
(Other texts, the Gnostic Gospels, seek not to portray a more human Jesus, but in line with the Gnostics focus on knowledge and wisdom, many of them portray Jesus more as spirit than as human. The Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Jesus, much later than those in the Bible, describe Jesus as having one special confidante wither Mary or Judas. These texts are both from the mid 2nd century and differ drastically from the more contemporary Gospels which have been generally accepted. The Gospel of Thomas which is earlier has barely any reference to Mary. )
As some of you may know, before I was youth minister here I used to study History and Latin and, as much as I enjoyed the Da Vinci code as a great work of fiction. I have to say that for the period of History I myself had studied, that of early medieval France, Dan brown’s history is decidedly dubious. So much so that one part made me laugh out loud.
Fiction of this kind may well be fascinating but this (Da Vinci Code) is not the book that should be central to us. It is FICTION. This (the Bible) is what should be central to us.
What does the Bible and the real life of Mary Magdalene have to offer us as an example today?
She was someone whose life was turned around by her encounter with Jesus. Before him she had been possessed by seven demons. We know from other storied of Jesus curing demoniacs that such people were ostracised and ignored. Jesus delivered her of those and she followed him and supported him in his ministry.
Mary Magdalene had the guts to stand by as Jesus was crucified. When many of the disciples had fled in terror at Jesus’ arrest, fearing for their own lives, Mary and a few others stood with Jesus in his agonies.
She also demonstrated her caring nature in coming to the tomb to anoint his body with spices. She was certainly an emotional person. We hear her mourning and weeping. When she does see Jesus after his resurrection, John tells us that Jesus instructs her “do not hold me”. Clearly she had instantly embraced or reached out for him.
[This is something that can be very dificult for some Christians, especially for us Anglicans it seems. It's not this book (the Bible) that we have a relationship but with Jesus Christ.]
She knew the reality of his suffering, his sacrifice, his death. She witnessed his body being placed in a tomb and, because of this, she also knew the reality and significance of his resurrection.
She calls Jesus, the Lord, and teacher yet she is not entirely perfect. She does not recognise Jesus at first when he is risen. Like many of us, she missed something she was not looking for. It was only when Jesus called her by name that she recognised his presence.
How much do we follow Jesus? Acknowledge him as Lord and teacher?
How much do we support him and his ministry by our presence and our money?
How much do we allow ourselves to respond to Jesus with our emotions?
Do we recognise it when we hear Christ's call and do we respond?