Thoughts on the Feast of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles, July 21, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today we celebrate Divine Eros. The experience of Mary and Jesus which unites their two realities is a sign of the desire within each of us to unite with the divine. It is the desire of every person who acknowledges that there is so much that is hidden, unclear, ambiguous, yet still so desirous in our search for divine wisdom.
I begin with noting the scriptural evidence that makes clear that sexism is the Original Sin of Jesus’ followers. It takes two Gospel passages to make my point, which is why we had both passages read at today’s liturgy. They are Mark 16: 9-13 and Luke 24:30-34. Read them and you will see that as night fell on that first Easter Day, Mary of Magdala had been both dismissed and deleted. Noone would believe her experience as she told it (Mark) and somehow it became important already to report to the disciples returning from Emmaus that the Lord had appeared to Simon. Mary, the first one to experience the Resurrected Christ, is already deleted.
Now, it should be pointed out that when one investigates the 4 Gospels by the end of Easter Day multiple accounts had already started recounting what happened. Scholars report to us that there are 3 endings to the Gospel of Mark. The final one apparently wasn’t written until the 5th century. These Resurrection accounts are not trustworthy if one expects to find in them a fact-based, rational, step-by-step rendering of the experience of the Resurrected Christ.
There are mysteries here that speak to us of the hidden things of God. Speak to us a revelation that plums the unknown yet strongly desired unity of new life in the triumph of life over death. These hidden things form the milieu of mystical experience and awareness.
I would like to give fair warning here that what I am about to present is an exercise in negative theology. Negative not in the sense of a critical harping about losing some treasure, but rather in the sense of the opposite of what’s positive. We like to say things about the divine based upon what we believe has been revealed to us with some clarity. This is what it means to say positive, constructivist things about God. When we acknowledge that we don’t know more than what we do know of God, then we are speaking in terms of negative theology.
Mary of Magdala – before she carried out the task of announcing to the others that she had experienced the Risen Christ, and before even she had the verbal exchange with her beloved Jesus, before all this Mary experienced the hidden things of God on that Sunday morning. She thought she was encountering the gardener, so unknown to her was what she was experiencing in that moment. Once she heard the familiar voice and connected this experience with the person who stood before her – this was Mary’s Christ Event! It would not have happened without Mary’s experience of hiddenness.
You and I have these experiences too. You know those occasions when from nowhere it occurs to us that life is good, that quite unexpectedly a calm comes over us, that suddenly I appreciate that the entire cosmos is a spectacular gift of undiscovered stars and planets that await my coming to be aware of them. And following such experiences, because of my upbringing, my life context, and the tradition which gives meaning to my life, I inform myself that these are the Christ Events for me.
These experiences may not be Christ for others who have their own backgrounds, life contexts and traditions. But they nevertheless ring true to each person as gifts that come out from hiding. They are the unknown, negative, hidden things of God.
Karl Rahner, SJ, who easily is on the top 3 list of best theologians of the 20th century, after all his intellectual pursuits in the positive construction of explaining God and divine reality made this curious statement. Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be either a mystic or nothing at all.” I take this statement to mean that we are done with narrowly following the path that believes we can control what we know and how we know it, when it comes to divine revelations. With every last unfortunate example of scripture writers conveying their own self-interests in the construction of the images and beiliefs about God, we finally arrive at celebrating those hidden divine revelations that come from unknown places.
Following the recent Memorial Service for Jean’s sister Joyce, which we celebrated in her back yard surrounded by her gardens, many conversations happened to connect neverending life with a sense of personal soul. One of our nieces and I had just such a wonderful conversation. It ended with her asking me, “Do you believe in the figure of Jesus Christ?” I loved that we had gotten to that place in which she felt comfortable enough to ask me that question. I replied that, “Yes, I do believe in the figure of Jesus Christ.”
However, having said that I’m not sure what it means to say that I believe in this figure. Beyond, that a person appears to have lived at the time the New Testament and early witnesses attest to this person named Jesus. Beyond, that I believe he taught a way of love – a way that, by the way, every religion worth its salt teaches, namely, the Golden Rule. Beyond that I believe in the pattern of dying and rising to new life – Beyond all that I find myself in the dark. This darkness is full of wanting clarity, unity, a resting in a total embrace of soul-to-soul.
Isn’t it the case of this world and this time in the universe that so many of our experiences occur outside of formalized religion and institutional connection. It occurs to me that future generations will see these experiences in their lives completely apart from a tie-in with the historical figure of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, I believe that these experiences that come from out of a hidden place and what is unknown are, in truth, Christ events.
Lest one think that the mystics live on a separate realm of reality, I recall Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who balanced the mystical sense with a commitment to Peace on Earth. In 1960-61 Merton was caught up in the study of the Christian mystics in both traditions of East and West in the church. He gave a course to the Trappist novices on the mystical writers. At the same time Merton was becoming increasingly vocal in his writing against war and nuclear proliferation and in favor of peace. You see, Merton believed that a monk is not worth his or her standing if they believe that they must be hidden away behind monastic walls separated from the issues confronting humanity. Of course, this commitment is what caused the Abbot General eventually to silence Merton and forbid him from publishing his writings on Anti-War and Pro-Peace. Merton got around this prohibition by making mimeograph (who remembers mimeograph?) copies of his wiriting and passing these copies around to his friends. His thought (apparently with the blessing of his local Abbot) was that the mimeograph copies were distributions and not publications. Yes, those were the good old days of subversion.
We find ourselves, as did Mary of Magdala, dealing with the hidden things of God. We live, largely, not knowing the divine plan, not realizing that the gardener is the Christ reaching out to us.. Too often we live in a darkness, sitting at prayer with a sense of emptiness, questioning ourselves if these unknown realities are the gifts we say we have been promised. In a week like last week when the highs and lows were in the extreme this challenge to our integrity and our searching created much stress. The high of the 50th Anniversary of Apollo XI’s moon walk having to compete with the low of the continuing racist activities of the occupant of the White House shows us that it takes a lot of work to join in common purpose and to uplift the human spirit.
Mary of Magdala’s Christ Event is no different from our own. And despite being dismissed and deleted still Mary rises to constantly affirm this experience of the Resurrected Christ who shows what New Life requires of us. As we celebrate this Feast of our Patron may Mary’s courage and persistence reveal divine eros in each one’s life.
A Prayer (JR)
“Who are you, sir, the gardener? Tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”
“Do not cling to me. I am ascending to my God and your God.”
Today the love of Jesus and Mary fills us with
joy in knowing that an ocean of love awaits
all who seek you, Holy Wisdom, All-loving One.
Our memory inspires us, our knowledge
teaches us, our imagination encourages us to
renew this example of divine eros each day and
through all time.
All praise to you who gathers us on this
Feast of our patron, Mary of Magdala, Apostle to
the Apostles. Amen.