Mary Magdalene -seeking after Jesus

Audio here

Sunday 22nd July 2012 –Mary Magdalene

How do you feel about poetry, love poems, poems that express deep feelings, romance or friendship, words that get right to the heart of our humanity, and our feelings..

We’ve got one like that in our readings today…

It doesn’t seem often that Song of Songs is read in the lectionary series  -or in church at all for that matter,

It’s a book that many seem to shy away from, perhaps we think it’s a bit to earthy and human, not very suitable for reading in church – even if we choose to look at it as an allegory rather than a love poem,

But, it made it into the Canon of Scripture! and here today we have  4 verses from this beautiful piece of writing –the voice of a woman  searching for the one she loves, calling, searching, asking those around her, until she finds him, and does not let him go.

When I first looked at the readings for today I thought, why is Song of Songs set for today? For Mary Magdalene?

My initial reaction was that I didn’t want to go down the old worn paths, and mythology about how she was a fallen woman,  somehow a liability and a temptress, the conflation of her character with  the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet – she’s even in some traditions believed  -along with Judas –to have been a redhead!  unlikely though that would have been  in 1st century Palestine, it’s not done much for  our cause!

But Mary Magdalene is to me a supremely human, and resolutely female character and as I read this passage from Song of Songs one thing that echoes for me through it was her journey on that first Easter morning to seek Jesus –whom she believed still to be dead, but whom she loved so much.

Mary was a constant presence in Jesus’s ministry, one of his disciples, mentioned by name along with the other women, several  times in the Gospel writings. She is present at the foot of the cross, right at the last, her devotion clear in that position, where many followers had run, she stays close.

The Sabbath stalls her, but as soon as she can she is up, before  light,  searching for her Lord.

A couple of years ago in Winchester Cathedral there was a display of sculptures, including one of Mary Magdalene, which  I found enormously moving –from a distance it drew me in, kneeling down with her dress twisted round her feet, even in the plain white marble its clear she’s been crying, the sculptor describes in the catalogue the emotions he was trying to capture.

“ she was the only one still there at the tomb, all the men were in hiding, the love & devotion she bore Jesus  her fearless for her own safety.

In John’s gospel Magdalene makes two turns towards the risen Christ, but it is only when Christ speaks her name that she recognises him. I wanted to capture that profound moment between the two. Her face must have shown complex mixture of emotions, surprise, maybe shock, incomprehension, devotion, utter relief and released love”

Like the woman in Song of Songs, Mary has sought out her loved one without fear or embarrassment, no shame, in the best sense of that phrase. Her devotion goes beyond death, she saw in Jesus something worth pursuing, worth hanging on to, worth her reputation such as it was,  and her own life.


The Woman in the Song holds onto her lover when she finds him, and will not let him go.

Unlike this woman, Mary cannot touch Jesus, he holds her at arms length physically but it is in his words that his own love for her is revealed.

Perhaps too in his command to not hold on there’s a message about not making him just a private devotion, but emphasising the need to let go, to share, to spread the good news to others.

The moment that she recognises him is the moment he calls her by her name. She is precious and individual to him, he knows her name and uses it. He calls her & commands her. GO and TELL…

And off she goes –running off, the first witness to the most momentous event in history, called to spread the amazing news . Her great devotion has given her a great calling.

What then of us? Do we search after Jesus the way Mary did, the way the Woman in the song searches for the one she loves, and when we find him, waiting for us, in word, in prayer, in those around us, in bread & wine,  do we hang on, refuse to let go, or do we let his presence get swept from us again by the busy-ness of life?

These two women challenge me, what is it I  chase? Who is it I’m searching for  -in the night, in the day,?

Do I love Jesus that much?

I had a conversation with colleagues last week in Taize about communion, and particularly about receiving the consecrated elements  out of the context of the whole Eucharistic celebration, which is the practise at Taize during morning prayer. One colleague said  only half humorously ” I’ll take Jesus any way I can get him, if he’s is on offer, I’m there.. ”

Taken at its basic that’s a bold statement, because when we encounter Jesus again, or for the first time, we’re not left unchanged, Mary we know from the gospels had  been transformed by her encounters with Jesus – he’d cast out demons from her –whatever that might have meant for her, forgiveness, freedom from depression or  a bad situation, she came away transformed, and now on the resurrection morning her fresh encounter with  the risen Christ transforms her again – with a calling to go.

Perhaps we are afraid of transformation, we like our lives the way  they are, we don’t feel up to change, or worry what might be asked of us,  perhaps this is what keeps us from wholehearted unabashed devotion to  our risen Jesus?

Perhaps we feel inadequate –untalented, unconfident, sure we possess no skills or gifts that could possible be of use.

If we think such things we need to look again at Mary’s example.

Whatever her past, her abilities, her skills,

Mary carried one major handicap in first century Palestine –she was female,

And yet, God chose her to be the first witness to the Resurrection, the first to see the risen Christ, and the one called to tell others, to go & spread the good news.

A woman.

In a time where women were considered so inconsequential and unreliable that they were not allowed to give witness in a court of law,  No one was going to hold a woman’s story over a man’s – we get a glimpse of this in Luke’s gospel where the male disciples scoff at the women’s idle tale…

And yet, God called her,

Mary has been known as the Apostle to the Apostles, the one sent to those sent,

It’s the beginning of the outward ripples that begin to spread the good news across the world,

God chose a woman. –just imagine!  -and a woman with a past, a woman who has spent time travelling with  a bunch of men, and an itinterant teacher – not particularly respectable –not that that made a difference, seeing that she was a woman anyway –

But fresh from her transforming resurrection encounter with Jesus, Mary doesn’t hesitate, she doesn’t stop to think

“they won’t listen to me…” she’s called and she goes.

The Kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom, God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, he subverts the received order, the little ones matter and the women are called to bear witness to the greatest day in history.

Faced with this evidence, who are we to tell God he can’t use us? Who are we to put up an argument? To claim that we are too young, too old, too uneducated to lacking or too female?

How can we argue against the transforming power of the resurrection, and the subversive nature of the Kingdom of God.

We are all new creations by the power of Christ’s resurrection; our encounters with him are no less than Mary’s was,

Our  human disadvantages are no more than hers.

Let us like her go & search, search for the one whom we love and who loves us, and who sends us out in his power to tell others.

Thanks be to God



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