In this Easter episode of the Christian Saints Podcast, we will remember Saint Mary Magdalene, the first person to discover that Jesus Christ was resurrected. She was one of Jesus' closest followers, and indeed the gospels tell us she help to support his ministry financially. Saint Mary Magdalene is sometimes known as the "Apostle to the Apostles" a title given to her by Saint Thomas Aquinas, since she was the one who told the other apostles about the resurrection of Christ.
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Christ is risen! This episode should go out on Easter Sunday fro the Western church, and on Palm Sunday for the Eastern Orthodox Today, we commemorate a crucial figure in the Easter Story, Saint Mary Magdalene
Saint Mary Magdalene was one of the most prominent female followers of Jesus Christ. Her name, Magdalene, means “from Magdala”, a city on the shore of the sea of Galilee. She is mentioned a few times in the gospels, so we can glean some details from her life. She is mentioned as one of a group of women who traveled with Jesus and helped to support his ministry, so Mary Magdalene was probably wealthy. It was also mentioned that Jesus expelled seven demons from her. There is a common misconception that Saint mary Magdalene was a prostitute. The origin of this misconception was from a homily by Saint Gregory the Great. I love Saint Greogory, we did an episode on him a few months ago, but his identification of Mary as a prostitute was incorrect, and caused a lot of harm to her reputation in the past few centuries.
Most importantly, Saint Mary Magdalene was among the first people to encounter the resurrected Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Let us read about this discovery, from the Gospel of John chapter 20:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, 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.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 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.
Saint Mary Magdalene is sometimes known as the “Apostle of the Apostles”. Since it was she who announced the resurrection of Christ to the apostles themselves. This title, “Aposlte of the Apostles” comes from St Thomas Aquinas, in particular a text of his titled Lectura super Ioannis,
“Note the three privileges given to Mary Magdalene. First, she had the privilege of being a prophet because she was worthy enough to see the angels, for a prophet is an intermediary between angels and the people. Second, she had the dignity or rank of an angel insofar as she looked upon Christ, on whom the angels desire to look. Third, she had the office of an apostle; indeed, she was an apostle to the apostles insofar as it was her task to announce our Lord’s resurrection to the disciples. Thus, just as it was a woman who was the first to announce the words of death, so it was a woman who would be the first to announce the words of life.”
Saint Mary Magdelene’s prominence as a follower of Jesus is of course a great inspiration and example for Christian women. Let us read this reflection by Sr. Teresa de Jesús Vázquez H.
of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio:
The texts about Mary Magdalene that appear in the Gospels are the result of the memory of those communities that transmitted the traditions they had received and considered fundamental to their identity as groups of Jesus in historical moments somewhat different from those in which He lived. Along with the traditions they transmitted, how could it be otherwise, their interpretation for the new community situations that they had to live.
The four gospels present different stories of Mary Magdalene, since they respond to specific theological intentions. On this occasion, our attention is focused on the Gospel of Mark, as it is considered the oldest.
Mark mentions Mary Magdalene three times: death (15.40), burial (15.47), and resurrection (16.1). These three times are framed at the end of the gospel, in the history of passion, and there is an editorial relationship between them that has the following elements:
a) On each of the times, a group of women is mentioned, who carefully observe what is happening, Mary Magdalene, is always and named at first.
b) The author uses the same verb to express vision on each of the three times. They Watched, observed, contemplated. With which he underlines the role of witness that Mary Magdalene has, as well as her companions.
c) The indications of time relate the death and burial that took place during the preparation of the Sabbath, and the visit to the tomb that was postponed because of sabbatical rest.
Among the women that Mk quotes by their names, Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Salome appear first. In addition to giving their names, the evangelist says that they were already in Galilee following and serving him. These verbs are loaded with theological significance.
Following is a proper verb of the gospels in close relationship with the personal following of Jesus, it indicates adherence to Him and surrender to His demands and authority. It connotes self-implication, the disciple who follows Jesus participates in his luck, his life and his suffering (8,10-34).
Serving, the meaning is attributed to “setting the table”. On Mark, it must be understood from the teaching of Jesus on discipleship, it presents the broadest sense of being helpful. This service is put by Jesus as the nucleus of his following and sign of distinction of his disciples, whether they are male or female. All of them have to do what they have seen Jesus do. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (10,40)
The memory made of Mary Magdalene is very important. For the mere fact of being remembered and for what is remembered of her. The most important features of what appears to be the collective memory of the first witnesses that was embodied in the Passion story are: disciple from the beginning, witness of the crucifixion and burial and as the recipient of an appearance of the Risen One, and sent by Him to announce His new way of existence.
When Mark defines this group of women as those who had come up with Him to Jerusalem, he is saying something very significant: These women were among those who followed Jesus and, despite the fear, continued until Jerusalem remaining with Jesus still in the toughest moments.
At sunset, Joseph of Arimathea requests the body of Jesus to Pilate who, after making sure of his death, grants it. He wraps it in a linen cloth and placed it in a tomb in that place, closing it with a stone. Two of the women mentioned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, are there, watching him. With this, Mark reinforces the role of witnesses that they had been given in the previous scene. They know the exact place where Jesus’ body was placed. Thus, this story, while affirming the death of Jesus and the knowledge of the tomb in which he was buried, serves as a literary and theological union between death/burial and the subsequent scene when visiting the tomb where the announcement of Resurrection will take place.
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body”. Some exegetes see a theological intention in this action, since it alludes to another gesture that the evangelist had placed at the beginning of the passion, the anointing in Bethany. (14,3-9) This discovers a deep and symbolic value in the narration.
The woman who anoints Jesus as a paradigm of discipleship.
The woman who anoints Jesus breaks a bottle of expensive perfume. Her action is misunderstood and censored by those present who qualify it as a loss. This woman is presented by Mark as a paradigm of the true disciple, the one who has understood, accepted and put into practice what Jesus asked for: the following until the surrender of one’s life, which is here symbolized in the breaking of the essence bottle. Pre-announcement of the end of Jesus and they indicate that the disciple must be willing to do the same. A following and self-donation that will face the senselessness of passion and death.
Announcement, commission and promise.
What Mary Magdalene must remind others is what they had already heard from Jesus and what they can now deeply understand. The disciples must return to Galilee, they must take the path of their mission, just as Jesus did with his, and they must not fear because once again Jesus goes ahead of them. He has gone ahead, he has already made the way, he has risen and has already moved forward as he promised. (14, 28)
The Eastern Orthodox celebrate Mary Magdalene not just on a feasy day on July 22, but also on the Sunday fo the Myrrh-bearing women, which occurs on the third Sunday of Easter. Let us read a homily from the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America on this Sunday of the Myrrhbearing women. Note that he too refers to Saint mary Magdalene and the other myrrhbearing women as the Apostles to the apostles
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women
May 3, 2020
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, New Rochelle, New York
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Χριστὸς Ἀνέστη! [and in response: Ἀληθῶς Ἀνέστη!]
Christ is Risen! [and in response: Truly He is Risen!]
I have one question for all of us this morning. One question, and one question alone.
Τίς ἀποκυλίσει ἡμῖν τὸν λίθον;
Who will roll away the stone for us?[*]
Who will roll away the sorrow of these times, which have shut us in living tombs of isolation and loneliness?
Who will roll away the angst, the worry, and the fear that imprison our minds and hearts day to day?
Who will roll away the burden, the onus, the pressure of the needs we have to meet and the families we have to support?
My Beloved Christians of the Holy Trinity Church in New Rochelle, our courageous parish at one of the early epicenters of the Pandemic, and all of you joining by virtual means, the question is: “Who will roll away the stone for us?”
Τhe Faithful Myrrh-Bearers arrived at the Tomb in the deep dawn, to complete their mission of anointing the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ in accordance with the prevailing Jewish custom, but they did not prevail, for He had risen from the dead.
They were led by Mary Magdalene, from whom Christ had cast out seven demons. There was Salome, a daughter of Saint Joseph the Betrothed. Salome was the wife of the fisherman Zebedee and the mother of the Disciples, John the Evangelist and James. There was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, who was the steward of King Herod’s household. There was Susanna, and Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. And there was Mary, the wife of Cleopas who encountered the Risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus.
The Women Disciples of the Lord were many, and they demonstrated a faith and commitment to Him in His earthly life that His Disciples could not.
Last Sunday, we witnessed the fear of the Disciples, hiding in the Upper Room behind locked doors, afraid of the Temple Authorities. And we saw how the Lord transformed their fear into peace, and the disbelief of Thomas into faith.
Today, we behold the devotion of the Myrrh-Bearers, whose love is mirrored by that of Nikodemos and Joseph of Arimathea, for together they took down the Precious Body of the Lord from the Cross, wrapped It in linen with spices, and laid It in the Tomb.
But they did not realize that even in death, the Body of the Lord was life-giving. For the Logos of God was never separated from His human soul or His human body.
They did not realize that He would not be inside the Tomb, waiting to be anointed, since His anointing had been accomplished before His Passion.
Indeed, my beloved Christians, they worried about the stone, for they did not as yet understand that:
… neither death nor life, nor Angels, nor Principalities nor Powers, nor things present, nor things future, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord![†]
Not anything – certainly, not a stone! So what is the answer to our question today?
Perhaps our question is not phrased correctly. It is not: “Who will roll away the stone?” It is: “Why is the stone already rolled away?”
It is not about the weight of our grief, our isolation, our sadness, our fears, and our suffering. These are unavoidable; but we are not called not to focus this impossible weight.
My dear Brothers and Sisters, the stone was rolled away not to let the Lord out, but to let us in.
There is only one way to the Resurrection, and it is through the Cross, through the Tomb, through following our Lord Jesus Christ all the way to the end. It is when we choose to enter into the full experience of the Lord’s Θεανθρωπότης, His God-Manhood, that we begin to understand what it is to die to ourselves and to live to Him.
What it is to live for others;
To live for love, for mercy, for compassion, and forgiveness;
To choose the good of everyone else above our own.
This is dying before you die, as the Monks of Mount Athos know so well:
Ἄν πεθάνεις πρίν πεθάνεις,
Δέν θά πεθάνεις ὃταν πεθάνεις.
“If you die before you die,
You will not die when you die.” [‡]
It is a willing choice, the same choice that led our Lord to die for us on the Cross. He willingly chose to die, as the Virgin so lovingly laments in the Holy Friday Homily of St. Symeon Metaphrastes:
“So now let Your head sleep, my beloved Son, and let Your hands and Your feet rest. Others bow their heads in death, but not before they give up the spirit. But You bowed Your head, commanding death to come; only then did You give over Your spirit.”[§]
Therefore, my beloved Christians, even in the midst of the suffering and hardship that surrounds us daily, let us cast our cares upon the Lord for He cares for us.[**]
The stone will be moved – even if God must send His Angels from heaven to do so!
And let us enter the Empty Tomb, a sure sign of the Resurrection and life eternal, that we may embrace a life of self-sacrifice, of altruism, of empathy, of compassion and above all love.
Then we may join those Myrrh-Bearers – those Apostles to the Apostles – and run to announce the glad tidings that:
Ἠγέρθη ὁ Κύριος ὄντως!
The Lord is risen indeed![††]
Χριστὸς Ἀνέστη! [Ἀληθῶς Ἀνέστη!]
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Christian saints podcast. Look for the Christian Saints podcast page on Facebook or Instagram, or look for us on Twitter at podcast_saints. All music in this episode was composed by my good friend, James John Marks of Generative sounds. Please check out his music at https://generativesoundsjjm.bandcamp.com/. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider giving us a 5-star review on Itunes or whatever podcast app you use, so more people can find the Christian saints podcast and be blessed by these stories of the saints.
Let us end by reading the Eastern Orthodox Troparian and Kontakion for St mary magdalene
By keeping His commandments and laws, holy Mary Magdalene, / you followed Christ, Who for our sake was born of the Virgin, / and in celebrating your most holy memory today, / we receive forgiveness of sins by your prayers.
Kontakion — Tone 4
(Podoben: “Today the Virgin...”)
Standing before the Cross of the Savior, / suffering with the Mother of the Lord, / the most glorious Mary Magdalene / offered praise with tears. / She cried out: “What is this strange wonder? / He Who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer. / Glory to Your power, O Lord.”