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Mary Magdalene seems to be one of those persons about whom people love to gossip. Throughout the church’s history, people have tried to connect her to the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus told to “go and sin no more.” But there’s nothing in the Scriptures that actually connects Mary to whoever this woman was.
In our own day, Dan Brown claims that the secret DaVinci Code identifies Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife by whom she had a child whose descendants are still among us today. It’s ridiculous, of course. But a little gossip sells a lot of books and makes a lot of money.
I’m not sure why she attracts so much gossip. There’s enough in the Scriptures to develop a fairly complete picture of Mary without having to make stuff up. In fact, other than Mary the mother of our Lord, no other woman in the New Testament has as much written about her in the gospels as Mary Magdalene does.
And not all that is written about her is pretty. If there’s one thing that the gospel writers seem to want us to know about Mary it is that she was someone who was possessed by demons. And not just one or two, but seven.
St. Luke writes that those who traveled with Jesus were ‘the 12’ “and also several women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene from whom seven demons had gone out….” (Luke 8:2).
St. Mark writes that when Jesus “rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16:9)
That nasty little part of Mary’s life is certainly not covered up or hidden by the gospel writers. Everyone knew it and they seem to want to be sure that we know it too.
According to the gospels, immediately after His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went to the village of Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. You know how we’re always harping on you to extend a warm greeting to guests who visit us in worship. When Jesus visited the Synagogue in Capernaum, he was greeted by demons who greeted Him with a ‘what do you want with us?’ Jesus threw them out.
Later that same day while He is at Peter’s wife’s house in Capernaum, “when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him and he healed them. And DEMONS ALSO CAME OUT OF MANY…” (Luke 4:34-35).
Most of the men and women who are identified in the Gospels are known by the significant others in their life. “Mary” is the “MOTHER OF JESUS.” Another Mary is the “WIFE OF CLOPAS.” Mary Magdalene might not have had any significant others in her life because she’s only identified by where she’s from. The village of Magdala is located just to the west of Capernaum. She was probably one of those in that long line of people from whom DEMONS were cast out.
When the gospels tell us that Mary had 7 DEMONS, they may be using the number symbolically to mean ‘completeness.’ She was totally possessed. She was someone whom we would say was ‘OUT OF HER MIND,’ completely lost in the confusion and the chaos of forces beyond her control.
Some of have loved ones or know people who are like this. You visit and care for them, but you know, THEY’RE NOT THEMSELVES. That was Mary Magdalene.
We remember that one of the prophetic signs that the promised Messiah has come into the world, was that He would “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Is.42:6). Mary Magdalene was one of those PRISONERS OF DARKNESS for whom Christ came into this world.
How long has she not ‘been herself?’ How long had her parents and friends simply not known what to do with her? Until one day, word reached them that a man named Jesus was in nearby Capernaum and He had cast demons out of others. And so they brought their dear Mary to Him. And He set her free from her DUNGEON. He brought her out of her PRISON OF DARKNESS. He gave her BACK TO HERSELF again.
What must that have been like for Mary? It’s hard for us to say but I can only imagine that it must have been like being ‘BORN AGAIN.’
There’s that account in Luke’s gospel of the 10 Lepers whom Jesus cleansed and how only one came back to thank Jesus. It was like that for Mary.
The Introit for today was a collection of verses from various Psalms, but how easily we can hear them coming from Mary’s mouth. “I will extol you O Lord, for you have drawn me up out of the depths. O Lord I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol. You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.” (Introit for Mary Magdalene)
Or as we will sing in a moment, “My song is love unknown. Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.”
Instead of returning to Magdala, Mary followed Jesus. She becomes one of those women who travel with Jesus and the disciples and support them with money and providing food.
And as travels with Jesus, she would have seen the crowds coming to Him, just as she once had. And those who are possessed as she once was were set free from their demons. Everywhere she goes she sees the darkness being shattered by His touch and His Word. She sees those who are ‘lost,’ that is, ‘lost to themselves and to others,’ found and returned to themselves and to others.
The “strong man” was breaking into Satan’s house and casting him out. The Kingdom of God was coming into the world and the dungeon doors were being thrown open and the prisoners of darkness were streaming out into a new life.
There is no other direct reference to Mary Magdalene until we come to the cross of Christ. And there she is. Matthew’s report on the scene at Golgatha where Jesus hangs, crucified between two others. “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene… and then he names some others. (Matthew 27:55-56).
Mark writes basically the same thing. (Mark 15:40). John writes, “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 20:25).
So, what must Mary have been thinking as she sees Jesus nailed to the cross and hang there in agonizing pain and suffering? How painful must it have been for her to watch Her Lord suffer like this?
She heard the mocking. “He saved others…” that was her they were talking about. “But He cannot save Himself.”
And what about when “the 6th hour had come, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour”? (Mark 15:33). Her darkness and her helplessness in the face of it had now overcome Him. And she was helpless to do anything to RESCUE Him as He had RESCUED her.
Whatever Mary was thinking, of this much we can be sure, she REMAINS with Jesus. She enters into Jesus’ darkness with Him and doesn’t run from it. All she can do is stay with Him and wait. And she does.
At the end of the day, as the sun was just beginning to set, Joseph and Arimathea and Nicodemus came to take the body of Jesus down from the cross. She is still right there. As they take the body of Jesus to a tomb, Mary follows them. Mark writes, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” (Mark 15:47)
The great mystery of the Christian faith is that Jesus did not overcome the darkness of our sin, by waving a magic wand. Or by speaking into the darkness as He did in the beginning. He entered into it. Bodily, physically. He becomes as possessed by the darkness as we are. As helpless in His captivity to the forces of evil as Mary Magdalene was, and as we all are.
As soon as the Sabbath day was officially over, she is the first to go to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of her Lord. John writes, “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early while it was still dark…” Matthew says that Mary the mother of Joses, whom he simply calls, ‘the other Mary,’ was with her.
They see that the stone has been rolled away. They look inside only to see that His body is not there. Angels appear with an explanation and a command to go and tell the disciples. And they do. Peter and John run to the tomb to check it out and then return to where they were hiding for fear of the Jews.
“But Mary,” who must have followed Peter and John back to the tomb, remains behind when they run off. “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” (You can almost picture John interviewing her. ‘Now Mary, tell me what you saw and what happened at the tomb.)
“Mary said, ‘They have taken away MY LORD,” not “THE Lord,” but “MY LORD.” “And I do not know where they have laid him.”
All she wants is be with Him in His darkness.
Haven’t we all, at one time or another, to one degree or another, felt totally helpless against the darkness and the forces of evil – either personally, or certainly as we look at the world and wonder what it’s coming to.
How trapped in darkness must those poor people who are caught between opposing forces in Iraq and the Ukraine and in some of the violent parts of our own cities feel? Who hasn’t wondered just from reading the papers or listening to the radio if maybe the darkness hasn’t actually overtaken the light?
Sometimes, like Mary, all that we can do is remain in the darkness and wait. Not really knowing what it is that we are waiting for. Only knowing that all that we can do is to wait.
It is in Mary’s patient waiting in the darkness, that she hears a voice from behind her that says, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’
Thinking that he was a gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away tell me where you have laid him, I will take him away.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.”
“The shepherd calls His sheep by name, and they know the sound of His voice.” (John 10:3).
“Mary turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Robboni!’ Which John translates as “Teacher,” which not quite right. That little ‘i’ at the end of the word is the 1st person, singular ending. “MY TEACHER.”
And once again, Mary’s darkness was shattered. And so has ours. The sun (Son) has risen. Never to set again.