Good Friday Ecumenical 2015
April 3, 2015
The Church in Brielle
My name is Mary, but I’m probably not the Mary you’re thinking of. Mary of Nazareth, Jesus’ mother, is the famous one. I’m Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene, as some say. My hometown Magdala is located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was a bustling place brimming over with fish and fishermen when I lived there. It’s now called Migdal, and if you visit today you’ll see some Roman ruins there.
Sometimes I’m called “the other Mary.” I’ve gotta say, people think they know more about me than they really do. I’m actually troubled by some of the artwork I see of myself. I’m sometimes pictured with my hair unbound, long and flowing, which isn’t a style a respectable woman would wear. Sometimes I’m drawn with a red robe, which doesn’t imply nice things either. Apparently a pope early on got me confused with an anonymous woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears. The Pharisees were up in arms because they said she lived a loose life and Jesus shouldn’t have allowed her to touch Him. All I know is that a) she obviously loved my Lord, and b) I’m not her.
I’ve also seen pictures of myself looking terribly tattered, hollow-eyed, very sad, almost spooked, and staring at a skull. Yikes!! I guess they’re representing grief and sorrow for my sins, but broken is what I was before I met my Lord. Scripture doesn’t say a ton about me, but St. Luke does offer that Jesus cast 7 demons out of me. Yes. I was deathly sick and He made me well. I was broken and He made me whole. I was a basket case and He enabled me to stand. I don’t really know what was wrong with me, so how could anybody else? I was beside myself, not myself, couldn’t love myself or anyone else. Then Jesus came. I owe Him everything.
Some of you have been sick, physically or emotionally. Think of how you looked in the midst of your distress, and how you looked once you became well. If someone were writing your biography or picking a photo for your obituary, would you want them to choose the picture of you as healthy or sick? Healthy, of course! So what’s with the Yorick skull-gazing, all you artists? And how about that word, maudlin? It comes from the name of a British psychiatric hospital named after me. The Brits say maudlin instead of Magdalen (like bedlam instead of Bethlehem). Maudlin conjures up weepy and pitiful. Is that how I look to you??
After Jesus healed me, I followed Him. I wasn’t a camp follower, like the women General Hooker talked about. I was a Jesus follower, one of a group of women disciples who traveled and cared for and bankrolled the men on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem. I loved Jesus, of course. But not with a Jesus Christ Superstar or DaVinci Code love. I loved Him as the One who set me free from my sickness and my sin, the One who didn’t define me by who I was but by who I became and who I could be.
A depiction I’m happier with is that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all put me at the foot of my Lord’s cross. It nearly killed me to see my Jesus’ suffering, to hear the screams that accompanied the hammering of the nails into His wrists, the agonizing scraping of the crossbar being hoisted onto the upright post of the cross. It would have been worse not to be there, though. I needed to be close – for my Lord. For His mother. Strength in numbers. The women’s show of force. The only man who could stomach that proximity and the danger of association with a crucified “criminal” was the one whom Jesus loved, whom most of you know as John, the beloved.
Although my Jesus’ torment seemed endless, it ended sooner than expected. We were accustomed to seeing men hang for 2 or 3 days before they breathed their last. My Jesus lasted 6 hours. Then He said, “It is accomplished,” and His poor head encircled with thorns dropped a final time, and the heaving of His chest ceased, and we knew He was gone.
The soldiers shooed us away. But we kept within eyeshot of that sad tableau on the hill. When it was almost dark 2 men came and lowered His body off the cross as tenderly as they could. We recognized them: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, men of means, secret followers.
My Jesus’ mother, a couple of other women and I shadowed the men and saw them take the Lord’s body into a tomb carved out of rock. There was nothing we could do, for it was dark and the Sabbath had begun. We spent a sleepless night and then a shell-shocked day, and after sundown on Saturday purchased what supplies we could: linen, embalming oil, spices. Before dawn on Sunday I returned to the tomb and found it empty, except for 2 strange men who asked me why I was crying. “Grave robbery, that’s why!” I turned around, saw a man I thought to be the gardener and asked, “Have you put Him someplace? Show me!” He looked at me with eyes as deep as the sea and said my name: “Mary.” Then I knew! My Lord lived! He would not let me hug Him, but my eyes feasted on the sight of Him and I did as He directed. I returned to the rest and told them our Jesus had risen, risen indeed, as He had promised.
So you see, I was the first witness to the resurrection. What an honor. How surprising! Being a woman, I could never serve as a witness in court, but my Jesus chose me to witness to His resurrection and to share His Good News. He has chosen you, too…. To be His witnesses. To live lives fueled by thankfulness, for you who were broken have also been made whole. You who were lost have been found. He calls your name… in love.
Remember me as joyful to be healed, to be whole, to be holy in His sight, set apart for His glory. Remember me when you see my flower, the iris, clothed in the purple of sorrow for our sin and for His death, and radiating the yellow of joy and resurrection. A woman of your time, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, said it all: “Never let anything so fill you with sorrow that you forget the joy of Christ risen.”
I’ll say goodbye to you today by sharing the verse about me in the hymn called For All the Faithful Women:
We praise the other Mary,
who came at Easter dawn
and near the tomb did tarry,
but found her Lord was gone.
As joyfully she saw him
in resurrection light,
may we by faith behold him,
the day who ends all night.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham