August 21- sermon- Betsy Wooster

Sermon Text...


8-21-22 Sermon: Mary Magdalene (Mary, the Tower)


It is SO GOOD to be with you this morning. As many of you know, in July I got Covid, and spent the majority of the past month away from Church in quarantine. I am grateful for the support and care of this congregation during that time of recovery.  And now, it is simply great to be back.

Our Scripture readings today come from the Gospel According to Luke, where we hear two excerpts about Jesus and the disciples, the first, in the midst of active ministry, and the second, in the days immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion.


From Luke 8:1-3

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.


And from Luke 23: 54- 24: 10

It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

The Word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God. Amen.

This has been a fun summer for me, getting to jump in and simply tell the stories of protagonists, and minor characters alike, from our sacred scriptures. It has also been a joy to hear other preachers who have joined me in this series, Judy, Susi, Marty and Brian, preaching from their own chosen texts. Next week, Hamilton will preach on Adam from the book of Genesis. Today, I get the great pleasure of opening up the story of Mary Magdalene.

Who is Mary Magdalene?  It depends on who you ask. And by this I don’t just mean what biblical scholars tell us about her, although we will get to that.


When I say it depends on who you ask, I mean the Gospel writers – the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As you’ve just heard, our text for today comes from the Gospel of Luke, but all four authors have various ways of telling her story. We’ll touch on a few of them today.


And speaking of her story, it’s worth noting right away that the Gospel writers don’t have all that much to say about Mary Magdalene. There are only 57 verses of the Bible devoted to Mary Magdalene’s story of discipleship and faith.

She is sometimes incorrectly identified as the sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet in the passage leading up to today’s reading. She is sometimes confused with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and she is also mistaken for the woman caught in adultery in the gospel of John. Nowhere in the New Testament is Mary Magdalene referred to as a sinner or a prostitute. These attributes, so to speak, were given her later by early scholars and church fathers.


Here's what we do know about the enigmatic Mary Magdalene from the Gospels.


First, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene are the ONLY women named in all four gospels. And in a way, their prominence in this sense is somewhat a companion to the 12 disciples also featured in all four gospels. This is worth taking in, that Mary Magdalene is among the followers of Jesus named in all four gospels.


From today’s scripture reading, we know that she was a woman of means. Along with the other women mentioned, Mary provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their own resources.

We also know that all 4 gospels are unanimous in placing Mary Magdalene at the cross and also a first witness to the resurrection.


From Luke’s gospel, we learn that Mary, together with two other women, was the first to proclaim the good news of the resurrection.


The Gospel of Mark puts her at the scene of Jesus’ tomb together with a women named Salome and Mary, the mother of James. In Mark’s notable account, these women fled from the tomb, seized by terror and amazement, saying nothing to anyone. I have often thought that in their circumstances, that seems like the most reasonable human response in the midst of confusion and fear.


The Gospel of Matthew tells us that after Jesus has breathed his last, Joseph of Arimathea was given permission to lay Jesus in the tomb that he owned. After doing so, Joseph rolled the stone in front of it to close it, and there sat “Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” sitting opposite the tomb, noting its location so that they could return after the Sabbath to faithfully anoint his body.


In the Gospel of John, it was Mary Magdalene alone who went to the tomb on the first day of the week. She came to the tomb in the dark, searching for his body, unable to give up, perhaps unable to sleep. There she had a direct encounter with Jesus, not recognizing him until he called her by name. “Mary,” Jesus said, “why are you weeping?” She had stood through the trauma of his death. She went to the tomb alone and became distraught that Jesus’ body had now disappeared.  She stood weeping, the gospel tells us, asking where the body had been taken. Mary was single minded in her need to attend to the body of Jesus, to anoint him with oil and spices for a proper burial. Mary bore witness to the tomb even in her confusion.


She persevered and stayed faithful when everything felt irredeemably hard.

When things got yet harder, scarier, and sadder, she continued to show up.

She stayed close to Jesus throughout all of it. She looked for him near his tomb in anguish and suffering. Mary Magdalene did not fade away.


We know what it feels like when people stick with us no matter what. We know how valuable it is to be supported in our pain. The easy path is to quietly walk past those who are suffering. We are often unsure how to help, what to say, or what to do. Watching others in pain is not easy.


Mary Magdalene teaches us what it looks like to bear witness as a way of keeping faith, even when it seems like it is not making a difference in the world. Regardless of the outcome, she was following, risking, and giving generously from her means.


In Luke’s account, the women did not just make sure that Jesus was housed, fed and clothed. It says the women provided for all of them, Jesus and the twelve, financially supporting the entire movement. The third stanza of Be Thou My Vision, which we just sang together, is this:

“Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise, thou mine inheritance, now and always; thou and thou only, first in my heart, Great God of heaven, my treasure thou art.”


This was Mary Magdalene, giving of her means because Christ was her treasure. She believed in and understood Jesus’ purpose in the world, and she followed…she treasured….she stood watch when the watching was grim. Even unto death, she sought to follow Jesus, literally, to his graveside. She sought him, and she found him. Against all odds, in the darkness of early morning, she found Jesus, resurrected.


In 2016, Pope Francis referred to Mary Magdalene as “the apostle to the apostles.”

This woman, a faithful follower of Jesus, looks an awful lot like a disciple, even though she was not named as one.


In the Gospel of John’s account, both Peter and the Beloved Disciple receive the resurrection message and mandate from Mary Magdalene. Mary was both practical and contemplative in her discipleship, and she has showed us how to follow Jesus.


And then, finally, there’s her name…


There is recent, biblical scholarship that suggests the strong possibility that the word “Magdala,” might not be a reference to where she was from, as often taught, but actually a title given to her as an honorary name.


This enlightening research, now the center of a debate going on in the highest circles of New Testament studies, highlights that the word Magdala in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, means “TOWER.” In the same way that Jesus gave a new name to the disciple Simon when he called him Peter, a word that meant the ROCK, it seems that Jesus may have given Mary the name Magdala, meaning Tower.


Seen in this light, or in any light, Mary was a tower of faithfulness, whose discipleship was strong in generosity, and in perseverance in the face of suffering. Her discipleship led her all the way to the cross, and then to the tomb, where she became the very first evangelist of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.