Friday, July 22, 2016

The Festival of St. Mary Magdalene


And when they had carried out all that was written of Him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb, but God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He appeared to those who had come up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people.  Acts. 13:29-30

TODAY we celebrate a most agreeable festival, that of St. Mary Magdalene, who St. Augustine names, "The Apostle to the Apostles."

We learn from the text just read that "for many days" after His resurrection the Lord "appeared to those who had come up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem..."  Mary Magdalene was the first of them, the first disciple of Jesus to learn, and to announce, the glorious Easter Gospel that saves our souls from death, permeates our hearts with joy, and shields us from all of the devil's fiery darts.  As the resurrected Lord wiped away Mary's tears, so He does ours:  those caused by the cords of death that entangle us, and the demons that surround us day and night.

As Lutherans we do not worship Mary Magdalene.  We don't  pray to her, or ask her to pray for us.  None the less we are fools to ignore the Great Cloud of Witnesses that surrounds us, guilty of neglect if we don't study them, praise God for them, and take courage from their examples.  This is precisely what our Lutheran Confessions admonish us to do, not only the saints mentioned in Scripture, but what the Te Deum calls, "The noble army of Martyrs":  names such as Ignatius, Justin, Polycarp, Cyprian, Sebastian, Barbara, Agnes, Perpetua, Felicity, Lucy, Cecelia and others too numerous to list.

While, as Lutherans, we reject what is against Scripture, let us not on the other hand become reactionaries like Protestants who harbor institutional prejudices against the saints of the ages, simply because their names are not found in Scripture.

Who is Mary Magdalene, and what is it that made her so devoted to Jesus?  That is a beautiful story!  We first meet Mary in St. Luke's gospel chapter seven.  The Lord is attending a meal at the home of a Simon the Pharisee.  It was there that Mary Magdalene, who was known by all to be a notorious sinner, crashes the party, kneels at the Lord's feet and cries copious tears of repentance, enough to thoroughly bathe the Lord's feet from His dusty travels.  St. Luke reports that she then dried his feet with her hair and further anointed them with the most costly fragrance that money could buy.

The self-righteous Pharisees, of course, were scandalized!  If Jesus really were from God, they said, He would know that this woman was a legendary sinner, a woman who used her deceitful charms and passing beauty to get what she wanted; a woman possessed not by one single demon, which is bad enough, but seven!  Her life was a disaster.  While on the one hand she wanted to experience every thrill life could give, she also learned that the devil demands his due.  The first ride is always free.  Remember this, especially you young people, who are just entering into adulthood.  The first rodeo is always free, but then there is hell to pay!

What the Lord says is true, "...anyone who sins is a slave to sin," but what He then adds is glorious.  "But if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."  That is what Jesus did!  He set her free and from day forward she became the Lord's most devoted follower.  She put her sins behind her, left all she had, and followed Jesus right to the cross.  May we do the same!

We learn from Scripture that she, along with other women, ministered to the Minister as He travelled, as He preached the good news that the devil's reign is over, that He would crush the Satan's head from the cross, and that He would give life, liberty and holiness to all who put their faith in His blood!  Thus the Lord was able to dedicate His full time and attention to announcing the rule of God on earth, expelling the demons, and making sinners whole again by His miracles.

There are many myths that have grown up around our Mary.  A blatant sinner turned great saint tends to fire the imagination, but please don't believe the myths.  Instead let us praise God for Mary, and let us remember her devoted work, for of all the Lord's followers, only a handful of people were courageous enough to come so close to the cross, as to carry on a conversation with the Lord.  Mary Magdalene was one of them.  Judas was dead.  Peter was drowning in self-recrimination (but he too would be made whole), and the other disciples kept a safe distance so as not to end up on Golgotha themselves, so it should be no surprise that of all the Lord's followers, it is the woman from Magdala who first appears at the tomb, who now, as at their first meeting, comes with the sweetest of fragrances and bitterest imaginable tears, and who might well have laid down and died then and there except for the Lord's astonishing greeting:  Mary!  Neither should it surprise us that when the joyous reunion was complete that she should leave the tomb and preach the Easter Gospel to the Lord's Apostles, thus gaining her famous title.

Yet it is not Mary, or any other saint, we gather to worship on Christ's Day, but as the Revelation Angel tells St. John, "Worship God."  This we do!  By the power of the Spirit and as true baptismal members of Him who is the Truth, we worship our God and Father;  He who gave His one and only Son for us to be crucified for our sins, to shed His divine blood,  which is the only antidote to save us from the snake's poisonous bite, and to heal us and break the power of the demons over us so that now we are free, free indeed!  If you ever doubt it, remember your baptism, for it is your own personal Independence Day.  Neither the demons, nor the devil himself, can force you to do anything anymore unless you are willing to cooperate with him, but don't do that!  Instead hear St. James who writes:  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  And remember the Apostle to the Apostles who was liberated from her demons and served Jesus all the days of her life.

Go and do likewise.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

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