Go Back to the Gospels

July 20th, 2020 by JDVaughn Leave a reply »

Go Back to the Gospels
Monday,  July 20, 2020

Today, Cynthia Bourgeault, a member of the CAC’s teaching faculty, shares an epiphany she had about the significance of Mary Magdalene’s presence at the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

I was spending Holy Week 2005 on a “working retreat” with the Fraternités monastiques de Jérusalem, the innovative young monastic order in residence at the basilica in Vézelay [France]. This mixed community of men and women monks is well known for the imagination and beauty of its liturgy, and toward the end of the Good Friday liturgy I witnessed an unusual ceremony that changed forever how I understood my Christianity.

The liturgy was long and intricate, performed with meticulous reverence by the brothers and sisters. . . . As sunset fell, one of the monks began to read in French the burial narrative from the Gospel of Matthew. . . . I allowed the sonorous French to float by my ears while I drifted in and out, catching what I could. . . . Out of the haze of words came “et Mary Magdalene et l’autre Marie restaient debout en face du tombeau . . .”

That’s when I did my double take. Mary Magdalene was there? That was in the scripture? Why hadn’t I ever noticed it before?

Thinking that maybe my French had failed me, I went back to my room that evening, took out my Bible, and looked it up. But yes, right there in Matthew 27:61 it read: “And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.”

Suddenly the whole picture changed for me. I’d thought I knew the tradition well. As an Episcopal priest I’d presided over many Good Friday liturgies, and as a choral musician, I’d sung my share of Bach Passions. I’d thought I knew the plot backward and forward. How could this key point have escaped my attention? No wonder Mary Magdalene came so unerringly to the tomb on Easter morning; she’d stood by in silent, unflinching vigil the whole time Jesus was being laid to rest there. Maybe she never left . . . Since that moment I have literally not heard the Passion story in the same way. It inspired me to go back to the gospels and actually read the story in a new way. . . .

Like myself, a great many Christians have absorbed most of what they know about Mary Magdalene through the dual filters of tradition and the liturgy, which inevitably direct our attention toward certain aspects of the story at the expense of others.

Mary Magdalene

Love and Knowing Become One
Sunday,  July 19, 2020

This week I’m excited to share another wonderful model of action and contemplation, Mary Magdalene. One of Jesus’ closest disciples, the Catholic Church celebrates her feast day on July 22.  My friend Cynthia Bourgeault tells a story about the moment when she told an older priest friend that she was writing a book about Mary Magdalene. She recounts, “He looked at me long and hard, as only an old friend can, and then said, ‘Go gently. Try not to leave me behind.’” [1] I, too, will try to “go gently” in these meditations on Mary Magdalene, yet at the same time, I want to challenge our preconditioned and possibly mistaken ideas about who this woman was.

For over a millennium, Mary of Magdala was misidentified as the woman with the alabaster jar who was called a “sinner” and who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36–50). While we may never know for certain if those two women were the same or separate individuals, the conflation has confused Christianity’s view of them. Either way, Jesus shows both Gospel women nothing but respect, forgiveness, and love.

What we do know about Mary Magdalene is that she was the woman who was closest to Jesus. She was “possessed by seven demons” and Jesus healed her (Luke 8:2). She is mentioned in the Resurrection accounts by name in all four Gospels, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of other women. [2] She was the first to meet the risen Christ. The fact that she immediately went to embrace him is a testament to the closeness of their relationship, the mutual regard and affection they must have shared. When Jesus said to her “Don’t cling to me” (John 20:17), he was indicating that the time for physical closeness was in the past. Mary’s love had to release the finite in order to reach a more expansive, spiritual dimension.

Mary Magdalene is the person in the Gospel who most needs love to be stronger than death and so she is the first to know it—and perhaps at the deepest level. She is the first one who symbolically comes to “consciousness,” as it were, of Jesus as the risen Christ and thus is the clear “witness to the witnesses.” She is the real knower; in fact, love and knowing have become one in her. Mary is the archetypal name for all those who have been led by love into awareness of their True Selves and know its Source.

Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on. She is a stand-in for all of us who seek an intimate and loving relationship with the divine. Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God.


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