July 22, 2009

Homily for St. Mary Magdalene

Even more so than the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, the story of Saint Mary Magdalene is perhaps the greatest story of redemption in the gospel tradition. Mary, saddled with the anguish of seven demons, was healed by Jesus and thereafter devoted her life to his ministry. She followed Jesus with the twelve. She stood at the foot of his cross while at least 11 of the disciples had fled in fear. All four Gospels tell us that she was among the women who, just after dawn on Sunday, headed to his tomb to finish preparing his body. And, as John tells us, she was the Apostle to the Apostles, the first to share the good news, "I have seen the Lord!"
In the life of St. Mary Magdalene we see the truth of Paul's message to the Church in Corinth, "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away,... everything has become new!" Her life is, for us a lesson in miracles. It is clear from Scripture that Jesus did not see his ministry as being centered on healing - his focus was on proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Yet, he healed and exorcised and changed water into wine with great frequency. His miracles, however, weren't done just to perform magic; he never healed someone just to heal someone - it always came with a word of teaching behind it. His miracles were signs of the Kingdom - glimpses into the way things were meant to be - reasons to hope and to ask questions and to change lives. Reasons to enter the Kingdom now and work toward its fullness this day.
Mary, having been exorcised of her seven demons, took that call to heart and devoted the rest of her days to the Kingdom of God. She gave up all that she knew and all social convention to follow an itinerant rabbi. She stood in shame and horror as he died upon the cross. She did her faithful duty as she went to the tomb. And she shared the good news of restoration far and wide in the years after Jesus' resurrection; following his example of sign AND message.
One tradition concerning Margy Magdalene says that, over time, Mary became a very influential person and found her way into an invitation to a banquet given by the Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, following the tradition of the day, she carried a plain egg in her hand, a symbol of new life, and proclaimed "Christ is risen!" The Emperor laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished his sentence, the egg in her hand had turned a bright red. She was then permitted to share the Gospel that had so dramatically changed her life with the entire imperial house.
The Good News of God in Jesus Christ is that in Him we are made new. While we await the fulfillment of the new heaven and new earth at the end of time, the Kingdom of God is not some far away place and far away time, but available here and now. Accepting the great gift of forgiveness, allowing God to make us whole, seeing the signs and wonders of life as invitations into a lifetime of redemption is the lesson I believe we learn from Saint Mary of Magdala. Her transformed life is not for her alone, but available to each of us who professes with our lips and believes in our hearts that we too "have seen the Lord!"
This day the Church celebrates one of its most controversial saints, but putting all rumors and doubts aside, we have a great lesson to learn from Mary Magdalene - Jesus is in the business of changing lives. May he change your life this day, may he renew you with his Spirit and motivate you to proclaim with Mary that "Christ is Risen!" Amen.

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