The Feast of Mary Magdalene: A Sermon

Mary MagdaleneMary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.  John 20:11-18.

It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning as we celebrate the Feast of a great saint of the Church, Mary Magdalene. Magdalene: the first witness to the resurrection, Mary, who had her heart broken and then restored.  So, I thought I’d borrow very liberally this morning from a sermon first preached by Meister Eckhart, one of my Dominican brothers, around the thirteenth century.

“Mary stood at the sepulchre weeping ….”

A wonder that in such sore distress she was even able to weep. She stood there because she loved, she wept because she mourned. She approached and looked into the sepulchre. She was looking for a dead man: she found two living angels and the living son of God.

Origen says: “She stood – why did she stand when the Apostles had run away?’ Because she had nothing to lose. Everything she had was lost with Him. When He died, she died as well. When they buried Him, they buried her with Him. So she had nothing to lose.

She moved on. Then he met her. She thought it was the gardener, and said “Where have you put Him?’ Anxious for Him, she does not answer His question; just, ‘Where have you put Him?’ Those were her words. Then He showed her plainly Who He was. Had he announced Himself straight away while she was in the throes of longing, she would have died of joy.

If the soul knew when God would come to her, she would die of joy! – and if she knew when He would leave her, she would die of grief. She knows neither when He comes nor when He goes: she knows well when He is with her. It is said, “His comings and goings are hidden; His presence is no secret, for He is Light, and by its very nature Light is Manifestation.”

Mary sought God and only God. That is why she found Him, because she desired God and nothing else.

While we didn’t get to hear this part of the story, unlike the other gospels that begin the story of the resurrection at dawn, John begins this chapter “while it was still dark.” Of course, the opening phrase of John’s gospel is: “In the beginning.” John wants to take us back to the moment of creation, to another garden from which we were cast out. And the contrast of the darkness of a world without Jesus, and the light we encounter with Jesus: well, that’s quintessentially John.

It’s interesting to note that the very first words Jesus says in John’s gospel are a question directed to the followers of John the Baptist: “What are you looking for?” Here, Jesus repeats almost exactly the same question, asking “Who are you looking for?” It’s a question we should each consider. Who are we looking for? It’s also important that Mary does not recognize Jesus until he calls her by name. I’m wondering whether we can hear him calling our names as well.

In that moment as Jesus calls her name,”Mary”, she knows Him just as He knows his own. And she knows that death has not taken her teacher, her friend, that death has no claim on Him any longer, nor those who follow Him. And that morning, sadness had no more claim on her life, and I pray that it has no more claim on ours.

Mary saw it: the kingdom of God had broken into the world. The kingdom of God is coming into the world. The kingdom of God will come into the world. Amen.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2013 James R. Dennis

25 responses to “The Feast of Mary Magdalene: A Sermon

  1. Praise God!! It is so good to see you back!! I have missed your writings.

  2. Where have you been? Did you receive my Christmas card? It is great to see you here again!

    Sister Olive

    • My dear friend,

      Yes, I did get your Christmas card. It was so kind. I could’ve sworn I replied in an email, but I can be dimwitted sometimes.

      I have been quite busy, lawyering, ministry and co-wrote two novels. I hope to be writing more often, but we’ll see. It’s so good to hear from you.

      Shabbat shalom,

      Br. James

  3. Good to have you back my friend… 🙂

  4. Clyde Osterhaus Thayer

    Thanks for sharing this, Br. James! What a beautiful, and I do believe a complete, vision you have drawn of Mary Magdalene at perhaps the most important moment of her life. I love it! Best to you … Clyde

  5. Thank you, James. You (and I guess Meistersinger Eckart) give us important ways of looking at a passage we know so well we sometimes don’t think about it. Sorry I missed this on Thursday, but it is a very good beginning to Sunday.


    Sent from my iPad

  6. Thank you Bro. James. You have provided Ellie and me with a good sermon and a feeling of being home! We are in Cornwall UK for a week.

    Blessings. Mike

  7. apocalypseicons

    What a joy to see your blog again brother

  8. I have missed your words. What came to mind for me while reading this is whether I have to wait for Jesus to call me by name for me to recognize him in my life.

    • Barbara,

      I think, with practice, we can become better at listening for His voice. I don’t know about you, but I have generally only recognized grace (His presence) in my life in hindsight. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement.

      The peace of Christ,

      Br. James

  9. Yes, I agree with everyone: glad to have you back!

  10. How good to once again read your inspiring words, Br. James. You have truly been missed. Many blessings to you today.

  11. Beautiful thoughts to contemplate. Thank-you for taking the time to share here again. I have so missed the wisdom you so confidently, so humbly share. I feel as though a dear soul-sibling is back within my grasp. Blessings to you as you continue to share what our Father whispers into your heart.

  12. Good evening Brother James! Stopping by to let you know that I’ve nominated you for the Most Influential Blogger Award.

    God Bless.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s