(St. John Lutheran Church, North Tonawanda, New York)
IN NOMINE JESU
The Old Testament Reading for today, from the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs, gives us a long list of qualities of a good wife, as espoused by King Lemuel, whose mother had taught him this wisdom. Sometimes it is easy for a man to find such a wife. Some of us have had to wait longer before being so blessed. When the Lord indeed blesses us men with such godly wives, it is incumbent on us to thank God each day for the gift of wife, lest we take them for granted and not give them the love and adoration they deserve—and God the worship He demands, a sin of omission of which I am deeply guilty and for which I earnestly desire my Lord's forgiveness. At the same time let us not be misunderstood: it is not necessary for a woman to be married to be godly. A woman may, as may a man, be godly without a wedding band. In my ministry I have visited shut-in women who never married, women I considered godly. What is important for being godly is being redeemed by Christ's blood, believing in Him and being strengthened through Word and Sacraments, and—strengthened in our God-given faith—live in service in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. Such a woman was Mary of Magdala, whom we honor today, the one considered the "apostle to the Apostles."
Eleven men heard the word that the Lord's body was no longer in the tomb. These apostles of the Lord were beside themselves, for it was the third day from Good Friday. They saw their Master and Teacher and Lord stricken, smitten, and afflicted. This news was too much for them to hear in their states of mourning and fear. And they certainly were not going to believe the word of a woman, especially not one from whom the Lord had removed seven demons. They, in their own deliriousness, perhaps thought the Lord had left a demon or two inside her yet for her to come up with such a wild story—we don't know. Peter and John eventually went to the tomb. Both saw the linens in which the Lord's crucified body had been wrapped, but His body they did not see. But this woman, Mary from Magdala, stood outside the tomb and wept. She looked inside and saw two angels. She was wailing loudly, for she loved her Lord. She saw His arrest, crucifixion, and death. She learned much from Him, and He had cast seven unspecified demons from her. She missed Him much. Not only was He dead, but His body was missing. Now her eyes were welled with tears, so much so that she failed to recognize her risen Lord standing in her presence…until He spoke a single word. He who created the world by speaking a word, who cured many of their infirmities by speaking a word, and who forgives us our sins by speaking a word, revealed Himself and His divinity to her by speaking a word—"Mary!" Just as He would later break bread with the disciples from Emmaus, made Himself known to them, so our Lord made Himself known by simple means to a woman beset with grief. The Man from Galilee brought Easter triumph and Easter joy to the woman from Magdala, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Regarding this sainted woman, whose feast day is today, it is important that we give thanks to God for and remember Mary for who she was and where we are in comparison to her. Whether she had red hair or not is immaterial to our remembrance of her. I say this because, in the world of art, she has been generally depicted as having red hair, which was associated with prostitution. There is no evidence anywhere in history that she was a prostitute. In the light of the recent movie, The Da Vinci Code, there is no basis for the false teaching that she and Jesus were married and had a child together. She loved her Lord, it is true, but not in an erotic way. If she was married to Him, then Christ would be a bigamist, for He already has one bride, the Church, who has begotten Him many children not through sexual intercourse but through catechesis, Baptism, preaching, and the Lord's Supper. Mary was a member of Christ's bride, the Church, as she and the other women served the Lord and His disciples, serving Them and, consequently, the Church, as unofficial deaconesses.
Where are we, when compared to Mary the Magdalene? We are dwarfed by her shadow. Why? We are not much like her, for she was faithful to her Lord. We are very little like her who was not a prostitute. We are very little like Rahab the prostitute who served God by protecting His spies. We are, however, very much like Gomer, the prostitute whom God told His prophet Hosea to marry; she strayed from him many times, for she cared more about prostituting herself. She was representative of unfaithful Israel, for Israel was not faithful to her God. We have gone off and sold ourselves to the gods of this age. Tears do not cloud our eyes, as they did Mary's, but our sin does, rendering us spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Our sinful nature is so immersed in itself that it neither recognizes the Lord nor wants anything to do with Him. Mary's love for her Lord was not at all carnal, erotic, or sensual, but it was truly meet, right, and salutary, for she feared, loved, and trusted in her Lord above all things; whereas we are in bed with the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. While the liturgical color for this Feast of St. Mary the Magdalene is white, spiritually we remain in the red-light district, selling ourselves out to sin at every corner.
Yet at the corner stands not a john but Jesus, not a customer but the Christ, not a pimp but the Prince of Peace. He calls us by name at our Baptism and bids us to follow Him. He leads us to His house, placing us in the care of His bride, the Mother Church, that she would take care of us with the means He has given her for this purpose, cleansing us through Word and Sacraments. Through these Means of Grace (Baptism, Absolution, the Lord's Supper, and the reading, teaching, and preaching of the Word), our Lord gives us the gifts He won on the cross for us; so we do not cling to the old rugged cross, even as Mary could no longer cling to Jesus, for He was no longer merely her Master and Teacher, but now He was her risen Lord. If Mary wanted more catechesis, would have to go to the Apostles, whose minds the Lord would open to the Scriptures, instructing them in all things necessary for salvation. To this day the Mother Church catechizes her children in the teachings of the Apostles, which they in turn received from the Lord Himself. We are the blessed recipients of this apostolic tradition. We are also the blessed recipients of Mary's being the first eyewitness to the Lord's resurrection, for the Lord rose from the dead for her, for you, and for me. The Eleven did not initially believe Mary, but the Holy Spirit inspired St. Matthew, St. Mark (an associate of St. Peter), St. Luke (associated with St. Paul), and St. John to record that which Mary saw and that to which she testified. And it is this same Holy Spirit who takes us spiritual prostitutes and makes us faithful, bringing us out of the great tribulation of our sins and the blood stains our sins make, and washing our robes in the blood of the Lamb, so that our heavenly Father would declare us forgiven for His Son's sake. We have our Lord's Word, and by the Holy Spirit, we believe it, and we thank God for the godly woman whom God has given us from the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Mary the Magdalene.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.