I had a wonderful conversation this week with a few parishioners about the transition we all shared when we changed denominations from Southern Baptist to Episcopalian. We each had our own motivations for the move and have been happy since we made it. Speaking for just myself, one of the attributes the Episcopal church held for me was the formal liturgy and the liturgical calendar of the church year. Having grown up Baptist, we were not influenced by any liturgical strictures of any kind. For us Christmas was one day, not 12; Easter was one day, not 50. And completely forget about All Saints’ Day, Lent, Advent, not to mention the more “minor commemorations” that pepper the calendar all 12 months of the year.
This week is one such week. In this time that one could consider the liturgical doldrums, there is a commemoration of one saint or another on every day this week. Thursday, July 22, is just such a day — although I wouldn’t deign to call it “minor” by any measure. It is the feast of Mary Magdalene. Mary occurs throughout the gospels and gets far too little attention than she surely deserves. Mary is thought to have been one of Jesus’ “patients” whom he cured of demon possession. She is purported to have lived a notoriously sinful life, and having encountered Jesus, she was saved in mind, body and spirit. From the moment of her healing, she accompanies Jesus and his ragtag band of followers as they go about Galilee and the surrounding countryside proclaiming God’s dominion and a whole new way of living. She is among those who stand at a distance at Jesus’ crucifixion along with Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of James and John. Some accounts list her standing alongside of the ever-Blessed Virgin Mary. Regardless of which account we read, she plays a prominent part in this crucial moment in Jesus’ life. Additionally, she is the one who shows up at the tomb on that first Easter morning (to anoint Jesus’ body for burial) and is giving the mission, by none other than the risen Jesus himself, to go and tell the others what she has seen. Thus, Mary Magdalene becomes the first evangelist (proto-evangelist) — the first to share the good news.
The startling thing is, given this monumental task and her faithfulness in carrying it out, we hear nothing more about Mary Magdalene in the rest of the New Testament. What surprises me more, is given the equitable treatment Jesus showed toward men and women, and the preeminent task given to Mary Magdalene, how the church later chose to perpetuate paternalistic behaviors and the subjugation of women. Even to this day, many denominations do not recognize women as leaders in the church; much less elevate them to ordained status. I believe if Jesus is confident enough in entrusting one of the most vital messages of all humanity to Mary Magdalene, we would do well to honor the women in our midst even more than we do.
This Thursday, July 22, take a moment and give thanks for all the powerful and influential women in your life. And take a moment to recite the following prayer, “Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed of all our infirmities and know you in the power of his endless life; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 757-562-4542.