Something about Mary!
As our website is being redeveloped I am going to put some of my sermons here, and this one which I gave on Mothers Day, is particularly close to me. I focus on the Gospel of Mary, something I have wanted to talk about for a long time….
I have been pondering this sermon for a little while. I want us to journey away from Easter, even though we are still technically in the Easter season.
Journey into our own lives and time and place. But carrying the message of Jesus with us.
How do we do this. Well, I want to focus on one of the major players in the Easter story. Jesus story and our story. A player who has been forgotten or demonised or pushed aside. Who was there, and who tells us much if we are to listen.
I want to talk about Mary Magdalene. All 4 of the gospels say Mary witnessed the resurrection. Three of them name her as also present at the crucifixion, and in both Matt and Mark she is named first among the women who stayed and watched.
To understand more fully her role, I downloaded the movie Mary Magdalene that was released last year and watched it. It is powerful and controversial in some eyes, because it not only depicts a beautiful woman who was one of the disciples, but a Jesus, who is raw, and earthy and believable. And other male disciples who just don’t get it. Poor Jesus. Jesus was of God, but not god. He was pointing to a new way, but not a way of violence but peace. A way of love and forgiveness rather than exclusion. Everyone was to be included in this new order, this new kingdom. And still the disciples wanted some sort of powerful response. Maybe like us.
Let me show you a clip in case you didn’t see it, this is actually the promo for the movie …
Today I want to read a section from the Gospel of Mary, written around 80 to 180 CE whose main figure is a woman, most likely Mary Magdalene. The movie clearly takes its inspiration from this gospel. It is part of the extracanonical writings, writings that existed at the time of the gospels found in the bible, but not included in the final cannon, because they were branded as heresies or died out before the cannon was put together. It is believed that over 85% of the Christian literature from the first 2 centuries has been lost. But some have re-emerged in recent times, in Egypt, the markets of Cairo and the libraries of ancient monasteries. They give us an insight about the diversity that existed at the time of the early Jesus movement and expand our thinking.
The Gospel of Mary disappeared for over 1500 years until a single fragmentary copy in a Coptic translation came to light in the late 19thcentury. Two additional fragments have been found in the 20thcentury. It is one of the writings that was found in material from the Nag Hammadi village in Egypt, but it was also in a 5C papyrus codex sold in Berlin in 1896. Although it was originally composed in Greek, most of it survives only in the Coptic translation. While written by someone else, it records the relationship between Jesus and Mary and the disciples.
A modern translation by Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School professor some 10 years ago has revived this ancient manuscript.
While only fewer than 8 pages survive, with the first 3 pages of chapter 1 missing and 3 pages of chapter 8, it gives an amazing glimpse into a kind of Christianity that existed at the time, and Mary Magdalene’s role.
As Rosemary Radford Reuther explains, “for the first 5 centuries no writer misinterpreted Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Rather she was seen as a leading disciple and image of the church. It is only at the end of the 6thcentury when Pope Gregory the 1st in a sermon confuses the sinful woman of Luke 7 and Mary Magdalene in Luke 8 and identifies her as a repentant prostitute whose former sinfulness is contrasted with that of the virgin Mary, that things change”.
In fact, the anointing given by a women to Jesus while he was alive were not actually assigned in the gospels to Mary Magdalene at all. In Luke the woman who was a sinner has no name while In the other 3 gospels, the anointing takes place in Bethany directly before Jesus passion. In John, the participants are named, Mary of Bethany is the one who brings the ointment and Judas is the critic who accuses her of wasting money.
So many Marys. Perhaps Marys strong witness and presence became a threat to leadership in the earlier church. Like many female voices hers was removed. The Vatican corrected this view at the time of Vatican II, but the damage was done. Women have been marginalized for centuries both inside and outside the church, and it continues to this day.
Yet the Gospel of Mary offers a female recounting of a scene in which the resurrected Jesus comes to say goodbye and tells the disciples to preach, just as he does in the first 3 gospels, Matt , Mark and Luke, then leaves them.
With this ancient document, we have another voice, a woman’s voice, coming through.
Let me read two sections , which sets the scene.
Reading chapter 2, 3 (part), 4
“… Will matter then be destroyed or not?”
The Savior said, “All natures, all forms, all creatures exists in and with on another and they will be resolved again into their own roots. For the nature of matter is released into the roots of its nature. Those who have ears to hear let them hear.”
Peter said to him, “Since you have explained everything to us, tell us one other thing. What is the sin of the world?”
The Savior said, “There is no sin; but it is you who make sin when you do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called “sin”. That is why the Good came into your midst, coming to the good which belongs to every nature, in order to restore it to its root”……..
When the Blessed One had said these things, he greeted them all, saying “Peace be with you! Bear my peace within yourselves! Beware that no one leads you astray saying, ‘Look over here!’ or ‘Look over there!’ For the Child of Humanity is within you. Follow it! Those who seek it will find it. Go then, and proclaim the good news of the realm. Do not lay down any rules beyond what I determined for you, nor give a law like the lawgiver, lest you be confined by it.”
When he had said this, he departed.
In this gospel Jesus teaches them that all things are interwoven with each other, whether material or spiritual. He teaches them how to welcome true humanity into themselves. That salvation is recognising their true humanity and warns them from following some heroic hero or a set of rules and laws. Rather they are to seek to find their inner peace, their wholeness in this world, understanding that Jesus, the child of humanity is within them. Sin is the product of choosing a path away from all that he has taught, rather than some inherited state. We sin when we lose sight of the path he offers.
After Jesus departs the disciples are emotional and tearful, until Mary Magdalene takes charge and bucks them up. Do not weep and be distressed she tells them and sure enough they pull themselves together.
Again, let me read chapter 5
But they were pained. They wept greatly, saying, “How shall we go to the nations and proclaim the good news of the Child of Humanity? If they did not spare him, how will they spare us?”
Then Mary stood up. She greeted them all, and said to her brothers and sisters, “Do not weep and be pained, nor doubt, for his grace will be with you all and shelter you. But rather let us praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us Humans.”
When Mary said this, she turned their heart to the Good, and they began to discuss the words of the Savior.
Mary Magdalene recounts that Jesus’ primary purpose is to make us human beings, fully human. Emphasising the goodness of humanity! She turns their heart to the good.
This is actually quite similar to the other gospels, and reveals that much of our doctrine and dogmas about sin, and condemned humanity comes from later theologians. The gospels of Matt, Mark, and Luke talk about the realm or kingdom of God which is at hand or among you. And they talk about living in God, living in Christ, and having a new radically new quality of life in Christ.
In Chapter 6 Mary begins to relate some private teachings from Jesus that only she knows, to the disciples.
Let me read the beginning of Chapter 6
Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of the women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember, which you know and we do not, nor have we heard them.”
Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will tell you.” And she began to say to them these word…..
Unfortunately, we then have 3 missing pages, but it appears that the teaching is on similar lines, both celebrating the goodness of humanity while seeing the things that drag us from this path.
But the last bits of the dialogue we hear in Chapter 9 reveals something about God. For Mary related God with the good. She defines God as the good. We hear it earlier when the text said, “she turned their heart to the good”. That the rise of the soul is about the journey towards goodness in ones’ inner consciousness, one’s behaviour and one’s relationships. This gospel charts a personal process of struggles for goodness. And things get in the way. But as Jesus says at the beginning of the gospel, “the good which belongs to every nature, comes to restore it to its root”. When we become a true human being.
Of course, the disciples aren’t thrilled with being lectured by a woman, and Peter scolds her in the last chapter, chapter 10. Levi interceded, “Peter, he says, you have always been a wrathful person, assuredly the saviour’s knowledge of her is completely reliable, that is why he loved her more than us”.
He loved her more than us. It is an image of a human Jesus and a beautiful faithful disciple.
I have totally fallen in love with this writing.
The Child of Humanity is within you. Jesus is within you. God is within you. The good is within you. We are Jesus and God’s beloved, we are loved for who we are, human beings, a marvel of life. And we are called not to some other place, not really even to this church, but to the world.
So, what do we do with this ancient message from a woman who stood beside the human Jesus through it all. Those who seek it will find it, go and follow it.
We think bigger and wider and more expansive. We have the resources within ourselves to change things, to give life rather than death and destruction. It’s what we choose that is important.
Resources that we sometimes forget are there. We can be kind, we can be creative, we can be loving, and we can be inclusive.
But sometimes our own hurts and sorrows and grief and distractions can hide our resources, can hide the spirit from us. So that we think we are alone. Yet we know, we are never alone!
Mary reminds us and the disciples that the Child of Humanity is within us and as such can make a difference. God is for and in all things, making things new.
If we choose.
Today I think of the grief of the whale (a children’s talk focussing on mothers in other parts of creation and the story of a Orca whale who pushed her dead calf around in Canada for 17 days in grief, supported by her pod), as an example of what is happening to our beautiful earth and the many people and creatures on and in it. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how we got to this place in time. Violence, shootings at synagogues, in churches and at mosques. An earth that is groaning. We and many are grieving. We are human, and we grieve.
How does the future look?
Jean Vanier, who as Dennis mentioned last week started the L’Arche community says, “We are very fragile in front of the future”.
So, as a writer for Sojourners, Kaitlin Curtice, asks, “what are we going to be as we head into the rest of 2019 and 2002. Who will we going to be politically, religiously, as humans who walk this sacred earth? Will we fight for our churches to be places that welcome the outcast, the woman, the gay and transgender person, and fight against injustice. Will we be a nation that faces its past in the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples and continual violence against people who are seeking out protection?”
We know in our hearts the truth of our faith. The spirit, the energy, the presence of God never leaves us. We search for that truth every Sunday, with the courage of Mary Magdalene, and in all the days in between.
Today, as Curtice suggests, “we must take each other’s hands, take a hard look in the mirror and ask what our humanity requires of us…
How should the earth be loved?
How should our children be loved?
How should people with disabilities be loved
How should women of any colour be loved
How should our LGBTQI friends be loved
How should our Muslim, Sikh and Jewish kin be loved
How should anyone be loved.
That is the only way forward.”
Maybe these are things we should hold on to when things get rough and we have doubts.
Perhaps we can hear Teresa of Avila words, a mystic from the 1500s who wrote a great summary in her book ‘The way to perfection”. Another great woman of faith.
Listening to words from the cross she believes Jesus is saying..
All must be friends
All must be loved
All must be held dear
All must be helped
Let us say Amen to that.