Too often, in all the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene - controversy which is largely invented to serve people's own agendas - it is important to step back and see the very real message that St Mary has for us.
What we know for certain about St Mary is that she was a woman from Magdala, a town in Galilee, and that, when she first met Jesus, she was a deeply troubled woman. We don't know quite what form the possession she suffered took, but that St Luke tells us she had seven demons cast out of her suggests that it was quite severe.
Her encounter with Jesus brought her deliverance and healing. So complete was her healing that she was to become prominent amongst the women who followed Jesus, so much so that St John in his Gospel singles her out as the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection.
The first lesson then that we can learn from Mary is that meeting Jesus is life-changing. Being a Christian is first and foremost about coming to know God in Jesus Christ. It is about a relationship with him. Yes, this will later involve us believing certain things about him and doing certain things for him, but it all begins by coming to know him for ourselves.
It is quite simply impossible that a meeting with the God who created us in the person of Christ can leave us the same as we were before.
However, a meeting with Jesus can leave us worst off than we were before.
Meeting Jesus can bring forgiveness and healing to those who need it, but it also brings a challenge. It is a challenge to let Jesus change us. Sometimes we prefer to hold on to our demons - if I can put it like that. We certainly prefer to hold on to our sin.
The rich man famously went away 'sorrowful' after meeting Jesus. Jesus had invited him to become one of his disciples, but he turned down the opportunity of a lifetime because he was very rich and following Jesus would have required sacrifice and a change of priorities.
Others want the healing that Jesus can bring, but don't want the commitment that Jesus asks us to make. With Mary, Jesus didn't have to ask twice. She followed him faithfully to the Cross and beyond. She was one of those who ministered to Jesus and his disciples. She was prepared to serve.
So secondly, Mary challenges us to leave ourselves and our demons behind and to commit ourselves to following and serving Jesus. And serving Jesus will mean serving others who follow Jesus. There is no discipleship without service of others.
Thirdly, Mary was one of those who watched Jesus being crucified. Meeting Jesus is not a happy ever-after story. I believe it will always be a story that has a happy ending, but that ending may not come for many of us until after this life is over. In this life, there will be pain, tears, and suffering. Jesus told all who followed that they should expect to suffer because of him. There is no escaping suffering for those who follow Jesus.
But Mary never stopped loving Jesus. Even when she was convinced he was dead, she kept on loving. That, after all, was why she was in the garden on the third day in the first place.
Finally, Mary shows that for those who commit themselves to Jesus then no matter how great the pain - and the pain will sometimes be very great - there will always be hope.
But this is not something we can keep to ourselves. Mary was sent to tell Jesus' disciples that he was alive and they were then sent to tell others.
When Jesus has changed our lives as he did Mary's, and we have come to know him, not as a dead teacher, but as our Living Lord, then of course we will want to tell people.
And when we do that I like to think we wipe away Mary's tears and bring a smile to her face.
Thank you Mary for showing us what it means to love Jesus.
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