Sunday 16 April 2017

Mary Magdalene: The Beloved of The Beloved

Give therefore your hearts and your souls, to seek the Lord your God
(1 Chronicles 22:19)

At His appearance by the Sea of Tiberias there is one Apostle who recognises the Risen Christ ahead of all the others 'That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved, said to Peter: It is the Lord' (John 21:7) Quick-eyed love is more clear sighted and faster to apprehend than any other of the senses when it comes to the beloved object.

Although the Evangelist talks of the love that Jesus had for the disciple not of the disciple's love for his Lord there can be no doubt that it was a mutual relationship. God loves each of us infinitely but we experience that divine hunger for us in different degrees according to what is in our own soul. The powerfully felt and strongly expressed love of St John for the Christ called forth such a strong response from Jesus that His love for the Apostle was apparent to all.

The same principle was at work in the events of the first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene became witness to the Resurrection and Apostle to the Apostles because her passionate and chaste devotion to Him drew her to seek Jesus and drew Him to show Himself to her. 'For thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away: thou art the God of my heart' the psalmist had said (Psalm 72:26) and the Magdalene lived these words with her entire being.

Tradition has applied to her the words 'Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much.' (Luke 7:47) and also ' Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair' (John 12:3) Modern scholars question this interpretation of the texts but the Christian ancients intuited a great truth which academics don't concern themselves with. That is, Mary Magdalene received the unique privilege of becoming the first recorded witness to the Resurrection not by happy chance but because her consuming, burning, fiery love for Jesus the Saviour gave her the position of first among equals of all those who had come to know Him since His Nativity.

This bright love,though, has its dark places. The Magdalene came to the joy of the Risen life by travelling through the valley of the shadow of death. Because she loved so much she suffered enormously on the hill of Calvary when her beloved had died an agonising and shameful death. Long and dreary too were the bleak hours that passed between His entombment and that moment 'very early in the morning, the first day of the week' (Mark 16:2) when she became the glad bearer of Good News that the world had changed forever. She bears witness too that for all of us however close we may be to the Lord (or think ourselves to be) there will be no Crown if there has been no Cross.

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The picture is Noli Me Tangere from a 15th Century Paris Missal.

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