Wednesday, July 23, 2008

St. Mary Madgalene

July 23, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Cathedral

Yesterday was the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. This feast day is an important time for us to examine what many of us think is a non-issue these days, but is still an issue in the larger Church. The issue is, of course, the ordination of women.

Now, most of us, I think, are fine with women being ordained to the priesthood or deaconate. But there are still several groups of people in the church—in the Episcopal and in the larger Anglican Communion—who are very upset over this issue.

As many of you might know, the Church of England has recently OKd the consecration of women bishops. For us, this doesn’t seem like a big deal. Our first woman bishop in the Episcopal, Barbara Harris, who was ordained in 1989. But in England, this is a huge deal. Many Anglo-Catholic priests and bishops are very upset and there is a rumor that many of these priests and bishops, as well as many lay people, are ready to leave the Church of England and join the Roman Catholic Church.

You might wonder why people have such an issue with the ordination of women. Some people—specifically the Roman Church—believe that if Jesus truly wanted women to be ordained he would have called a woman to be an apostle. In fact, one Roman priest has famously said: “If Jesus wanted to ordain women, he would’ve ordained his mother.”

These are good arguments. Of course, the argument could also be that, Jesus never called Polish or German men to be apostles either, but that’s a whole other issue.

To be fair, we need to remind ourselves of the place of women in the time of Jesus. Even if he had called women, the problem was that the role of women at that time was viewed as less than men. Very few people in Palestinian culture of the time would’ve even listened to a woman. In fact, a woman’s testimony could not even be used in legal proceedings at that time.

We see this most profoundly in the story of Mary Magdalene, who truly was the first witness of the resurrected Jesus. And when she told the apostles of her encounter with Christ, they didn’t believe her. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any legitimacy to her account until the men apostles saw Jesus with their own eyes.

The fact is, if the argument is truly about Jesus not calling women to be apostles, we must face reality and look long and hard at Mary Magdalene. In the Orthodox Church, which, by the way, does not ordain women either, Mary Magdalene has a wonderful title that I truly love. The title is: “equal to the apostles.” Now, that does not mean she is an apostle. It simply means she is equal to the apostles.

Still, Mary Magdalene was truly a model of the perfect apostle. An apostle is one who has been called to give witness to Christ. And Mary Magdalene did that over and over again in the Gospels. When the men apostles deserted Jesus, when they betrayed him and left him to be tortured and murdered, Mary Magdalene was there with him at the cross. While the men went into hiding, for fear of their own lives, Mary Magdalene bravely went out to the tomb.

And it seems that Mary Magdalene went on to continue preaching and bearing witness to the risen Jesus.

In the Orthodox Church, it is believed she went to Ephesus, where she preached and lived with Mary the Mother of Jesus. It’s believed she died there and that her bones were eventually taken to Constantinople

In the Roman Church, the belief was that Mary, with her bother Lazarus and sister Martha went to Gaul, which is now France, and preached. She eventually retired to a cave near Marseille, to a place called La Sainte-Baume or the "holy cave" and it is there that she died.

Whatever the case, Mary Magdalene is a wonderful model for all of us. Yes, as a woman, her testimony might not have meant much in her own day, but it means all the world to us now. Mary Magdalene’s proclaimation that Jesus is alive is really our proclaimation as well. We, as the apostles of our own time, are called to go out, like she did, even with all the barriers in our lives, and proclaim the living Christ.

Also, on this feast, we should remember and be thankful for the women clergy in our lives. And we should also remind ourselves that, with Christ, the barriers of male and female are simply not there. In Christ, these issues of male and female simply don’t matter. We are all one in Christ. And, in that oneness, we are all called to proclaim Christ.

So, let nothing come between you and Jesus. Rather be an Apostle like Mary Magdalene, who, even despite the world’s opinion, went to the ends of her world preaching the resurrection.

“I have seen the Lord.”

And because she saw him, we are able to go forth and proclaim it as well.

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