Women as Messengers of the Resurrection – Mary Magdalene – 22 July

It was only in 2016 that the Pope elevated memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to feast day in the Western Church.

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The Syriac tradition has always treated Mary Magdalene (and women in general) with great importance. Later portrayals of Mary Magdalene in the Western Church typed her as a prostitute who converted to Christ. This appears to have originated in a sermon preached by Gregory the Great in the sixth century. That tradition never entered the Syriac Church and is not supported by scripture either.

Scripture tells us that after being cured from demons Mary Magdalene left everything, became a disciple of the Lord and used her own resources to assist our Lord in his ministry (Luke 8:1-3)

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The four Gospels also tell us that Mary was at the foot of the Cross when Jesus was crucified. Mary was also the first to see the risen Lord.  (Mark 16:9-11)

This is not the first time that a woman is the first to receive the news and proclaim God’s plan of salvation. The Virgin Mary was the first to learn of God’s salvific plan by her conception of Jesus the Christ.

In our Syriac tradition, when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus after his resurrection, she thought that he was the gardener. This in based on the encounter in John 20.

There is a connection here between the Book of Genesis with God walking in the Garden of Eden, and Our Lord walking in the Garden of the Resurrection.

We have a surviving Syriac dialogue poem of the event. It has been translated by by Sebastian Brock in his excellent book “Treasure House of Mysteries” (you can read the full dialogue poem below)

The Body of Christ, the Church is made up of all of humanity, women, men, children, the poor and the rich and each of us can declare, Christ is Risen!  Christ came for all of us and his message was radical. God chose and trusted women to be messengers of his plan and Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness. In the same way the Syriac writers included women in their choirs to combat the heresies of the day.

St Jacob of Serugh writes a poem praising St Ephrem for his inclusion of women in his hymns and in choirs and called him the new Moses for women. He writes

By you even the sisters are strengthened to speak.

Your instruction has opened the closed mouth of the daughters of Eve,

and with their voices throngs of crowned women are singing out,

and women teachers are being called into the congregations ‑‑

a new vision that women will speak the Gospel!

It is a New Age, a complete sign of your teaching

that there in the kingdom men and women will be equal.

Your effort made the two sexes into two harps,

and men and women began simultaneously to give glory.[14]

Jacob recognises that women are redeemed equally with men and therefore they should also give praise aloud to Christ.[1]

Mary was very devoted to serving the Lord and the Risen Lord chose to appear to her first. Her commitment and love were rewarded. Let us all commit our lives to serving the Lord. We do not have to give away all our possessions. We can do the small things well. We can simply care for those around us.  Christ urges us to serve Him by assisting the lowliest of the human race. Think about ways you can do that for those around you.

Mary Magdalene intercede for us.

Dialogue Poem

The Risen Christ and Mary (John 20)

(from the Treasure House of Mysteries Translated by Sebastian Brock)

On Sunday, in the morning early

along came Mary to the tomb. (John 20:1)

MARY: Who will show me, she was saying,

my Son and my Lord for whom I am seeking?

As the Gardener did our Lord appear

to her, answering and speaking to her thus:

GARDENER: Disclose to me, o lady, what it is

you are seeking today in this garden. (Jn 20:15)

MARY: O Gardener, please do not refuse me,

do not drive me from your garden.

It is a single fruit that is mine;

apart from it there is nothing else that I seek.

GARDENER: At this season you should realize

that no fruits are to be found in any garden;

so how is it that you are telling me

that you are looking for fruit today?

MARY: You should know, O Gardener,

that the fruit for which I am searching

will give me life such is my hope

if I should but happen to see it.

GARDENER: What is this fruit, young lady,

about which you speak such amazing words?

MARY: I know very well and am quite certain

that the sight of it is too exalted for the eye.

GARDENER: How you weary me with your talk,

how you vex me with what you say.

MARY: Where have you removed him? Disclose this to me,

for I am going after him, seeking him.

GARDENER: Why, lady, do you seek

the living in Sheol, the devourer? (Lk. 24:5)

He concerning whom you are asking

left the tomb this very night,

while the guards were wielding swords,

resembling raving dogs.

MARY: Concerning his resurrection disclose and explain to me

so that I may be believing in him.

For he flew down from highest heaven

and dwelt in a virgin womb.

GARDENER: Incline your ear, O lady, and listen,

so that I may be the one to show you concerning him.

His resurrection gives witness to her who bore him,

his mother gives witness to his resurrection;

Height and depth are my witnesses

that, transcending nature, he was both born and now has risen.

She heard his voice and recognized him,

for he repeated the words ‘Mary, Mary’. (Jn 20:16)

MARY: Come to me, my Lord and my Master,

for now I forget my anguish.

Come in your compassion, O Son of Mary,

just as you came to Mary;

and with you, at your resurrection, let your light shine forth

on me and on him who composed this.

 

Theresa Simon

[1] To learn more on this topic see here http://www.syriacstudies.com/AFSS/Syriac_Articles_in_English/Entries/2007/10/11_Jacob_of_Saruge_on_Ephrem_and_the_Singing_Women_-_-_Dr._Kathleen_McVey.html