Mary Magdalene meets Jesus
Luke 8:1-3, John 20:1-18
‘Brief Encounter’ is the name of a 1945 romantic drama by Noel Coward in which two people meet unexpectedly at a railway station and fall in love with unexpected consequences.
‘Strange Encounter’ is the name of a 1995 detective and science fiction story by Edgar Jacobs.
This morning concludes our Denmead summer series of ‘Encounters with Jesus’.
What does the word ‘encounter’ conjure up for you? Certainly a meeting – perhaps brief or extended, maybe sudden, unexpected, and likely significant, not just any old meeting.
Mary Magdalene’s first encounter with Jesus was likely dramatic and life-changing, at a low and needy point of her life. And it led to faithful and significant ministry by her. Strangely, now people seem to spend more time hazarding guesses about her previous character than drawing inferences from her subsequent discipleship. More anon. Then finally, she had a further, unique and privileged encounter with Jesus on his resurrection morning.
Her encounters with the One who came to give us life were transforming and unforgettable:
- freedom from personal bondage – One from whom seven demons had been cast out, says Dr Luke
- also as a member of a support group to Jesus and the twelve disciples
- finally, as first to meet the risen Christ face to face
Our knowledge of her is confined in the gospels to Luke 8 and the Easter morning narratives, one of which we read today from John 20.
LUKE speaks of ‘Mary, called Magdalene’, naturally leading us to presume that she was from the Galilean town of Magdala; and to help distinguish her from other Marys in the New Testament, of whom there may be up five apart from Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Mary Magdalene is spoken of with others as providing for the material needs of Jesus and the twelve disciples, as they travelled proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And surely Mary must also have been a significant witness on these road-trips, to the power and love of Jesus, seeing the freedom and healing she had received from him. Quite a story to tell!
JOHN tells of her glorious Easter morning encounter when, before first light, she goes to Jesus’ tomb, discovers the stone door securing the tomb has been moved, runs to tell Peter and John, and after their discovery that the tomb is empty (and going home for breakfast!), she is left alone in grief and confronted with two angels and the risen Lord himself.
‘Mary’, says Jesus. ‘Teacher’, she replies in stunned amazement.
‘Don’t hold on to me’, He says.
Going back to the disciples as Jesus instructed her, she says, ‘I have seen the Lord’ – surely five of the most significant words ever uttered, announcing the resurrection of Christ which the others were at first so slow to believe. Though she didn’t fully know it she testified to the triumph of Jesus over sin and death; their dominance eternally destroyed.
Some of the encounters we have reviewed in previous weeks were brief like those of the rich man and the centurion. Others like Nicodemus’s and Mary’s were ongoing. Some were public, some private; some dramatic, some low-key. But all were significant and most transforming. An obvious exception seems to be the rich man who ‘went away sad’ because he was not ready to give Jesus pride of place in his life and his living.
Mary, however, strikes me as a devoted and practical disciple of Christ:
She gave of her time and money as she lived out faith and gratitude (resources)
She likely told her story of what Christ had done for her, freeing her from powers of darkness in her old life. Why wouldn’t she?
She remained faithful in her commitment and devotion to him, even in the face of danger and death as a close associate of Jesus at the end of his earthly life.
She showed conviction, commitment, faithfulness and risk.
At the present time, our church, we are learning, is in need of resources – people, you and me, to give of ourselves – our prayer, our time, our money.
Insofar as we have encountered Christ and want to live as his disciples we will respond from our resources. Like Mary Magdalene, we have opportunity to give of what God has given us – life, skills, time, prayers and material resources.
First among them is need for consistent prayer for church and society, alongside whatever else we may give:
Think back to our recent DABS week. It was sustained by work and by prayer. Prayer should precede everything else we do, so that we consciously invoke God’s Spirit on our service rather than mistakenly think that deeds of the flesh can accomplish the work of the Spirit.
And soon the Alpha course will begin here, organised in partnership with the Baptist church. Around eighteen people so far have asked to attend. As well as commending Alpha to you – it’s not too late to join and benefit from the meeting, the teaching and the discussion – there’s a need for many to be willing to pray for it; that it may be beneficial and effective in the work of God’s kingdom.
Like our Sunday Summer series, Alpha speaks of encountering Christ. We do so in many ways as God has his unique dealings with us. The stories of many others tell us that Alpha is one such valuable way.
Mary Magdalene modelled whole-hearted faithfulness and devotion to Christ. Taking faithful support and prayer as a practical lesson from her example, and being committed to pray for Alpha, would be a valuable way of responding to her story before you forget it and move on to the next thing!