Mary Magdalene – a saint of defiant hope


We kept the feast of St Mary Magdalene last Sunday. Preparing my sermon on her I was very moved to meditate on her story – not only her story as recorded in the Gospels but also the ‘fake news’ story that has followed her since the Middle Ages in the West up to now. For me, she is very much a saint for our time, a saint of defiant hope. My sermon was partially inspired by this beautiful icon by Br Robert Lentz which for me restores her reputation back to the fierce survivor she is:

Here is the text of my sermon:

Mary Magdalene is a survivor. She is one of the most enigmatic people in the gospels and probably the most enigmatic woman in the gospels – the only woman given a full name in the New Testament. Mary Magdalene is a survivor because we know that Jesus drove seven demons from her. We don’t know what language we would use now to describe what Jesus did for her, but my suspicion is that she came to Jesus deeply troubled – perhaps with a severe mental health problem and that he healed her fully of that. Mary Magdalene as we come to remember her today is also a survivor of a terrible fake news campaign that has raged since the middle ages about her. Many people conflated Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany who outrageously anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and dries them with her hair and also with the woman caught in adultery – the woman to whom Jesus gently says ‘go and sin no more’. These two other women are two separate people – not to be confused with Mary Magdalene whom we are celebrating today. Unfortunately because people made these 3 women into 1, Mary Magdalene has always been depicted as a reformed prostitute, she is always depicted in racy bright red robes, her hair flowing, uncovered, and in a posture of repentance.

The truth is, that Mary Magdalene is the apostle to the apostles. The reason she is honoured with being the first to see the resurrected Christ is that Mary stays when everyone else leaves. The disciples, led by Peter all profess at the last supper that they will stay with Jesus come what may, to the death – and they all agree. When it comes to it, though, the name repeated through all four gospels as being there as Jesus is crucified and put in the tomb and rises from the dead is Mary Magdalene.

Mary stays. She is fierce. She has had a hard life, Jesus cast out seven demons from her – who knows how long she’d lived with them or how old she was when Jesus healed her. But perhaps because she’s seen pain and suffering on a scale most people never experience, that is what makes her believe in resurrection. Mary experienced resurrection the first time she met Jesus, Jesus gave her her life back when he cast those demons out of her, it was like she was alive again, resurrected. Perhaps it is this that makes her stay. She’s not only there at the very end for Jesus but from the moment of her healing, she, along with other women who have been healed, fund Jesus’ ministry from their own money. So she was probably a wealthy woman too.

Mary is not afraid to look death in the eye. Mary is not afraid to sit in silence, to sit in her grief. She sets her face like flint (to use a psalmist’s phrase) and waits. Mary Magdalene is a saint of defiant hope.

I wanted to show you this beautiful icon of Mary Magdalene, written by Brother Robert Lentz.

This is how I like to picture her. You will see that Mary is holding and pointing to an egg. This is an ancient story about Mary. The Eastern Orthodox tradition tells us that after the Ascension she journeyed to Rome where she was admitted to the court of Tiberius Caesar because of her high social standing. After describing how poorly Pilate had administered justice at Jesus’ trial, she told Caesar that Jesus had risen from the dead. To help explain His resurrection she picked up an egg from the dinner table. Caesar responded that a human being could no more rise from the dead than the egg in her hand turn red. The egg turned red immediately.

Here in this icon, you can see Mary’s defiant hope in the resurrection. Her role is to point to the resurrected Jesus. Her song is ‘I have seen the Lord’!

Mary Magdalene is a survivor. She stands as the saint of defiant hope. She stands as living proof that resurrection is possible. She stays with Jesus, she never leaves his side: no wonder she wants to cling onto him when she sees him in the garden.

Mary Magdalene is someone I would like to be around. Someone that loves Jesus more than anyone else. Someone who has been ignored, vilified, not believed by the world but who is safe in the knowledge that her dear rabbi Jesus, knows her intimately, knows her name.

‘I have seen the Lord’ is her song. May it be my song, may it be your song, may it be our song. Alleluia! Amen.


Intercessions for the Feast of SS Philip and James (1 May)


Today the church celebrates the lives of the apostles Philip and James. They share a saints’ day simply because the church in which their relics were was dedicated in Rome on this day in the year 560. Philip was the spokesperson among the apostles, often asking Jesus questions about who he was. He was also the one who brought his friend Nathanael to Jesus. James the son of Alphaeus is sometimes known as James the less (poor guy) to differentiate him from the other apostle James who was bishop of Jerusalem.
Ballylooby Church of Our Lady and St. Kieran Nave South Window 03 SS. Phillip and James the Lesser 2012 09 08

Today I’m leading choral evensong for the first time at our college chapel of St Mary the Less.

Here is the collect for today (BCP):

O almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life; Grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the steps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may stedfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.


Below are the intercessions I have written.


Let us come confidently before our loving father with our prayers and petitions.

As we remember the apostles Philip and James we are reminded that God calls us all and sends us out into the world to be his hands and his feet. We thank you Jesus for the tasks you have entrusted to us. Help us each day to become more aware of our calling to serve you.

Lord in your mercy – hear our prayer

We pray for the needs of the world, remembering particularly those parts of the world where people live in daily fear of violence and oppression. We call to mind those parts of the world particularly on our hearts today.

Lord in your mercy – hear our prayer

We remember that Philip opened the scriptures to the Ethiopian eunuch helping to bring him to Christ. We thank you father for our teachers, those who teach our academic subjects and our brothers and sisters who teach us the faith. We pray for ourselves and students and tutors in St John’s college and across the university at this time of exams and assessments. We lift our anxiety and the anxiety of others to you and ask for your peace to dwell in our hearts.

Lord in your mercy – hear our prayer

We thank you for the apostle James and the hidden and unknown work he did in service of the gospel. We thank you for those who have an impact on our lives who work without our knowledge for our wellbeing. We pray for all those who dedicate their lives to the service of others.

Lord in your mercy – hear our prayer

In a moment’s quiet we call to mind those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit…be present to these people in your power Lord Jesus and bring your healing and peace.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your son, our saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.