Tag Archives: Saint Mary Magdalene

14 September:The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

When did the Church come into being? Egyptian Christians say the first Church was in their land, when Joseph led Mary and Baby Jesus to exile in what is now Cairo; others point to Pentecost, the day when the tongues of fire came down upon the 120 core members of the Church of Christ’s followers, women and men, including the Apostles and Mary his mother. You could suggest also the calling of the twelve, the sending out of the seventy, among many other key moments in the development of the community that took over Jesus’s mission; but one I had not considered was the taking down of the crucified corpse of the Lord, and the hurried burial in the garden tomb.

The Visual Commentary on Scripture recently published a reflection on this event, titled The Birth of the Church. At this critical moment, the Church had to come together to do what needed doing for his Body; the Church that was now his Body, led by two previously marginal men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

Paul Anel addresses this short moment through three works of art, by Rublev, Caravaggio and Michelangelo, and both the reflections and the art can be found by clicking on the link above.

And this link connects to Sister Johanna’s next reflection on the Psalms as personal prayer.

What about the angry psalms – often called the cursing psalms – where the psalmist is ranting and raving and just lets it rip against his enemies?  What about them?  Should we be embarrassed about them, and try to hide them in a dark corner where no one will notice them?

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10 May: Veils and Stones, Gates XII.

Former Holy Cross church, Canterbury, now the Guildhall.

Moses set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal. And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat: When they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as the Lord commanded Moses.

And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the hanging of the court gate. So Moses finished the work.

Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.

Exodus 40:30-37

There is a connection between the picture and the reading from Exodus! The passage comes at the end of a long, detailed description of how the Tabernacle (the mobile Temple of the Lord) was to be designed and built, according to a divine blueprint. When almost all the construction was complete, Moses finished the work by hanging a veil over the gateway. With all the other hangings and curtains, nobody could see inside and very few people were allowed inside.

Yesterday we looked at the Cross as the gate to Heaven; today we take that idea forward a step. Matthew tells of the veil of the Temple torn from top to bottom, and an earthquake – another dreadful night in that dreadful place – and the appearance ‘of the saints that had slept’, surely good news to those who loved them, to see them alive.

This happened, Matthew tells us, after Jesus’s resurrection; he is setting the scene for Easter morning, and Mary Magdalene and the other women making their way to the tomb, realising there that the stone is rolled away, the veil is irrevocably torn, Jacob’s seed has opened the gate of Heaven.

Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top even to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent.

And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose, And coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, came into the holy city, and appeared to many. Now the centurion and they that were with him watching Jesus, having seen the earthquake, and the things that were done, were sore afraid, saying: Indeed this was the Son of God.

And there were there many women afar off, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Matthew 27: 45-56.

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18 April: A sabbath day’s walk

Through early mist, the nail marks show a risen, if bewildered, Jesus.


This goes alongside today’s Gospel reading, and last year’s Easter walks.

We walked the fields and woods on Easter day,
Considering the flowers: bluebell, gorse for Edward Thomas, 
Campion for the martyr, David’s daffodils; and for 
Christ’s Mother, Lady’s Smock, a blue-white garment. 

For himself? I see him rising, feeling each rib, gingerly 
Easing the circle of thorns from his brow to spin it 
High and higher out of his ken, to Paris: 
Disputed relic but reverenced for his sake. 

His feet have stopped bleeding. He can walk 
Across the grass without pain. Almost. 
‘Mary, Please, please; do not touch me; not just yet, 
But tell them all, I’m going North to Galilee.

‘Oh, and Mary: just a dab of your oil on my brow. 
The scratches sting, but I find I’m healing like a babe, 
As Lazarus did last month when he came forth. 
Time now to take a walk, to find my legs and feet again. 

‘My feet are fine, thank you Mary. Go to Peter now, 
Give him my message, tell him what you’ve seen 
And rub his brow too with oil to firm his courage. 
I’ll see you by the lake, if not before. Now for my 

'Walk. I feel my legs can take me far, without 
Tiring. Those scars are not pretty but who looks 
At feet, except a salesman selling shoes, 
Or serving man with water, soap and towel? Or you.’

     .     .     .

Who is that ahead? I should know the gait of 
Clopas and his friend, red Isaac, expecting a kingdom by the sword. 
‘What are you saying on your way? Now, listen 
With your eyes and heart. Consider the flowers of the field. 

Do they toil and spin? No, all they have is gift of sun, and rain, 
And red-tailed bumble bee, loving them into growth 
And fruition. The grain of wheat has fallen. Stay with me 
My friends. Take and eat my given body. Stay with me.

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17 April: What mask will he wear?

I was gathering the last few items for the Easter gardens when this pot caught my eye in the toolshed. Another symbol for the garden, Mary Magdalene’s pot of ointment for Jesus’s burial! I remembered this picture from York Minster, where her pot is shown in a golden yellow. She has put it down on the grass, and doesn’t seem to know where to put her hands. Maybe Jesus has just said, ‘Don’t touch me’, when that is what she really wants to do more than anything.

But look! He is reaching out to touch her. He has disguised himself as the gardener so as to let the revelation of his return come gently to her.

What neighbourly mask or disguise will he be wearing today to lead me gently to see him?

We revisit this scene tomorrow.

Mary meets the Lord: York Minster

and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

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8 April: The Easter Garden

Franciscan Church, Venice

The church had imposing monuments, emphasising the worldly wealth that was Venice’s, but what struck me was this carving of Christ on Easter Morning, watched over by a Guardian Angel, a serenely happy angel indeed. But Jesus maybe does need an eye kept on him, He looks as though he is not at all used to his risen body, see how he’s feeling the wound in his side; it’s bleeding as though he were alive.

The English Easter gardens, from a village in Northumberland, Canterbury Cathedral, and Saint Mildred’s Church nearby, are unpopulated so far as we can see, but just as with Doctor Johnson the other day, we can feel God’s presence.

When I helped at Children’s Masses, some of them enacted Mary, John and Peter going to the tomb, and finding no-one. We then unrolled a poster saying ‘Jesus is nowhere’, because they did not find him. The priest had to take a pair of scissors to it, so that it read, ‘Jesus is now here’. Our daily challenge for mission is to live as though that’s true. Which it is!

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3 April: If we will hear.

white violets

It’s that in-between day. The day when fresh linen is spread over the stripped altar, when church dusting is done, the floor and brass polished, the flowers gathered in and arranged. Christina Rossetti invites us to Consider the lilies of the field; her message, one we have been reminded of more than once this week, is HOPE. Jesus found Mary in the garden, after all. Consider that one small seed that was laid in the garden tomb.

A Scottish Rose.

CONSIDER THE LILIES OF THE FIELD.

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:–
The rose saith in the dewy morn,
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
 

But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.”

From Poems by Christina Rossetti.

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8 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXIII: fervour and desire.

the narrow ath

But since the desire of holy men, when God delays to hear, doth kindle in them greater love and merit, Christ, the blessed One, departed without hearing him, and without him speaking to him aught at all, and he went by the little pathway aforesaid. Then Brother John arose, and ran after Him, and once again threw himself at His feet, and with holy importunity held Him back, and with most devout tears besought Him, and said: “O most sweet Jesu Christ, have mercy upon me in my trouble; hear me for the multitude of Thy mercies, and for the truth of Thy salvation, and give back to me the joy of Thy countenance and Thy glance of pity, for the whole world is full of Thy mercy.
And still Christ departed and spake naught unto him, nor gave him any comfort; and He dealt with him even as a mother with her child, when she makes him desire the breast and makes him run behind weeping, to the end that he may thereafter receive it the more willingly. Brother John still followed Christ with greater fervour and desire; and when he was come close up to Him, the blessed Christ turned and looked upon him with a glad countenance and gracious; and opening His most holy and most pitying arms, embraced him very tenderly; and as He opened thus His arms, Brother John saw streaming from the most sacred breast of the Saviour rays of shining light, which illumined all the wood and him likewise, both in body and soul.
Then Brother John kneeled him down at the feet of Christ, and the blessed Christ of His loving kindness gave him His foot to kiss, as He did to the Magdalene; and Brother John holding it and with all reverence, bathed it with so many tears that he seemed a second Magdalene, saying devoutly:

‘I pray Thee, Lord, that Thou look not on my sins, but by Thy most holy passion and by the shedding of Thy most holy blood, revive my soul in the grace of Thy love, sith this is Thy commandment, that we love Thee with all our heart and with all our soul, the which commandment none can keep without Thy help. Help me then, most beloved Son of God, that I may love Thee with all my heart and with all my strength.”

This is a prayer any Christian could make their own; we do not ask to see the distant scene, let alone be assumed into it.

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23 April: Looking After Jesus

stmaurice.pilgrims

Sister Johanna finds treasure in Luke’s Gospel when she spots her own name and investigates further.

With Jesus went Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.                                                                                                                                      Luke 8: 2-3

This short passage from the Gospel of Luke is one that I have not really thought much about, until now. Today I was taken by the reference to Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and wondered why Chuza was mentioned, and what light this might shed on the text. After a bit or research, I discovered that this is the only reference to Chuza in the New Testament, and nothing is known about him except what is said here in this passage. But, surely, at the time Luke’s gospel was written, his name must have meant something. No one, not even St. Luke, name-drops without wanting to impress. And if I think about it, I can see what is probably being implied here.

Herod was not a man to be trusted. He was no friend of Jesus, and the term, ‘that fox’, was used by Jesus of Herod (Lk 13:32) as a put-down, and a bold one, for Herod was an important man and held power over Jesus – or at least, he held a certain kind of worldly power over him. He could, and eventually did, collude with the powers that crucified Jesus.

And Chuza was ‘that fox’s’ steward. As steward, Chuza was also rather important. Scripture scholars say that the exact nature of a steward’s job is no longer known, but it is thought that Chuza was probably a kind of chief administrator of Herod’s entire establishment, and not a mere domestic manager. He was in some way the man who made all the practical decisions at the palace and was responsible for its smooth running. The fact that Chuza’s name is dropped into this text would suggest that his name was well known by Luke’s audience. Eyebrows might rise on hearing that Joanna, wife of the famous Chuza, was known to be both a disciple of Jesus and one of his benefactors.

The text also suggests that Joanna was taking a risk, both on her own behalf and that of her husband, in publicly following this upstart Jesus – ever a controversial figure to those without faith, who had not yet learned to love and revere him. Herod would not approve. But, neither Joanna nor Chuza seem to be bothered by that. Jesus is worth the risk. What eventually happened to Chuza? The text doesn’t say. But we have established that his relative fame would not have been an advantage for Joanna. She carries on anyway, despite the risk.

What else do we know about Joanna? Joanna had been healed by Jesus. She is now dedicated to caring for Jesus and is one of those who provide for him and his companions. She gladly associates with Mary Magdalene, who had been freed from seven devils. Reputations linger, and surely Mary Magdalene was still regarded by many as a highly dubious character. Joanna doesn’t care about that either. Mary Magdalene had been healed, and so had Joanna. They were companions. Joanna was for Jesus and no one would stop her. Caring for Jesus was much more important than playing it safe. Caring for Jesus more important than caring for herself. She and the other women are loyal to Jesus and courageous.

What does Jesus think of their dedication? Does he thank them? Oh, yes. St. Luke’s gospel tells us later that Joanna and the other women received a reward from Jesus. In fact, we see that Jesus expresses his gratitude in the most profound way possible. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joanna appears again; with her are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. They are the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus. They go there intending to carry out the ritual anointing the body. What actually happens to them there is that they become the privileged three who converse with angels. They – these women who took risks for Jesus, who were loyal to him, who provided for his material needs – they are the first recipients of the astounding news that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead. They are the first to know, the first ones to experience the joy of knowing. And not only that, St Luke tells us that they are the first ones who actually remembered Jesus’ own words about his resurrection which he spoke when he was alive. They are the first to understand those words.

And this tells us something else about Joanna and the other women: they were attuned to Jesus’ teaching all along. This understanding they have after his death will be the carry-over from their profound grasp of his teaching before his death. They are, therefore, well chosen to be the first messengers of the Good News to the Eleven. This is Jesus’ way of thanking them, honouring them, showing his love for them and healing them of the deep sorrow his death would have caused. He reaches the most profound places in their hearts with the reality of his resurrection. This is indeed a gift.

This short text, one that I had not really pondered before, has messages of joy. It tells us that Jesus sees everything we do for him, sees our loyalty, sees the risks we take for him, sees the understanding we have of his teaching, sees the way we remember his words. He is grateful every time we embrace his word, every time we give generously to him and his followers. He will repay in ways we cannot imagine now, any more than the women imagined that they would see angels when they went to the tomb. Jesus will repay with currency from his risen life and reach us, raise us up on the deepest possible level of our being.

SJC

Image: Missionaries of Africa.

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22 April: What did you go out to seek?

daffodils

It was in the bargain box at the door of the charity shop – a large cardboard egg, covered in a design of crocuses, clearly intended to be the target for an Easter egg hunt. Last year Abel followed the clues well, with a little help from Mummy, up and down and around granny and grandad’s house and garden. The treasure was finally revealed in an unexpected place; this year will be just a bit different, mostly for grandad’s benefit.

Some years ago he was gardening for a living, and around the end of Easter week was at an old garden in town with Abel’s mother and sister, who were both little girls. It was a lovely spring day, so much so that Mrs Turnstone brought a picnic lunch to share in the little park opposite. While the adults were finishing their meal, the girls played happily on the grass, until there came a shout, Mummy, Daddy, come quick!

Among the daffodils they had found a splendid Easter egg shell, like the one at the charity shop. We had no way to tell if it had been a prize in someone else’s hunt, or just possibly it had been left as a present for the finders. We felt it should be seen as a gift, since no one had claimed it and it would spoil if left outdoors, and so would the contents.

Mary went through the garden, looking for her lost Lord one spring morning. He found her. She went from ‘Jesus is nowhere’ to ‘Jesus is now here’ in an instant. Jesus is a gift, he will not spoil. The living Jesus was a much bigger surprise than even a very special Easter egg. He claims us. Let us accept the gift and follow him.

And if one of our readers remembers hiding the egg in the daffodils, thank you; it was greatly enjoyed!

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9 April: Maundy Thursday, into the desert, XXXIX

I thought I would start today’s reflection from a picture.

Usually the last Supper seems to be shown as an all-male affair, though I find it hard to imagine Jesus excluding such strong supporters as Joanna, Mary Magdalene, Mrs Zebedee or his own Mother. So here we have the Pentecost window at Saint Aloysius, near Euston Station in London. No apologies for the street scene visible behind it: the message of this window is not just for us, bu for the world outside the church building, where we spend most of our time.

The next picture shows another momentous moment, one from our own days. Here is Pope Benedict sitting down to eat a festive meal with poor people from his diocese of Rome: an unprecedented and prophetic event. It was not so long ago that Gormenghast style protocol decreed that nobody should see the pope eating. It was, perhaps, a useful excuse to avoid dining with political leaders who might capitalise on the photo opportunity, and claim papal approval of their policies rather than their cuisine.

The poor of Rome could not gain influence or anything other than a good meal in good company to celebrate Christmas; Benedict saw to it that they were not left out in the desert of their poverty.

The rules for the Passover that Jesus celebrated with his disciples make clear that all Israelites are invited to the feast, and that their neighbours should make sure none are excluded.

The people of Israel could trace their birthday back to the Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea into the desert of Sinai: as Christians we can look to the events of Holy Week and also to Pentecost as our foundation days, or birthdays. So it is appropriate to show Pentecost today, a gathering where Mary is prominent and one or two more female faces can be seen. The Spirit was poured out n them too; as it has been on all baptised men and women. Let us be as missionary as they were, accepting the paradox of passion and pain, of desert and defeat as essential to our story; and being at one with the people on the far side (which is merely centimetres away) of the church’s stained glass windows.

I give you a new commandment: that you love one another.

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