Walking in the Way of Insight
19th Aug 2012
‘Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight’. Proverbs 9.6
I was speaking to a member of this congregation yesterday about the Olympic Games legacy. We both agreed that the Games had reminded us of something that we had become more aware. That British dna is now most emphatically diverse and multicultural. It overlay the opening ceremony, which seamlessly set three scenes of life developing one from the other. The first idea was of England as a pastoral idyll - and this soon gave way to a contrasting Industrial England, to the strains of William Blake’s hymn ‘Jerusalem’, which spoke of a ‘green and pleasant land’ and yet also of ‘dark, satanic mills’. The underlying message was of convulsive and inevitable and difficult change. In the second and concluding part of Danny Boyle’s drama lay the everyday tale of a contemporary British scene in which family life is located in and with social diversity. Family members come from backgrounds and origins from other places. Boyle’s message of a Britain with both a familiar and an unexpected culture then gave way to the Games itself, in which ground-breaking history was made by Mo Farah, an exiled Somali Briton cheered on by the crowd as ‘one of us’.
Our conversation reflected upon the breathtaking speed with which all this has happened, and within this recent time-span the great identity change happening for this country. But it must remain true that these reflections are made in relation to the great swell of euphoria which the Games has generated. It will be important simply to note these things but also to check them against the available realities. And how are we to read the signs of the times as members of the Christian Church? What are the sources from which we draw a proper and critical view of the society around us? How does the Church come to understand the radical social changes that have emerged in the past thirty years?
Our reading from Proverbs this morning proffer some clues. Proverbs finds its place in what we call the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. This wisdom is of the kind which has been handed down from generation to generation and whose quality, common sense and beauty has withstood the test of time. And in the lives of my own parents, both hailing from small villages, the handed down village stories, many of them based on real history and fact, were shared for the way in which they had spoken about life and contained lessons for life. Wisdom in scripture was held in the highest esteem, given a feminine gender and enlarged upon in the Book of Wisdom using descriptive and poetic language. In the absence of a Christ figure, the Old Testament people relied upon their own store of wisdom and its sharing was there, as the Prayer Book would have it, ‘to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’. One of the earliest and greatest churches in the world, Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, in modern day Istanbul, was once the greatest Christian building in the world. Its mastermind, the Emperor Justinian had cried at the opening of the great church “Glory to God who has found me worthy to complete such a work. Solomon, I have outdone you!” I have only ever understood the quote as a boast before finding the sentence that precedes it, which places Justinian’s proclamation in a new light. It is humbler and more impressive. Wisdom and its daughter ‘humility-after-the-fact’, was doubtless present.
The Church must surely be known for its wisdom. It has, unfortunately been popularly depicted as at odds with itself on a whole range of human issues. It has seemed by many to be at odds with its place in a society grown increasingly multicultural and complex; grown expansive and diverse. It has grown in knowledge of a certain kind but not perhaps in wisdom and self-understanding to the same degree. The Anglican Church does not see itself as a dogmatic Church and does not want to take the hard line, but equally is aware that for the Christian Church, there are acknowledged truths about how in in what way life is to be governed without which humanity suffers and the quality of life diminished. The questions are those concerning what we mean by God. They speak of the deepest kind of authority and of the most profound kind of truth for our times. This is because they speak of our true origins and ultimate destinies. And so our text is timely: ‘Lay aside all immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight’.
This must mean for the Church and for us that holy wisdom is actively cultivated. I imagine this to challenge us into realising our identity as Christians as fully dimensional. The dimension so often missing has been the one which has is disciplined to reflect and to pray about our world and all the many issues and difficulties and changes that have been brought about. We are not neutral bystanders as Christians but are deeply implicated and involved in what goes on around us. Where Christ has gone before we follow. He was deeply critical of the society of his day, but this criticism was coming from what Proverbs calls ‘insight’. As Christians we have a distinctive voice. The Collect for today urges us to be ‘partakers of the heavenly treasure’ and that suggests some kind of reflective or contemplative life. It is no good simply to have half-baked personal opinions about life like the ranting taxi-driver. Nor even to stay silent and to pretend no knowledge. It must surely be possible for Church’s like ours to develop a sense of our embracing a Christian view of life which we can put into words, and which carries authority and weight.
The first part of our growth in this Church has been in number and in diversity and of joy in believing. The second must demand something more of us. To begin to make the adventure into the life of prayer and contemplation and to train ourselves to achieve this. This approach will aid us to centre our view of The Church and of Christian teaching, and to ground ourselves as we ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest not just from the point of view of opinions and comments and personal preferences, but from the place of the living presence of God, who discloses himself as Holy Wisdom, ‘hagia sophia’ within our hearts. This is also a training in listening, not only to God in silence and contemplative prayer, but to a listening to ourselves and our own inner voice, and a learning in listening to others, also. As Proverbs suggests, God calls his faithful to lay aside immaturity, which is the existence which does not reflect upon realties, and to walk, perhaps at first painfully slowly, in the way of insight, literally a seeing into those things for which Christ lived and died. This is the ‘bread and butter’ work of a fully vitalised and awakened Church, most aware of its own strong and real identity and most ready to embrace the new understanding and passion which our multicultural identity demands.
On 1st December I invite you to come away and to join our neighbours at St Pancras Church for a Quiet day in which we will begin to explore how we as a church might embrace the contemplative life of prayer. This is the one which will help us to ‘walk in the way of insight’ and to speak from where the Word of God has and will be implanted in our hearts.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
15th Aug 2012
“Why should I be honoured from a visit from the Mother of my Lord?”
One of my earliest memories of a pregnant woman is of my own mother, getting herself ready to leave home for hospital for the birth of my younger brother. I remember that in the hurry there was some sort of cross words between my parents. This was my mother’s fourth pregnancy and I remember her saying to my father “Well, if you feel that way, you can give birth to the next one!” Even while this was going on she was busy applying copious amounts of face make-up, determined, and readying herself for a new birth which was already in the air as nerve-racking and momentous. But remembering all this and watching my parents leave home, she kissing his cheek and leaving a red blob of lipstick on it; my mother leaving for her delivery and my father rushing off to the funeral of his favourite uncle, and my being packed off to a friend’s house; this was been for me a key memory. It represents life and death, loss and gain, and everything else in between all rolled into one. And it was all done wordlessly. When we come to this Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary we honour her as ‘full of grace’. This means that she occupies a unique place in God the Father’s heart and in the plan for human salvation. And this is summed up in our prayer of greeting “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, prayer for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen”.
Mary’s response to God’s trust is of a life given to making Christ embodied and evident. In this morning’s Gospel we witness her greeting of her cousin Elizabeth and the child which leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. This stands for the Church as a key moment in what we might call the ecology of grace. It is the bridging of the chasm between the womb and the grave. It is in Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth that grace erupts in the responsive kick in Elizabeth’s womb. And that kick is a message that comes suddenly and vividly and yet wordlessly. The wordlessness of this event emits its own kind of invisible gasp. It is God-provided and ‘full of grace’. A moment of truth. Mary, as theotokos, or bearer of God, partakes of the very nature of God. She re-instates for Jung what Thomas Hardy once called ‘the eternal feminine’, and which for Jung was a necessary co-relative and the corrective to a totally masculinised Godhead. And this was something the people had already known.
The bond that ties us to all to our mother’s womb is more than one of DNA or genes and chromosomes alone. It carries with it a meaning which has been grasped by the ancients and for all time and which speaks of what is life-giving, what lies at the heart of our existence and inseparable from it and what belongs to our essential human nature. The image that people kept in their homes in centuries past was the image of the madonna and child. The feminine being that lies at the heart of the Godhead: there is no God without recourse to an understanding of the eternal feminine, and with that to the image of the Mother. And on this day it is Mary who as ‘bearer of God’ is the one who, as ‘full of grace’ is the responsive agent of God’s will and whose obedience opens up a new way of life for God’s people; one which, it is suggested, is alive to the possibility of the givenness of God’s grace for us all.
Though we are word-makers and word utterers, the Christian life will find us more and more inhabiting that place which is wordless: ‘a staircase for silence’ in the words of Allan Ecclestone. It has been so important that we learn about human presence : of how we are all of us singular presences. It is often found that the mnost effective communication is that which is expressed non-verbally. Great actors can, like Anthony Hopkins in ‘The Remains of the Day’ convey a whole raft of emotional meaning through a simple look of gesture, a movement of the eyes down, a shifting of the body’s angle to the light with the keeping of a taut silence. All these speak to the sensitive soul. And so with Mary’s greeting. It touched a chord. It was felt in Elizabeth’s womb, and already for John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s unborn child, a way was being prepared, and something new and great, something more than this child was coming to birth. And this was done wordlessly. It is on the level of being rather than of doing. “Let it be done according to your will”, says Mary. At the wedding feast at Cana she orders others to do what Jesus says. It is from her being that the Christian Church finds much of its becoming.
One person who startled everyone by his reaction to the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1950 was Carl Jung:
The promulgation of the new dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary could, in itself, have been sufficient reason for examining the psychological background. It is interesting to note that, among the many articles published in the Catholic and Protestant press on the declaration of the dogma, there was not one, so far as I could see, which laid anything like proper emphasis on what was undoubtedly the most powerful motive: namely the popular movement and the psychological need behind it. Essentially, the writers of the articles were satisfied with learned considerations, dogmatic and historical, which have no bearing on the living religious process. But anyone who has followed with attention the visions of Mary which have been increasing in number over the last few decades, and has taken their psychological significance into account, might have known what was brewing. The fact, especially, that it was largely children who had the visions might have given pause for thought, for in such cases, the collective unconscious is always at work ...One could have known for a long time that there was a deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as the 'Queen of heaven and Bride at the heavenly court.' For more than a thousand years it has been taken for granted that the Mother of God dwelt there.47
I consider it to be the most important religious event since the Reformation. It is a petra scandali for the unpsychological mind: how can such an unfounded assertion as the bodily reception of the Virgin into heaven be put forward as worthy of belief? But the method which the Pope uses in order to demonstrate the truth of the dogma makes sense to the psychological mind, because it bases itself firstly on the necessary prefigurations, and secondly on a tradition of religious assertions reaching back for more than a thousand years. What outrages the Protestant standpoint in particular is the boundless approximation of the Deipara to the Godhead and, in consequence, the endangered supremacy of Christ, from which Protestantism will not budge. In sticking to this point it has obviously failed to consider that its hymnology is full of references to the 'heavenly bridegroom,' who is now suddenly supposed not to have a bride with equal rights. Or has, perchance, the 'bridegroom,' in true psychologistic manner, been understood as a mere metaphor?48
The dogmatizing of the Assumption does not, however, according to the dogmatic view, mean that Mary has attained the status of goddess, although, as mistress of heaven and mediatrix, she is functionally on a par with Christ, the king and mediator. At any rate her position satisfies a renewed hope for the fulfillment of that yearning for peace which stirs deep down in the soul, and for a resolution of the threatening tension between opposites. Everyone shares this tension and everyone experiences it in his individual form of unrest, the more so the less he sees any possibility of getting rid of it by rational means. It is no wonder, therefore, that the hope, indeed the expectation of divine intervention arises in the collective unconscious and at the same time in the masses. The papal declaration has given comforting expression to that yearning).
The Breaking of the Bread
5th Aug 2012
…and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world. John 6.51.
The Rev’d. Barbara Glasson was given a simple remit. Given by the Methodist Church a small old shop in a derelict part of Central Liverpool she was asked to ‘make something of her situation’ and to create around this unpromising situation a church, or at least a kind of church. As a Methodist minister, she was an experienced pastor, but had always worked within church situations that were essentially formal and predictable ones. Ones like ours that had structure, services, formal duties and a sense of occasion. Now she was pitched into the unknown. But given that this was Liverpool, and lying somewhere close to the heart of Liverpool’s shopping district this was a place where all sorts of wanderers, all kinds of different people passed by. The derelict shop was then refurbished with little money and set up as a meeting place for anyone who passed by and dropped in. Most of them were spiritually homeless and in dire need of ‘The Bread of Life’ of which today’s Gospel speaks.
It was some time before Barbara realised that what lie at the heart of this kind of informal city church lay a ministry divested of the usual structures. God was to be discovered through human encounter – through the meeting people as and when you found them. But this wasn’t just another ‘drop in’ but a church whose minister was found to be watching and waiting and praying. This was a church whose existence was an ‘inside out’ one. It would wait on the life that would then sustain it and hold it. The centre was to be lived out in prayer and in fellowship supported by an almost invisible superstructure. Just like the Medieval Cathedrals, whose high walls and gigantic interior spaces and beautiful windows were held in place by a whole skeletal structure of flying buttresses which lay outside the interior space. And all through this time she was reaching out and befriending many of those who would not have found a place of belonging in any other way: ex-drug users the single homeless, and a whole range of individuals wanting to stop and to stay. And one day she bought a bread oven and each day she and her followers made bread each day. And the bread was shared over lunch and a few loaves distributed to those who needed them. And it was in the making of the bread that provided the practical outward focus for the establishment of a praying and faithful ‘interior’ church.
Our Gospel from John explores the theme of Jesus as the ‘Bread of Life’ and the source of our sustenance. The drama of John’s Gospel is its underlying theology; especially the one which surrounds Jesus’ identity with the so-called ‘I am’ sayings. The ‘I am’ phrase had previously only been used a way of identifying with God the Father, who could not be directly named. When Jesus proclaims ‘I am the Bread of Life’ he promises the Church a sustenance which had in the past only been given only as manna in the desert, or in this morning’s first lesson as the provision of bread to the people of Moses in the desert (Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15) . Now such sustenance has been given by the Father to the Son. He now is our ‘Bread of life’ and his offering of himself, his ‘flesh’ is given for the life of the world. In Christ our lives find their true belonging and their sustenance in Him. This is a belonging which derives from its natural life source; God the Creator. And it feeds us and sustains us even when we do not know it.
In contemporary life, many promises are made for the consumer which cannot possibly be satisfied, particularly the buying into the illusion of a life oblivious to its brevity. In this vein a Company Funeral Directors now offers a funeral pre-payment plan entitled ‘Dignity in Destiny Limited’. My mother was shocked to discover that as she ordered a burial plot for my dead father, she had also to face the fact of its providing a second ready-made space for her own remains. Dreadful that in the death of another you come face to face with your own mortality which is shocking in its directness. Barbara Glasson reminds us that “….life dawns on us as we grow in self-awareness. We do not know why we are alive but with every breath we breathe we experience life as a given. Sometimes we are thankful for it and sometimes it scares us witless”.
If Jesus, ‘The Bread of Life’ is our sustenance, it must be a sustenance that is given ‘just as we are’. And in the middle of how things actually are. Life is not all black and white, ready-made as a kind of pre-planned insurance policy; like the assurance of ‘dignity in destiny limited’ . It contains so much is unpredictable, confusing, difficult to bear and to understand, and containing far less fixity and security than we would wish. It was with this in mind that Barbara advanced the idea of her bread-baking church. The Church which had turned itself inside out was the church which lay open to the elements.
In such a way we at Holy Cross come to receive the Sacrament at this altar. We come simply to be fed and to acknowledge our need of this feeding. In the words of the hymn ‘Bread of Heaven on thee we feed’:
Bread of Heav’n on Thee we feed,
For Thy flesh is meat indeed:
Ever may our souls be fed
With this true and living Bread;
Day by day with strength supplied,
Through the life of Him Who died.
And coming as we do from an Anglo-Catholic tradition we remember that the restoration of the sacramental tradition in the 1850s was purposeful. At its heart lay the embrace of the experience of being fed sacramentally with the body and blood of Christ. It was to re-establish something felt to be lost : that before our worship were ever ceremonial or occasional it was first and foremost a living encounter with a God, who in Jesus Christ – the life of the world – feeds us now and ever more.
As this broken bread was scattered as grain upon the mountains, and, being gathered together, became one, so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom; for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
From The Didache
Barbara Glasson I am Somewhere Else Publ. D.L.T., 2006.
The Calming of the Storm
29th Jul 2012
“But he said to them “It is I…Do not be afraid”. John 6.20
When you visit the Colosseum in Rome its stones speak to you of the terror that was once practised within its great pock-marked walls. As you walk into the amphitheatre it is as though you are walking into the jaws of a great lion. It is a place whose atmosphere eats you up. Beautiful it is not. Intimidating it is. Like it or not, such great amphitheatres, or as we call them now stadiums, tell us something we already know about us – that we are by nature communal; and we have always needed places of ingathering, and above all places where we can feel the power and the swell and the emotion which is raised in being together in one place. And, to draw upon the image of the lion, we may speak of the roar of the crowd. The Colosseum was a place where the early Christians were thrown to the lions, to be mawled and eaten by them for the entertainment of the masses. The Olympic stadium is quite a different kind of place, but the roar of the crowd and the enjoyment of spectacle for its own sake and its emotional draw is very strong. The architectural shape of the stadium is as a cradle. It envelopes and surrounds and yet it also excites and overwhelms.
What a different scene is represented to us in the Gospel reading this morning, in which the disciples are together in a little boat in a storm and who see Jesus walking on the water and bringing calm. The Gospel writer John understood what we must know to be the case – that in life there is no one place of absolute safety and certainty. The psychoanalyst Jung would often speak of what he called ‘life’s vicissitudes’, as though they were a natural and normal part of the experience of life. We might say that life is not all plain sailing. Things don’t always go smoothly for us. Sometimes we might feel ‘all at sea’. Sometimes life has and does take us into choppy waters. The Old Testament writers experienced these vicissitudes in many ways, and the psalmists in particular sent up their cries and their sighs. They own an experience of life in which such internal turmoil is deemed natural and inevitable and to be accepted not as a part of something abnormal in us, but as a very predictable and understandable part of what makes us human. John sets up the idea of the boat and the storm as identifying with the fact of finding faith in God amid the storms of life and not apart from them. The boat is a figure for our life together and our need for one another, and the Christ who walks upon the waters is the One who has come to communicate what we have called ‘the peace of God which passes all understanding’. In the church we need to begin practising a tactful kind of understanding of one another which accepts that whether we know it or not, life has not been plain sailing for any of us. It is a good paradox that it is in our shared experience of life and its vicissitudes that we may more surely understand what makes us human. The opposite of this could be a Christianity that places us at a distance from the very humanity, which in us all, cries out for compassionate understanding and for the receipt of peace. A Christianity disconnected, that is, from our true humanity, which seeks understanding and healing. The message of the gospel this morning is of the Christ who has come not to deny our own fears or to banish them for good but to recognise them. But we know that he gets into the boat with them and journeys with them and they get to their destiny together.
In the little town of Olney in Buckinghamshire there is a Newton and Cowper Museum. And this is a museum dedicated to two hymn-writers who compiled the so-called ‘Olney Hymns’. But they were more than just that. Cowper was descibed by Coleridge as ‘our best modern poet’, and John Newton wrote the words to ‘Amazing Grace’, a hymn we shall sing at the end of the service. He had been a ship’s captain, and was heavily involved in the slave trade. During a storm, the sea was so bad that for the first time in his life he prayed. The storm as it were cracked open his old self and tore it out of him like Shakespeare’s King Lear. What remained and what was revealed was also revealed to the blind man who had received his sight. Christ was revealed! Newton had come through the storm and he came to know that it was God who lay in the midst of the storm. God was in the eye of the storm. He was at the heart of the storm which is, paradoxically, the place of its still centre. At the deep heart of all our defences, uncertainties, reluctancies, vanities and stubornnesses; at the heart of all our struggles and doubts and failures there lies God, the God who has made us and who even now seeks for us that reconciliation which is our life and our soul’s true wellspring. And so it was for Newton, and the crowning expression of his experience of God as a man born blind is given to us in the words of ‘Amazing Grace’.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
And then the sobering words of his friend George Cowper:
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
May the God who visited the disciples on the choppy waters of their existence also visit you, to give you that amazing grace which was first realised on the Sea of Galilee and which held the disciples together. For they like we, in and of God, find ourselves, all of us, in the same boat…He comes to declare himself to us all in the words
“It is I…Do not be afraid”.
22nd Jul 2012
Jesus said to her “Mary!” She turned to him and said to him in Hebrew “Rabbouni” (which means teacher). John 20.15
When I was preparing to come to this parish almost six years ago I was informed by the churchwardens that the parish council had accepted a gift for the church from a painter. It was a small painting of Mary Magdalene which now hangs above the credence table in the St Peter Chapel. The little picture depicts Mary as a rather high born and sensitive woman. She wears a string of pearls and gazes wistfully down at a white flower in a pot, a symbol of purity. Her gaze is concentrated and draws us to someone with a deep inner life.
In truth both church and history has been divided over Mary Magdalene. It is as though she has become two women. The first is the very significant ‘apostle of the apostles’ and the first witness of the Resurrection of Our Lord from the dead. The resurrected Jesus had appeared to her as a gardener. He called her by name and in this name she recognized him as her teacher, ‘Rabbouni’. She had been with him throughout his ministry even to the foot of the cross. Both our own Gospels and the apocryphal gospels grant her very high status. In an early Second Century series of writings called ‘The Wisdom of Faith’ Jesus addresses Mary in this way:
"Mary, thou blessed one, whom I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height, discourse in openness, thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren."
But there remains another, less reliable Mary. She is the one in whom seven demons were cast out (Mark 16.9). She was purported to be the woman who had anointed and washed Jesus’ body with her hair. It was commonplace in the Church over the centuries to regard her as a prostitute, or perhaps the woman taken in adultery. Only in 1969 did the Roman Catholic Church silence centuries of superstition and declare her to be the a close companion of Jesus; one in whom past sins and healing had transformed her life and made possible God’s choice of her, Mary, as the first witness of the resurrection. She was truly an apostle, the influential Christian witness. Despite this, for many centuries and even among Christians today, the old mud has well and truly stuck. Mary Magdalene has been placed unfavourably alongside the Blessed Virgin Mary as another kind of woman, a fallen women; one in whom things felt less certain… In Martin Scorsese’s film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ based on Nikos Kazantzakis book, the Magdalene represents the power of the flesh that Jesus must resist if he is to be true to his divinity. Mary Magdalene looked all too like her progenitor, Eve, she who ate the apple, and we know where that led. In the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Mary is portrayed as an emotionally conflicted woman, perplexed by the passionate feelings that Jesus arouses in her, part spiritual, part sensuous. In one of the songs of the show she sings ‘I don’t know how to love him, I’ve had so many men before’.
Any estimation of Mary is therefore difficult. To many interpreters she is the archetypal fallen woman, to feminists she is the very symbol of a liberated woman making her way in a man’s world, and finally she is a powerful and crucial witness to Christ, not only as apostle but also as close friend of Jesus. Her character, even as it comes to us in the dense and formal words of scripture is full of passion and contradiction. She crosses many boundaries to become ‘the apostle of the apostles’ and she is living proof of the trust Jesus puts in women, something unaccustomed by most men. An estimate of Mary over historical time must take account of the centuries old narratives, written by men, which have placed women in a subordinate role, banishing them from the places of authority, and even declaring them insane as the fabled mad woman in the attic. Many such women were living out scenes from another film version, ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ as embarrassing and unwanted. Wasn’t Mary Magdalene after all, the one who had a history of mental illness (and had all the demons really been cast out?)
So who is she to us in the here and now? What makes her memorable is her unconventionality. She doesn't fit the image of the subservient woman in the ancient world. Her relationships were unorthodox, and her lifestyle unapproved. In Mark's spare, understated resurrection story, no-one else, and specifically, no man, sees the empty tomb. Why put the story of the resurrection at such risk? Why not suppress the awkward fact of her being the key witness of the resurrection when the story would have been much more credible had it been Peter or John? Above all, why have of all people is she sent to tell the others about the resurrection in a role that is emphatically apostolic?
Maybe it’s because the whole project of redemption is God's risk. Will it be believed, received, acted upon? Maybe God himself cannot know the answer; but in faith he sends Jesus because that is all he can do to win the human race. It begins with Mary the first witness to the resurrection. That word ‘witness' can sound passive; the onlooker who sees or observes, but is disengaged, and doesn't get involved. Yet the Easter story portrays her as the exact opposite of this. She is the passionately committed witness for whom seeing, believing, acclaiming, loving and following all merge in one great ‘yes' that transforms her entire life. When Jesus calls her by name in the garden, ‘Mary!’, she knows that she is alive again, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. ‘Rabbouni!’ she cries - and in that moment, a lifetime of passion and pain, search and longing, hunger, fear and hope, is gathered up. She recognises him on behalf of the human race, and, it must be said, on behalf of us.
Why don't we try being passionate for once, as if we believed that the resurrection of Jesus changes everything? Why not let the heart speak? This isn't a matter of formulaic answers, rather, it's about giving a reason for the hope that is within us, as the New Testament says. Hope is everything. To say yes to Jesus and yes to life is where hope began for Mary. It is where it can begin again for us. It is the hope that emerges out of faith in the One who chose Mary Magdalene, the unstable and unpredictable, the heart-stirringly complex woman who in the Christian icon, holds out an egg, the symbol of resurrection, as though she is pointing to her own life too. The message of the uncompromising woman apostle who has wended her way into the heart of the church for all time.