Vespers Service – All Faith’s Chapel
September 29, 2021 5:30 pm
Believing Women, A Study of Mary Magdalene
Welcome & Announcements from Fripp Chapel
Presider’s Welcome and Introduction
Welcome! And thank you for inviting me here to share with you in prayerful community. I am Jill Striebinger. As many of you know, I was ordained in your beautiful chapel in August as a priest with the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement is a renewal justice movement within the Catholic Church. Currently women are forbidden to become ordained in the Catholic Church. We choose to answer our calling as we serve God and not a hierarchal structure. Additionally, we are called to be co-leaders with our community as we do not believe that priests are any more special than people who are not priests. Believing priests to be spiritually special is called clericalism. Our group is a non-clerical movement that offers the church, the people, an equal partnership within the community of the baptized. Our group is also inclusive of everyone including the LGBTQ community and people who are divorced and remarried. Anyone called to the table is welcome.
Beginning Hymn: Thou Gracious God, Whose Mercy Lends #152
Opening Prayer: (From MMOJ)
Nurturing God, you became human in Jesus and showed us how to live life to the fullest. You know what it means to laugh and cry, walk and talk, love and be loved. You also know what it feels like to be rejected and marginalized. We know that your mothering presence is always with us. May we, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, live in hope and expectation of your coming and may we recognize your presence within all creation in everything we say and do. ALL: Amen
The theme of today’s prayerful contemplation is Believing Women, A Study of Mary Magdalene. Before I begin, I’d like to see a show of hands, who has heard about Mary Magdalene in the Bible? Who knows anything about her? What have you heard? That she was Jesus’ companion, his wife, or even that she was a converted prostitute? Who has heard any of this? Originally when I prepared for this evening, I wanted to go right into where we find Mary Magdalene in the gospels; however, because Mary isn’t really discussed nor mentioned in prayer services and liturgies, I wanted to make sure I address some of the outstanding questions or common thoughts. Why do I want to talk about Mary Magdalene at all? Theologian Cynthia Bourgeault says it best, so we can reclaim Mary Magdalene’s role as a teacher and apostle…as she is the one who best catches the full and unitive meaning of Jesus’ teachings. (Bourgeault, x)
I’ll start easy, Is Mary Magdalene a prostitute? No. Only the Western church has said that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. The Eastern church has always honored her as an apostle, noting her as the “apostle to the apostles,” this based on the Gospel of John which has Jesus calling her by name and telling her to give the news of his resurrection to the other disciples. In the Western Church it was Pope Gregory who was the one who declared her to be a prostitute based on theology that associated her with the woman who anoints Jesus. Assumptions about the anointing woman’s status were faulty as well. But I do want to say this. I am not condemning the women or people who are prostitutes, nor denying that any person who may have identified that way could not be as worthy as Mary Magdalene. We are all worthy of Christ’s love no matter what. All I am saying is that it looks like the scholarship does not bear out that she was a prostitute.
Was Mary Magdalene married to Jesus? I’ll cut this short by stating that we do not know, there are mixed views by theologians. Personally, I think that it does not matter one way or the other. I do believe, at this point in time, that she was not married nor in a sexual relationship with Jesus. I have other thoughts about this but I will leave it here.
Was Mary Magdalene an apostle? It’s quite obvious that she was a leader and teacher in Jesus’ movement. Do we call her an apostle? Is she more than an apostle? I will leave it at that for right now. So, let’s look at Mary Magdalene in the Gospels but first, I want to introduce you all to the non-canonical gospel of Mary herself.
Bless my thoughts that guide me, Bless my voice that pronounces, Bless my heart that knows truth when fully centered
A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mary: (A New New Bible Hal Taussig p. 225-226)
10 1 But Andrew responded and said to the brothers and sisters, “Say what you will about what she said, 2 I do not believe that the Savior said this, for certainly these teachings are strange ideas.” 3 Peter responded and spoke concerning the same things. He questioned them about the Savior, “Did he really speak to a woman without our knowing about it? 4 Are we to turn around and all listen to her? Did he choose her over us?”
5 Then Mary wept and said to Peter, “My brother, Peter, what are you thinking? 6 Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am telling lies about the Savior?” 7 Levi responded and said to Peter, “Peter you have always been an angry person. 8 Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. 9 But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you, then, to reject her?” 10 Surely the Savior’s knowledge of her is trustworthy. That is why he loved her more than us. 11 Rather, let us be ashamed. We should clothe ourselves with the perfect Human, acquire it for ourselves as he commanded us. 12 and proclaim the good news, 13 not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the savior said.”
14 After he has said these things, they started going out to teach and proclaim.
15 The Good News according to Mary.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew: (Matthew 28:1,10)
1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb(…)
10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John: (John 20:11,17-18)
11 Mary Magdalene remained weeping outside the tomb(…) Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus then said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene then went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and repeated what he had said to her.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke: (Luke 24:1-12)
1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of Rabbouni Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
9When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark: (Mark 16:9–11)
9 Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.
Early manuscripts of Mark end at 8, which is the passage before this one. Where did this longer ending come from that was approved by the Council of Trent that was prompted by the Reformation? Why was it important that this information be clarified at this time and what documents were used in supporting the clarification? I’ll read this line again, “And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.”
Both the gospels of John and Matthew just end with the risen Christ, telling Mary to go and tell the others. In the Gospel of Luke, which we know is a later gospel that is derived from Mark, Luke only has Mary (and some other women) hearing about the Risen Christ from an angel. It is in this gospel that the women are not believed and Peter takes a bigger role by going back to the tomb to investigate. Does this later addition to Mark and the gospel of Luke draw on another source and could that source be The Gospel of Mary?
What are the reasons that this information about Mary (and the women) was not believed by way of the telling in Mark and in Luke? In John and Matthew, they just skip right over it and go to Jesus showing up to the apostles later. What message is trying to be relayed by disbelieving that Jesus first appeared to Mary? What’s the big deal? To me the big deal might be that what Mary had to say wasn’t just that she had seen Jesus, but maybe Mary was told other things, those things being the information that is contained in the first part of Mary’s gospel. (Which I did not read tonight. The content of what was said is for another time.)
It has been my experience as a woman in this world, especially in a professional work environment, that when men do not understand the nuances around certain topics, instead of asking questions, especially if they are in a senior position, they try to avoid being seen as not “all-knowing.” They shut down and attempt to discount what the woman is saying. And it is not with providing input to her information but by claiming a better relationship with perhaps the superior that relayed the knowledge to her in the first place. Then they draw in other subordinate men in to take their side. This is not unlike what Andrew and Peter did here in Mary’s Gospel. Both do not offer any direct feedback to what Mary presented, instead they claim a power position by stating that since they have never heard this information it must be false, implying that Jesus would have told them because they warrant knowing more. Peter goes further by calling out that she is a woman, and therefore she should not be believed. He then attempts to get the others to take his side. I think even the men tonight can see how likely this would happen as I’ve no doubt everyone in here has been in a group like this with these same attitudes towards women and these same group dynamics, all over big egos. I believe that it is enough to say that it was this information Mary presented that was the real reason for the disbelief and not that she was the first to see him.
So Mary’s gospel. What is this? Where did it come from?
It is important when beginning a study of non-canonical texts like The Gospel of Mary, to affirm the authenticity of the texts to include speculation as to why it may have not been included and even actively suppressed. It is also imperative at the onset to point out why these works are significant and relevant today.
Three copies of the Gospel of Mary were found:
- Codex Berolinensis 8502 (Berlin Codex) discovered near Akhmim in upper Egypt. Purchased in Cairo in 1896. Written in Coptic. 5th century. Published 1955,
- Paprus Ryland 463, a fragment found in Egypt. Written in Greek. Dated as 3rd century. Provided no additional content, minor variants. Published 1938, and
- Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3525 a fragment found in Egypt. Written in Greek. Dated early 3rd century. Published 1985.
Additionally, manuscripts from in Nag Hammadi, known as the Gnostic Gospels, contain two books: The Apocryphon of John and The Sophia of Jesus Christ. These two books were also found with The Gospel of Mary in the Berlin Codex. (King, Leloup, Bourgeault) Finding these documents together adds credence to their authenticity. The documents found in Nag Hammadi also support and give context to The Gospel of Mary. (Watterson)
As noted above, there are minor variants in the documents dated from the 3rd century and the Berlin Codex dated 5th century. They relate mostly to Mary’s role as teacher. “For example, the Greek fragments seem to presume that the leadership of Mary Magdalene as a woman is not under debate; only her teaching is challenged. Changes in the Coptic version, however, point toward a situation in which women’s leadership as such is being challenged and requires defense. The changes in the text may reflect the historical exclusion of women from their earlier leadership roles in Christian communities.” (King)
To put this in historical context, in the 3rd century, 325 AD, Constantine called the bishops together in Nicaea to make decisions about which documents would become standard or “Cannon.” Any bishops who disagreed with Constantine were exiled on the spot. Documents not deemed canonical were suppressed. (Leloup) Constantine’s objective was to unify the church into a structure that would control a narrative within a military state. It is significant to recognize that women in Rome at that time were considered in the same class as slaves, having little autonomy, if any. It is logical that Theologian Karen King would come to the conclusion that the changes regarding Mary Magdalene in the later dated scripture would contain a change to a more restrictive view of Mary’s authority.
Mary Magdalene is mentioned many times in the canonical documents, the recently found documents “in no way contradict the picture already available in the canonical gospels. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).” (Bourgeault) Even in these documents, Bourgeault goes on to state that there is more than enough information to revise our view of Mary Magdalene. Primarily, is Mary Magdalene’s role as the first witness to the resurrection from Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-20. Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-18.
When digging into all the versions and all the different books of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, it is not hard to imagine that there was a much longer telling of this story of Mary Magdalene being the first person to encounter the risen Christ that would have given Mary an even larger role in the telling of the Resurrection of Jesus. Given the social climate during the development of what is now defined as canonical gospels, it is not surprising that a gospel attributed to a woman, ended up on the cutting room floor. What’s to be left for another time, is what else Mary may have been told by the risen Christ to go and tell the others in addition to the message that Jesus had risen. Could it be that the clues added to Mark and then encountered in Luke are accidental sign posts?
It is undeniable that Mary was the first person to encounter the risen Christ. But why wasn’t she believed about something as little as Jesus has been resurrected? They all expected that. Yes, it is believable that they are upset that He chose her to be first. But then why do the other two gospels not make a big deal out of that? Is there something more to it? Why was Mary’s Gospel purged? Why was it suppressed in such an incredible way if the knowledge contained therein didn’t have the power to change a paradigm of thought? What would happen if we all read what Jesus said to Mary in the beginning part of this Gospel? Would we have another understanding of what the resurrection means?
I’ve told you a little history, an imagining of a conclusion based upon my experience of being a woman in the world, and have only left you all with questions. I think this is what all teachers should do. I invite you to contemplate and take into yourselves what you have heard about Mary Magdalene tonight. Place this into prayerful discernment based upon your own life’s experiences. I hope that I have piqued your curiosity this evening. And perhaps in the future, we can unpack more interesting information about Mary Magdalene.
Offertory Hymn: O Breath of Life #88
Final Blessing: (from MMOJ)
Presider: God be with you. All: and also with you.
Presider: Everyone please extend your hands in mutual blessing
All: May our loving God fill us with radiant joy. May our liberating God fill us with deep peace, and may our compassionate God bless us always with strength to serve the broken and excluded. Amen
Presider: As we leave here in the peace of Christ and the joy of God, let us be the joyful and compassionate people that God created us to be. And let our service continue!
All: Thanks be to God. Let it be so!
Exit/Closing Song: To be announced
Sources and Recommended Reading:
Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Meaning of Mary Magdalene. Shambhala Publications.2010
King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary Magdala. Polebridge Press. 2003
Leloup, Jean-Yves, and Joseph Rowe. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Inner Traditions, 2002.
Taussig, Hal. A New New Testament. Mariner Books, 2015.
Watterson, Meggan. Mary Magdalene Revealed. Hay House. 2019
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