Sometimes referred to as "the Madeleine," mystery and confusion surround her life.
According to Western church tradition, she is the "sinful woman," the sister of Lazarus out of whom Jesus dispelled seven devils. She has been called Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha. In popular Christian culture as a prostitute, she is depicted with long, red unveiled hair.
However, the Church celebrates her feast of July 22nd as the woman "to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection, not as the sister of Saint Martha nor as the sinful woman whose sins the Lord forgave." She is often shown with a vessel of oil, which she used to anoint the Lord's feet, then wiped clean with her hair.
The Eastern church distinguishes between these three persons, stating that Mary had been a virtuous woman her entire life. She was granted her the title, "Equal of the Apostles." She is celebrated as the first witness to the Resurrection. This is significant, because woman were not allowed to be witnesses in legal proceedings. Her witness would have been "illegitimate," and yet Jesus commissioned her to go tell the others of his return. She is also depicted in Eastern iconography with oil, but as a myrrhbearer, one who would anoint the lifeless body of Jesus.
Gnostic texts paint Mary as one having been given a "secret knowledge" by Jesus, of which the other Apostles were jealous. Poor hermeneutic studies of these ancient gospels have led to the claim that perhaps Mary was married to Jesus. The stuff of legends, heresies, and the Da Vinci Code!
So who was this woman? A sinner? A prostitute? Wife of Jesus? Possessed? Apostle to the Apostles? I suppose we'll probably never know, but we do know a few things for sure.
One, she was the first witness to Jesus' resurrection.
Scripture paints a vivid picture of a woman in the gardens of a wealthy man, outside the city. It's a Sunday morning, and the sun has not yet risen. She has come alone. She has a capsule of oil with her. Entering the tomb of her friend, she finds it empty.
Then she loses it.
Can you blame her? She's just given her entire life away to a man who, despite all his promises, is dead. And now even the body was gone. Jesus asks her why she is weeping, but she doesn't recognize him. Finally, he calls her name - and only then does she understand.
Secondly, Mary is a figure of sorrow, of beauty, and of penitence. She is depicted weeping, grasping the foot of the cross in agony, anointing Jesus' feet with her tears.
Is it any surprise then, that I chose Mary as my patron saint? Sure, it's a bit of a faux-paus for a
male to choose a female as his patron, but hey - that's my prerogative as an Anglican!
It's rather easy for me to be sad. Certainly, it's easy for me to believe that "they have taken my Lord away, I do not know where." It's difficult to actually trust promises of resurrection and new life. More often than not, I find myself willing to mourn an empty tomb, while God sneaks up behind me. Even then, it takes calling my name, before I "get it."
We've all been there - some more than others. The good news (no pun intended) is that God indeed sneaks up on us. He takes the oil we've brought for anointing a dead body, and makes it a sacred vessel, for the healing of the sick. He empowers us to run with that message, and go about the business of building God's kingdom.
"O God, when others were ready to condemn Mary Magdalene, Jesus accepted her with all her imperfections. She in turn accepted Your Son as her Saviour. It was to St. Mary Magdalene, before all others, that Jesus committed the message of Easter Joy. Through her intercession may we proclaim Christ as our living Lord, and one day contemplate Him reigning in glory. Amen."