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Vespers for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

 

 

 

Opening Verses

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

 

Gathering Prayer

Almighty God, you pour upon all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Draw us near to you, and delivers us from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that we may always hear your words, walk in your ways, and worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.

 

Hymn: As Longs the Deer[1]     New Versions of the Psalms (1696)   Hymnal 1982 #658

1 As longs the deer for cooling streams in parched and barren ways,
so longs my soul, O God, for Thee and Thy refreshing grace.

2 For Thee, my God, the living God, my thirsty soul doth pine:
O when shall I behold Thy face, Thou majesty divine?

3 Why restless, why cast down, my soul? Hope still, and thou shalt sing
the praise of Him who is thy God, thy health’s eternal spring.

4 To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the God whom we adore,
be glory as it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

[1] This hymn is a setting of Psalm 42, the psalm appointed for this feast.

 

The Old Testament Lesson:        Judith 9:1,11-14

Judith fell prostrate, put ashes upon her head, and uncovered the sackcloth she was wearing. Just as the evening incense was being offered in the temple of God in Jerusalem, Judith cried loudly to the Lord:

11 “Your strength is not in numbers, nor does your might depend upon the powerful. You are God of the lowly, helper of those of little account, supporter of the weak, protector of those in despair, savior of those without hope.

12 “Please, please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Master of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all you have created, hear my prayer! 13 Let my deceitful words wound and bruise those who have planned dire things against your covenant, your holy temple, Mount Zion, and the house your children possess. 14 Make every nation and every tribe know clearly that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who shields the people of Israel but you alone.”

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Hymn: The First One Ever         Linda Wilberger Egan                 Hymnal 1982 #673

1   The first one ever, oh, ever to know of the birth of Jesus was Maid Mary,
was Mary the Maid of Galilee, and blessed is she, is she who believes.
Oh, blessed is she who believes in the Lord, oh, blessed is she who believes.
She was Mary the Maid of Galilee, and blessed is she who believes

2   The first ones ever, oh, ever to know of the rising of Jesus, his glory to be,
were Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene, and blessed are they who see.
Oh, blessed are they who see the Lord, oh, blessed are they who see.
They were Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene, and blessed are they, are they who see.

 

The New Testament Lesson:       John 20:11-18

11 But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”[a] which means Teacher. 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,[b] for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Homily: She Wept. Then She Saw Him

She knew him better than did any other woman – much better than his own mother, whom at one point he spurns. Jesus, that is – and Mary of Magdala, whom we know as Mary Magdalene. She is Jesus’s closest female disciple, and may have been his most beloved and devoted disciple. Like his other closest disciples – indeed, like all his followers – Mary was closer to Jesus than was his own family.

That, at least, is how the story is told in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke). One day, Jesus mother and brothers come to seek to talk to him, but he won’t let them in. Instead, he says, prissily, “Those who do the will of God [or, hear the word of God and do it] are my brother, my sister, my mother,” by way of a non sequitur non-explanation (Mk.3:31-35, Mt.12:46-50, Lk.8:19-21). From this, however, we deduce that Jesus and his family of origin were not close, not even on speaking terms. He’d jumped clear off the career path, such as it was for a carpenter’s eldest son, and all but abandoned his people to one another’s tender care while he went to do the work, he said, God had given him to do. This was to heal the sick, pronounce release to the captives, tell everyone that the kingdom of God was at hand and their sins were forgiven. He didn’t do it for the money, either; foxes have their holes and bears their dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Jesus, fulfilling his mission, wound up as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences always fears winding up: so poor he didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. His family must’ve been devastated, and probably felt the loss of his income quite deeply, even if some of them were secretly, maybe just a little bit, in awe of the difference Jesus was making in so many people’s lives – and the fact that he was getting away with it. However, and this is the important part, Jesus of Nazareth, whatever else you want to say about him, was most certainly not a family man.

In the popular imagination of late, at least since Godspell and Jesus Christ, Superstar, not to mention The Last Temptation of Christ, we have come to like to believe that this disappointed not only Jesus’s family of origin, but this Mary, the girl from the town just down the road – the girl, as it were, next door. According to some traditions and much current speculation, Mary of Magdala was Jesus’s actual wife, his partner, his Girl Friday, the yin to his yang, his soulmate, his companion, his beloved. She may yet prove to be the beloved disciple, the one Jesus loved, who leaned against him at the Last Supper and whom the Gospel of John is keen to note that Jesus presented to his own mother, on the cross, as a replacement son to him. Yet Jesus never speaks of Mary in the canonical gospels, and rarely speaks to her – except when he does, and we see the whole relationship laid out before us.[2]

It is, quite simply, beautiful.

You just heard the best part: this Mary is the first to his tomb that after-sabbath morning, there to anoint his body for burial.[3] She finds the stone rolled away and his body missing. She is devastated. She weeps. Then the gardener appears, or whom she thinks is the gardener. She asks where they took him, and can she go. He responds by calling by name, and she calls him what she knew him as: Rabbouni, or rabbi, which means Teacher. Noli me tangere, he says, though probably not in Latin like that; don’t touch me, for I have not yet ascended. Just go tell all the other disciples: I’m back.

To sum up: Mary expects to find him dead, and finds him alive. He tells her to tell the rest. She’s the one he wanted to appear to first. He trusts her to do it right. He has no doubt that she will. She is his best…what, Student? Follower? Disciple? Friend? Something of all of these, but clearly one to whom none of his secrets are hid. She was clearly someone whom everybody always knew was closer to him than any other woman, because she had listened to the truths he bore, the hope he inspired, and the changes he made in the world. She ‘got’ him, as no other woman and perhaps no other person did, or Thomas only – and she never violated the boundary he had set, and the possibilities it enabled.

Like any work that makes a difference in people’s lives – such surgery, therapy, ministry, dentistry – teaching requires a kind of closeness and a personal bond that makes it as easy to hurt as to heal – as easy to wound as to empower. Any such work requires great skill and moral sensibility, so that one actually makes a positive difference in people’s lives and respects the boundaries necessary to allow for it. Violate those and the whole thing comes crashing down as though struck by wind shear. Dreadful things can happen when professionals violate boundaries, Wonderful relationships, within bounds, can grow when they do not.

That’s what we have here regarding Mary from the little fishing town of Magdala – Mary who ever after be known as the Magdalene, or Madeline. She comes to us as someone who was probably not broke, but able to support the synagogue pretty well in that little corner of Galilee She’s also someone from whom seven demons were cast out – which I must say, sounds like a lot of demons. As best as I can figure it, her family let her hang around with Jesus and his followers – an unmarried woman, gallivanting around Israel – and even helped him out a little in exchange for all he’d done for her.

He had done a lot. Most demon possessions manifest as what we call mental illness or personality disorders. They are very hard to cure. Mary from the fishing village nearby where Jesus grew up had more than her share. Jesus made it all, made them all, go away. He finally made her understand that her sins were forgiven and her body restored in this life, for the rest of it. Mary might’ve easily fallen in love with him just for that – seen him as her rescuer, her savior, only to turn on him as her persecutor or enemy when things went south or he showed he had feet of clay or a bit of a temper, couldn’t make every day full of rainbows and butterflies, snored, burned the meat son the grill, wouldn’t commit, wouldn’t give her a ring – had he not made sure that first and foremost he was there to heal her and help her grow, not try to be her partner or simply take advantage. Because he didn’t do that, because he didn’t play her faith for a falsehood or an indulgence, he spared her to have to watch him suffer and die, but also to be free to return to help with his anointing. She could bear her love for him unspoiled throughout her life, even in grief. Thus, she could bear in grief the love she felt for him because neither had used it as a weapon against the other. She could remember his teachings and help others understand them, too, because he hadn’t violated that vital boundary. When she greets him, after the greatest shock in the world – the one I watched die is standing here talking to me! –  when she greets him, that is, with the title that signifies what their relationship always was and still truly is, we see that relationship for all that it ever was: disciple and master, student and teacher, healer and physician, hearer of the law and explainer of the law, his Mary and her Rabbouni.

It would’ve been nice had Jesus had a wife and a family, as was appropriate for every son of Abraham, although with his temper I’m not sure the patience and forbearance required for successful parenting would’ve been his long suit. It would’ve been nice, and ideal, if Mary had had a family and a husband, since that was considered necessary for every daughter of Sarah. Both could’ve grown old beneath their own vine and fig tree, father and mother to a growing family, blessed like the patriarchs and matriarchs of old. Instead, and without any apparent romance or messing around, they set out instead to help people learn a new thing: that their sins were forgiven, the kingdom of God was here among them and to stay, and that people could be healed of whatever ailed them, and set free from oppressive and restrictive ways of relating to one another and using one another. They chose to free people to love God and one another, family members or no, and to do so without possession or division, at least ideally. They chose to care for all, not just for one another, and let their love become not merely a cloak to wrap themselves in against a hostile and indifferent world, but a canopy under which all could find shelter and shade, home and peace. Jesus of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala, however deeply they loved one another, made their love a gift not just to one another, but to all humanity.

Jesus Christ changed the world, and he did it perhaps no more deeply than by drawing to him a woman to whom he meant everything, and in the midst of her love and devotion set her free in a way few women then or perhaps since have known, and never messed her faith in him up by being selfish or weak or stupid. He was the one who healed her and set her free and then still had so much to teach that to have sought to be more to her would’ve spoiled it, I think. As such, and as her Rabbouni, he made her, here in the garden, what only one person could ever be: the first to see him alive again. Mary of Magdala, the girl-next-door who had problems, becomes the Apostle to the Apostles because of how Jesus chooses to treat her and how she chooses to respond to it. “Mary,” he said by the side of his own tomb. “Rabbouni,” she replied, in awe. From that encounter – best teacher to closest disciple, man to woman, though in Christ in the end there is neither – came all that followed.

Amen.

[2] The Gospel of Mary, which was later rejected as canonical, involves extensive conversations between Jesus and this Mary. As he did with Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas, it is told that Jesus told Mary things he wasn’t ready to share with Peter, Andrew, James, John and the rest. “Did he love her more than us?” Peter asks – and if you have to ask…

[3] Luke writes that Mary had gone with Joanna and with Mary, the mother of James – which may or may not be the same James as is Jesus’s brother, making this Mary his mother, too. In Mark, the third woman is Salome – but not that Salome, the one who tricked Herod into beheading John the Baptist. In Matthew it’s just the two of them, and in John it’s just this one, her, Mary from the little fishing village of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, not far from where Jesus was raised and where he realized his mission and began what we anachronistically call his ministry.

 

Hymn: Lift your voice rejoicing     Latin, tr. Elizabeth Charles        Hymnal 1982 #190[4]

1.  Lift your voice rejoicing, Mary, Christ has risen from the tomb;
on the cross a suffering victim, now as victor he is come.
Whom your tears in death were mourning, welcome with your smiles returning.
Let your alleluias rise!

2.  Raise your weary eyelids, Mary, see him living evermore;
see his countenance, how gracious, see the wounds for you he bore.
All the glory of the morning pales before those wounds redeeming.
Let your alleluias rise!

3.  Life is yours for ever, Mary, for your light is come once more
and the strength of death is broken; now your songs of joy outpour.
Ended now the night of sorrow, love has brought the blessed morrow.
Let your alleluias rise.

[1] Sung by the St. Cecilia Choir for Girls, Christ Church, Greenwich, CT. All rights reserved by the copyright owner. Youtube link: https://youtu.be/A98iRn_wWRU. Images of Mary Magdalene include artworks in the public domain and stills from the movie Mary Magdalene (2018), dir. Garth Davis. All rights reserved by the copyright owner.

 

A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:711)

Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.

 

The Collects

A Collect for St. Mary Magdalene

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Collect for Guidance

O God by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldst have us do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for the Good Use of Leisure

O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant us to use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Mission

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

 

Hymn: Jerusalem, my happy home        F.B.P.                    Hymnal 1982 #620

1 Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see?

2 Thy saints are crowned with glory great; they see God face to face;
they triumph still, they still rejoice in that most happy place.

3 There David stands with harp in hand as master of the choir:
ten thousand times would one be blest who might this music hear.

4 Our Lady sings Magnificat with tune surpassing sweet,
and blessed martyrs’ harmony doth ring in every street.

5 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, God grant that I may see
thine endless joy, and of the same partaker ever be!

 

Blessing and Dismissal

Go forth now in the power of the risen Lord, proclaiming the good news to all.
May the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, be with you to the cleansing of the world.

 

Resources (available for free online)

Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org

Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf

Enriching Our Worship 2,

https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf

These three resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.

The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online Bibles.

The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org

St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org

 

A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[1] This hymn is a setting of Psalm 42, the psalm appointed for this feast.

[2] The Gospel of Mary, which was later rejected as canonical, involves extensive conversations between Jesus and this Mary. As he did with Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas, it is told that Jesus told Mary things he wasn’t ready to share with Peter, Andrew, James, John and the rest. “Did he love her more than us?” Peter asks – and if you have to ask…

[3] Luke writes that Mary had gone with Joanna and with Mary, the mother of James – which may or may not be the same James as is Jesus’s brother, making this Mary his mother, too. In Mark, the third woman is Salome – but not that Salome, the one who tricked Herod into beheading John the Baptist. In Matthew it’s just the two of them, and in John it’s just this one, her, Mary from the little fishing village of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, not far from where Jesus was raised and where he realized his mission and began what we anachronistically call his ministry.

[4] Sung by the St. Cecilia Choir for Girls, Christ Church, Greenwich, CT. All rights reserved by the copyright owner. Youtube link: https://youtu.be/A98iRn_wWRU. Images of Mary Magdalene include artworks in the public domain and stills from the movie Mary Magdalene (2018), dir. Garth Davis. All rights reserved by the copyright owner.