In honor of Mary Magdalene’s feast today, this week I read The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault. Actually, it was a second read, and I still can’t say I understand all if it yet. Because Bourgeault draws extensively on the non-canonical Gospels of Thomas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene as well as other scholarly sources, there’s a lot to take in. What I find most meaningful is Bourgeault’s insistence on a central role for Mary Magdalene well beyond “apostle to the apostles” but in a mythic rather than historical context. She portrays a profound love relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene that transcends literal questions of bloodline, although she does not rule out that they were intimate partners. Ultimately the point is that Mary Magdalene best understood the deeply transformational nature of Jesus’ teachings, continued to live them and teach others after his death, maintaining a soul-level connection with Jesus forged by their love for each other. The book is intriguing, and I expect to refer back to it again and again. I find myself particularly drawn to the “The Passion of Mary Magdalene” in the book’s Appendix 3. Created in 2007 by Betsey Young at a Wisdom Academy program led by Ms. Bourgeault, it presents a sequence of passages from all four Gospels that mention Mary Magdalene. Her faithful presence is undeniable.
The Passion of Mary Magdalene
Let not your heart be troubled . . . By the cross of Jesus stood Mary his mother; and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas; and Mary Magdalene. And Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing by . . . (John 14:1a, John 19:25-26a)
Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last . . . And the women looking on from a distance included Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James . . . (Mark 15:37, 40)
Joseph of Arimathea took down the body, wrapped it in clean linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb. He rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher and departed. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary saw where the body was laid and sat against the sepulcher. (Matthew 27: 59-64)
On the first day of the week, when it was still dark, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary brought spices to anoint Jesus. But the stone was gone and he was not there. An angel of the Lord said, “Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus. He is not here. He has been raised from death, as he told you. Come and see! Go and tell the others. (Matthew 28:1-9, Luke 24:1-3)
Jesus himself appeared first to Mary Magdalene, but she did not recognize him.
“Woman, why do you weep?”
“Sir, if you have taken him, tell me . . . “
“Mary . . . “
“Mary, do not cling to me . . . Go and tell the others.”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:14-18)
Wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. (Mark 14:9)
Photo by TheRevSteve via Flickr under a Creative Commons license