“... if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That final sentence from the Epistle lection for this morning contains a most important aspect of our Christian faith. It is based upon the experience of Mary Magdalene in the garden on that first Easter day.
What do we know about Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene, also known as Mary of Magdala, is one of Jesus' most celebrated disciples. Jesus cleansed her of "seven demons", She became the close friend of Jesus and was most prominent during his last days. She was present at the cross after the disciples, except John the Beloved disciple, had fled, and at his burial. She was the first person to see Jesus after his Resurrection, according to both John and Mark. Some of you might remember more details about Mary from a sermon I preached last year, and I have also put a short note about her in the pew leaflet.
As we turn back to our lections for today, we are told that Mary Magdalene was standing at the sepulchre weeping. I can identify with that since my mother died on Friday afternoon – I have spent a fair part of the weekend weeping. Mary went into the tomb and the central truth of the Christian faith was revealed. Jesus was no longer there. He had risen from the dead. In her sadness and mourning Mary did not recognise the Lord when he appeared to her. It was when he called her by name that she realised who it was and that he had risen from the dead. Her next actions were important for the early church. She went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and he had spoken to her.
We need to focus on the fact that, in the garden, the Lord was recognised by Mary when he called out her name. This is a real experience of the words from the prophecy of Isaiah, where in chapter 43, verse 1, we read, “I have called you by name; you are mine.” Mary was able to share her experience of the risen Lord because of this encounter.
Similarly, our encounter with the risen Lord today should lead us to do what Mary did – share our experience of God with others.
Mary Magdalene was often referred to as "the apostle to the apostles" from the 10th century. In the 12th century Abbot Hugh of Semur, who died in 1109, Peter Abelard, who died in 1142, and Geoffrey of Vendome, who died in 1132, all referred to Mary Magdalene as the sinner who merited the title apostolarum apostola – the apostle to the apostles. This title became commonplace during the 12th and 13th centuries.
For evidence of the earlier use of this title in the church, Bart D. Ehrman referred to a work by an anonymous Christian writer (perhaps Hippolytus, who was in Rome around 200 AD) who in a commentary on the Old Testament book Song of Songs, wrote that Jesus first appeared to the women at the tomb. He instructed them to go and tell his disciples that he was risen from the dead.
Ehrman quotes the writer: "Christ showed himself to the apostles and said to them, 'It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles.'" Ehrman concludes from this that Mary and the others could therefore be thought of as "apostles sent to the apostles," a title, as I have said, that Mary Magdalene herself came to bear in the Middle Ages.
Like Mary Magdalene, you and I are all called upon to have an apostolate. We all have different situations in which we live and work. It is there, in our everyday lives, that we will be used by God so that others may recognise the risen Lord.
May God bless you in your apostolate.