Mary Magdalene

 

MagdaleneSIL

Mary Magdalene. Apostle to the Apostles. Passionate friend & follower of Jesus. Much maligned & misunderstood, both in her lifetime, & certainly down the centuries since. 

 

She stayed. How could she leave? She had watched every excruciating moment of his stumbling journey through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, staggering under the weight of his cross. The lashes across his back, freshly open & bleeding. Had stood & felt every blow of the hammer striking his flesh. She did not look away when they raised the cross and left him hanging in agony that went far beyond the physical. She could not reach him with her hands, but her eyes were locked on his face as he struggled to breathe, to speak. This man who had set her free, was held by cruel nails to rough hewn wood. Held by love that kept him there more than any rusty iron. She was helpless to ease his suffering, and that tore her apart, splintered her soul into jagged shards. He had given her back her life and now he was gone. Her mind was blank with grief, her limbs heavy with heartbreak. She had helped his mother wrap that beloved body in clean linen, flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood. Their tears had washed the blood and sweat from his too still, face. His extraordinary eyes dull and closed forever. Eyes that had looked deep into her being with recognition and acceptance such as she had never known. Eyes that had sparkled with laughter and wept with compassion, now dull.

 

Joseph and Nicodemus had carried his body between them to the nearby garden and tomb, hewn deep into the rock of the hill of death. Between them they laid him gently in that place of forever rest. Of quiet dark. Wrapped the grave clothes around his head and backed out on their knees. The men rolled the stone in front of the yawning dark that enfolded his broken body. It was finished.

 

They hurried away into the lengthening shadows of evening, but she stayed on. Keeping vigil. Watching as the darkness fell around her feet and heart. Waiting even as her world tilted and all hope extinguished. Remembering. Turning over in her mind the memories of being brought to life with grace and soul-lifting mercy, that had breathed new life into her beaten down being. This extraordinary man had changed her life forever beyond recognition, and now he was gone  -violently ripped away from them by jealousy and fear. She could do nothing more for him, but she could watch, keep vigil through the long cold hours.

 

She returned early on the first day of the week. Her feet finding their own way in the darkness to the grave. She would pour out her love for him one last time. With no mocking words or sneering faces to watch, she would tenderly anoint his beloved body with precious perfumed oils. Her last gift.

Stopped in her tracks by the grave’s yawning emptiness, her heart plummeted at this fresh assault – they had stolen even this last goodbye. Removed/ desecrated? His body dumped somewhere? She daren’t begin to imagine. Fast flight with heart hammering, to Peter and to John, bearer of fresh agony that burned and seared. They ran too – looked and left. Unable to deal with themselves, and unable to deal with her.

She stayed. Rooted by grief, anger and confusion, she could not leave. Seeking the comfort of at least holding his grave clothes, she leant over to look into the emptiness of the open cave. Two men were sitting at where his head and feet had laid and her stupefied mind couldn’t take in who they might be, or why they were there.

They asked her a stupid and intensely irritating question. “Why are you crying?”

As if it wasn’t blindingly obvious! What else do you do at a grave?

She wanted to scream her anger at them –“ they have taken him away- they have taken away my hope, my life- my reason for being!”

 

There was a sound nearby, the sound of footsteps. She spun around conscious of another person approaching, and saw the figure of a man outlined in the radiance of the rising sun. Her tear filled eyes made no sense of what she saw.

“Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” The same question, but this time it didn’t make her want to scream. The questions found their way into the depths of her heartbreak, and somewhere in that deep and broken darkness there was the faintest shimmer of light.

Thinking him to be the gardener she stammered

“If you know where he is, if you have moved his body –please tell me!”

There was the faintest whisper of hope that she might find him after all. He didn’t answer, and she still couldn’t see his face through her tears. His expression obscured by the brightness of the dawn. Silence. A pregnant pause in which she breathed in hope despite herself.

 

“Mary”

 

No one else said it like that. No one else had ever put such unconditional love into the simple saying of her name. That beloved voice called her a second time out of a nightmare of darkness, bringing her back to life. It couldn’t possibly be – and yet it was. She had been looking for a corpse, and she had found a living Lord, who knew her, and called her by name. “Rabbouni!” was all she had breath to say. She fell at his feet. The feet she had anointed with her tears; the feet she had seen hammered to the rough wood of the cross. Reaching out to hold them – she wanted to stay in this moment forever. Be sure it was real. That he was real. That her teetering mind hadn’t tipped finally, over the edge.

Gentle hands lifted her up. His smile was as wide as the sea, and the eyes she thought had closed for ever, twinkled with life and laughter. A name, a smile. A smile that reached out and found all the shattered pieces of her heart, and drew them together again, into a new whole.

 

Now go– and tell my brothers who you have seen” he asked of her.

Be the one to tell them I am alive. Be the Hope Bearer. Turn their lives upside down, as yours has been”

 

She didn’t hesitate. No need to stay.

Carrying the Gospel – the good news- she ran with joy, in the glory of the rising sun, that was lighting up the world.

A Mother’s Heart (sword pierced)

She had trembled when the elderly priest took her new-born son from her arms.

She had trembled at his words. Words of wonder and fear.

Her heart riven from the moment the angel stepped across her threshold, cracked open, wider still.

‘A sword will pierce your heart also’

As this child of Light kindled a flame of life with her body and her soul, the fire burned. Branded forever, with the name of God seared upon her being.

The Word of God stirring within her.

 

Like every mother before and after her, this daughter of Eve carried both the joy and the pain with the gift of new life. Like many young women down the millennia, she had known scandal and stigma, the sneers of assumption and misunderstanding.

The angel had sent her to Elizabeth’s door.

An older woman hollowed out with longing for a child, now full-bellied with spirited energy. The shame of barrenness had drawn lines upon her face that crinkled now with joy as Mary stepped within her arms.

Mary felt the child leap, as heart met heart, and tummies touched in the embrace.

‘Mother of my Lord’

A gasp of recognition.

A new name that rang in her ears and shivered down her skin. She rested her hand on the tiny child within, and reeled afresh at what this could mean.

His birth had been a journey of fear and joy, and stepping out into the unknown.

No familiar faces, comforting surroundings, no mother’s touch of hand to guide her through. Almost a child herself, she’d birthed him on a squalid floor, an outcast from the start. Shepherds had gathered to gawp in wonder at this baby in the straw.

Strangers from the East had come..

What did they know? What gifts were these they had brought?

Gold for a king… for one whose brow

would only know a twist of scorn and hate

whose proclamation writ upon a cross..

And yet they knew that He was more

than just an earthly king, as low they knelt

before the child, in worship and in awe.

Frankincense, the oil of homage, honour

given with Myrrh, the spice of death and grief;

strange gifts , indeed, to give

a tiny child who lay beneath a star.

 

A flight in the dark, refugees of murderous hate, she’d carried him mile upon weary mile towards an alien land. A place of safety she could rock her child to sleep. She would have walked forever to protect the trusting arms about her neck, the small head lying heavy on her shoulder.

He’d grown as children do, and ran from the shelter of her arms, scraping his knees and bruising his heart and hers. She’d lost him in the crowd. Fear clutched and speared as pushing through the throng, she’d searched for that beloved face. His tousled hair. How could she have failed him, let him slip from her sight? Angry with herself, and wound up with worry, she chanced upon him in the temple courts. A slight figure of a boy, surrounded by aged men. Deep in discourse, he’d not even noticed she was gone, seemed puzzled at her distress. The more she knew this child of her heart, the less she understood. The sword pricks drew blood & smarted.

 

He’d left her home, his father’s trade, an itinerant with nowhere to lay his head.

She worried, even as she witnessed the wonders and the growing crowds.

Worried as she heard rumours and tattles of the marketplace and synagogue.                     The whispers that kept her eyes staring at the dark.

She’d joined the press and push of the multitude that swarmed around her son.

Called to him from outside the close-packed dwelling that separated them.                   Called in vain. Deaf to her pleas, he did not come.                                                                                 Sharp sword that sliced through frail flesh.

All her worst nightmares had come to pass. She’d watched them take her boy and scourge the skin that she’d caressed. Nailed the hands she’d held, the feet she’d kissed to rough-hewn wood. Watched his agony, as her own heart bled.

Dared to stay when others fled. Dared to meet his eyes, although it took all the courage in her soul. Helpless before his pain, his dying breaths.

The sword cleaved her motherhood, her very core.

He spoke. Voice a raspy whisper, but no less beloved, no less familiar than his first stumbled syllables as a tiny tot. His eyes that had held her own, flicked to the man at her side. His closest friend, standing with her in the dark.

“Woman, here is your son”

with fierce intensity beamed his meaning to the disciple that he loved.

“Here is your mother’’

Take care of her, take care of her for me.

Her pain was harder than his own to bear, as his for her.

The old priest had spoken true. As broken bread, her heart was held in God’s nailed pierced hands.

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Holy Gifts.

Taken

Chosen

A life lifted from obscurity

Held in hands that hefted galaxies

Hallowed by an ask

To sustain

The Word

 

Blessed

Given grace

To bear the weight of favour

Daughter of Eve,

Giving God a thankful heart

By holding His, within

Her own

 

Broken

Lanced by sword

That pierced Father, Spirit, Son.

Blood of her blood

Poured out for those

That clamoured for

His death.

 

Given

Her whole life

Offered on the altar

Of surrender

A readiness to be God’s Yes

Shared out to hungry hands

To feed a world

With grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slaughter of the innocents

A journey through Holy week  is not an easy one. The realities of the journey are harsh. It is easier, sometimes to let the familiar stories  slide off , as it is a risky business to go deeper. Sometimes a fresh angle takes my breath away. A new connection. An unexpected twist.  The following poem was one such angle.  Having known several years of infertility myself, it hit particularly close, when I came across it one Easter many years back. It is one that has stood in my memory since, retaining it’s power, and relevance.

 
 
How long we waited for a son, my man and I; 
Four times the seed miscarried, half formed the babe was cast away;
But to my anguished prayers at last, Jehovah bowed his head.
And beautiful as gold, my child lay curled within my arms
curving his tiny fingers round my thumb, laughing, crying,
his infant breath was mine and mine was his.
Deep the delight, the quiet joy of tiny mouth
seeking my breast, fulfilment for us both
as he fed there and I knew peace.
 
So blind and deaf with happiness, I did not hear of the decree.
Knew naught, until they came and dragged him from my arms,
raising the sword; there in our home
beside the fire, where late I suckled him
they slaughtered him, his radiant young blood outpoured in death.
 
The long grey years slipped by like ghosts.
Never again quickened my womb with child,
nor woke my heart to life nor love again.
 
And now I stand upon the hill called Golgotha
to tell you why I hated you, young Galilean.
For it was you he sought, that butcherer, that Herod.
Because of you, my babe was killed.
You, Jesus.
All through the years I hated you, I hated you
Til now, when as I heard them shouting  ‘ Crucify him!’
My heart sang loud with joy,
my babe, at last avenged
I cried, and took a stone to throw
but you fell, low beneath the burden of your cross.
And suddenly I saw your face, and looked into your eyes.
 
My suffering was there, engulfed in understanding
Lost in pain beyond the compassion of a human heart
You bore the burden of all other’s grief
and as you went, I knew you meant to die, for me.
 
It was as if my child were suddenly within my arms again
seeking the comfort of my breast.
The empty years were fled away
I thought I heard his infant laugh, who died for you
But now, as you too, walked the way of death
We shared the cross you carried,  part of a mighty pattern
you, my babe and me.
 
I knelt, a woman brought to life from death
as you passed by to Calvary.
 
Joan Brockelsby 
 

 
 

Matthew 2: 13-18

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
The Massacre of the Infants
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,* he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.* 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
 

Luke 13:31-35

The Lament over Jerusalem

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
 

Are we nearly there yet?

The long road

The only journey is the journey within

The opening sentence of a sermon I listened to this am, it struck a deep chord. Often the journey is tough going, and we wonder quite whether we will ever get there. It was a question I pondered with some feeling as I worked my less- than- willing body on the cross trainer. Watching the dial inch towards the set time of the exercise. Perseverance.   It is a good word. The dictionary defines it this way:

Continuing in a course of action without regard to discouragement, opposition or previous failure

Someone else described it as  “having the courage to ignore the obvious advice to turn back” , which made me smile.

I was in a pensive frame of mind this morning, and the name Cross Trainer also got me thinking.  The cross trainer I worked with today, is hard work.  It certainly takes perseverance to keep at it. It is doing me good, although it doesn’t often feel that way! Hopefully it is doing a bit of re- shaping too.

There is another kind of Cross Trainer I have been working with for some years now.   The Carpenter I follow, knew crosses from a whole different perspective, and He asks me, in following Him, to take up mine.  To persevere in this strange old journey of following Him, even when I don’t know where He is going- or perhaps especially when I do!

Perseverance has been a very key word of this more recent bit of the journey towards ordination.  Hopefully this Cross Trainer has been re- shaping me too.

The writer of the book of Romans, talked about perseverance producing character and character hope. Hope that does not disappoint.

I like the passage translated this way:

” There is more to come: we continue to shout our praise even when we are hemmed in by troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn, forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we are never left feeling short-changed. Quite the contrary- we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God so generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! Romans 5:3-5 Message

mmm… “passionate patience” … seems we can never have enough of that.