St. Mary Magdalene
Beloved. Today we remember one of our Lord’s great female saints—St. Mary Magdalene. The first time we meet St. Mary Magdalene in the Gospels is in a listing of women who followed Jesus. St. Luke writes [Luke 8.1-3]: Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. We see something vital here: we see our Lord’s love of these women and interest in them; we see His grace as He had helped them when He healed [them] of evil spirits and infirmities. And now in love and joy and thanksgiving these women followed Jesus and provided for [Jesus and the twelve] out of their means.
That is the picture/ image/ example of the Christian life: Jesus loves us and is interested in us; He rescues us from our sin and damnation; in joy and thanksgiving we follow and serve Him and give back to Him a share of our earthly blessings. These female followers of Jesus lived lives of great love and service to our Lord—so much so that their names and works are recorded in Scripture. But as great and wonderful as their love of and service to the Lord were, Jesus never appointed them to be Apostles, upon whom He would build His Church, like He did the twelve. Likewise He never intended for women to serve as pastors in His Church. The point is clear—we all have experienced our Lord’s love and grace; we all have different gifts, talents and abilities the Lord has given to each one of us; but our areas of service to the Lord are all different. In the Church, following our Lord’s example and will, the Office of Holy Ministry is limited to males. This doesn’t make men better and women inferior; it only makes a distinction that there are men and women—something our society is struggling with—and that there are different areas of service. No one is better than the other, just different. St. Mary Magdalene’s service to the Lord was different than that of St. Peter, for example—one not superior to or better than the other, just different. And the Lord calls us to faithfulness in the service He has called us to.
St. Mary Magdalene’s love and service to the Lord was not just “fair-weathered”, that is, when Jesus was popular. But we see her at the depth of Jesus’ suffering as He was forsaken and killed. We find her at the cross when all the disciples except for St. John had fled. St. John testifies [19.25]: But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. St. Matthew reports that when Joseph of Arimathea had gotten Jesus’ body off the cross and together with Nicodemus prepared it quickly for burial, Joseph rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb [Mt. 27.60-61]. But as we find out in today’s Gospel, St. Mary Magdalene’s love of and faithfulness to Jesus is rewarded. She is the first to see the Risen Jesus! St. Mark very clearly reports [16.19]: Now when [Jesus] rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. What a grace of Jesus to her! Of all the people, she—not the twelve—is the first Jesus shows His resurrection victory over sin, death, devil and hell. And, on top of that, as we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives her the privilege that from her lips first the Easter proclamation is to go out: “But go to My brothers and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and Your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that He had said these things to her. She is, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: "the apostle to the Apostles."
What thoughts must have gone through her mind as she saw Jesus crucified, dead and buried! How much anguish and sorrow this poor soul suffered those three days until she saw Jesus risen from the dead!
Our text is from the Song of Solomon, a relatively short book, but it is a beautiful poem describing the love of the Lord for His Church. The way that Solomon describes the Lord’s love for His Church is to use the imagery of a couple in love who marry. The imagery of the Lord as bridegroom/ husband and the people of God, the Church, as the bride, the beloved is common in the Bible. This is one reason why Christians hold marriage as something sacred and enduring—it is a picture of Jesus and the Church. Luther picks up this thought in his prayer for marriage: O Lord God, You created man and woman and have ordained them for the bond of marriage, making them fruitful and picturing in that the sacramental union of Your dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Church, His Bride... It should be no surprise that Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding, turning water into wine. By providing the best and abundant wine, Jesus shows that He is the true God, the heavenly Bridegroom.
As we look at our text, we find that the Bride-to-be-is in turmoil—she cannot find her Bridegroom. So she goes about at night, wandering through the city trying to find him, until she finally does and holds on tightly to him. Although this is not a prophecy in the strict sense of the word, how can we not see St. Mary Magdalene between Good Friday and Easter Sunday morning being depicted here? Our text: On my bed by night, I sought Him whom my soul loves; I sought Him but found Him not. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek Him whom my soul loves. I sought Him but found Him not. The watchmen found me as they went about the city. Have you seen Him whom my soul loves? Scarcely had I passed them when I found Him whom my soul loves. I held Him and would not let Him go.
Again, the great anguish St. Mary Magdalene certainly experienced as she saw her Lord Jesus truly dead and buried. So too, then, were all her hopes and dreams that He who had cast 7 demons from her was indeed the long promised Savior. But she still loved Him and wanted to show Him one final honor by giving Him a proper burial instead of the quick one by Joseph and Nicodemus. On my bed by night, I sought Him whom my soul loves. Mary had certainly spent an anxious night and set out with the other women while it was still dark. Our Gospel: Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. And what happens? I sought Him but found Him not. Our Gospel: So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him. Sts. Peter and John, of course check it out, find the tomb empty and went back home. But what about St. Mary Magdalene? But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Here we again read in our text: The watchmen found me as they went about the city. Have you seen Him whom my soul loves? Like the bride in our text wanders through the town, looking for Bridegroom, but obviously in all the wrong places, so here St. Mary Magdalene looks for Jesus in the wrong place—the tomb, the place of death; Jesus is Lord and Conqueror of death. But she meets the watchmen—the angels—at the place where the body was. Her tears clouding her vision, she does not see the angels as angels as the other women had done earlier. But then our text continues: Scarcely had I passed them when I found Him whom my soul loves. And today’s Gospel? Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. When Jesus speaks/ calls her name, “Mary”, she then recognizes that it is Jesus! Jesus is alive! What does she do? In joy, she holds on to Jesus, never wanting to be departed from Him again. And our text? I held Him and would not let Him go.
What a beautiful connection between our text and our Gospel. Our text from Solomon is like a prophecy that we find fulfilled on Easter morning. And that brings us to another point: although St. Mary Magdalene is a great saint of the Church whom we hold up and strive to imitate her faith and love, she is also here a picture/image of each Christian. As a Christian each one of us in Spirit worked faith calls Jesus: He whom my soul loves. That’s a term showing deep communion; that shows that one flesh union depicted by marriage; that shows the oneness of faith—that we are in Jesus and He is in us; so tightly are we bound with the bonds of baptism; so tightly are we united with Jesus as He comes and feeds us His body and blood, uniting with us.
But like the Bride in our text, like St. Mary Magdalene what so often happens to us? On my bed by night, I sought Him whom my soul loves; I sought Him but found Him not. The time of trial and hardship comes. All seems dark: On my bed by night...We are surrounded by many and grievous difficulties; we think, feel, every cell of our body tells us: we are forsaken by the Lord; Jesus has left us. So what do we do? We pray! We pray for comfort, help and rescue. I sought Him whom my soul loves. But what seems to happen so often? But found Him not. The time when we feel our Lord’s grace and think He is with us in His grace and mercy has come to an end. So yes, it happens that the Lord hides Himself from us for a while to lead us to search for Him.
But even this time when it seems as if the Lord has completely turned away from us is the Lord’s working of grace on us. He wants us to search for Him. He wants to exercise and try our faith so that it gets stronger and purer. Dear Christian, do not despair when things are going opposite for you, when it seems that Jesus is now your enemy, not a friend of yours. He wants you to search for Him so like He did with St. Mary Magdalene, He can give you an even greater faith and in grace reward your faithfulness with tremendous spiritual blessing.
But, we dare not go looking for Him in the wrong places. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek Him whom my soul loves. I sought Him but found Him not. The Bridegroom of our text was not to be found in the streets and in the squares. St. Mary Magdalene tried to find Jesus in His tomb; He wasn’t there; He had risen. We dare not look for Jesus and His grace in our feelings; we dare not adopt worldly standards of happiness and think Jesus is with us and we are in grace only when we think we are happy as the world defines it. We all face the temptation of trying to find Jesus in the wrong places but our result is the same: I sought Him but found Him not. In times of trial and doubt, instead of looking for Jesus in the wrong places, let us look for Him where He has promised to meet us—in His Church, in His holy word and Sacrament.
But fortunately for the Bride in our text, she was found by the city watchmen: The watchmen found me as they went about the city. The watchmen are the prophets, apostles, evangelists, the servants of the word who proclaim God’s word to us, bear witness to the incarnate Jesus and offer and give us in the word and sacrament the gifts and blessings Jesus won for us by His life, suffering and death. Have you seen Him whom my soul loves? And they gave her good instructions.
Scarcely had I passed them when I found Him whom my soul loves. I held Him and would not let Him go. Just as St. Mary turned around and saw Jesus and found Him—or better put was found by Him—so also in His Church, in His holy word and sacrament Jesus lets Himself be found; He comes to us and gives His comfort, counsel and help into our heart. What joy is ours—like it was for St. Mary—when we find the Lord, as He turns to us in mercy and stimulates in us faith and love. And what is our reaction—love! I held Him and would not let Him go. We love Him all the more after He comes to us comforts us, assures us of His grace and mercy and strengthens our love of and faith in Him.
On this day we remember St. Magdalene and remember the great grace and mercy Jesus showed her as she sought Him when He seemed to have gone, so too let us, when we think Jesus has forsaken us, always say I will seek Him whom my soul loves and remember the mercy and joy she experienced. Ours will be no less. INJ