22 July – Mary Magdalene

Today the Church celebrates the life of Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene is celebrated on 22 (or 23[1]) July she is one of the women who accompanied Jesus[2] as he travelled around teaching and healing.   She was known as a woman ‘from whom seven demons had gone out’.  We don’t know any more of her story – but presumably there had been an event in her life similar to the healing of the Gerasene Demoniac[3].  Maybe Mary Magdalene’s experience wasn’t as dramatic but none the less remarkable and for that reason Luke identified her by her experience of cleansing from demonic activity.
This Mary is always referred to as Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Magdala) because she is thought to come from the town of Magdala, a city on the Western shore of the Lake of Galilee.  Her hometown of Magdala was characterized as “…a prosperous and somewhat infamous fishing village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, four miles north of Tiberias”[4]  
Mary of Magdala[5] is also mentioned in the New Testament as being in the group of women who stood near the cross when Jesus was crucified.  When Jesus was buried in a nearby tomb Mary Magdalene and some other women followed to see where Jesus was laid.  Jesus was buried on the night before the Jewish sabbath (day of rest) started so Jesus had to be hastily put in a tomb and the plan was for the women to return on the morning after the Sabbath to anoint his dead body with spices as was the Jewish custom.  Mary Magdalene was one of the group of women[6]who went back to the burial place on the third day, when she and her companions found that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb that he had been buried in.    
Noli Ne Tangere (Don’t touch me) by Titian
John’s gospel makes a strong case for Mary being the first person to see the risen Jesus and who was instructed by Jesus to go and tell the disciples, the men, that Jesus was risen from the dead.  An Apostle is one who has seen the risen Lord Jesus and secondly has received a divine call or commission to proclaim the Christian message.  Under this definition Mary Magdalene qualifies as an Apostle because she saw the risen Lord Jesus[7]and was commissioned by Jesus to go and tell the disciples (later also referred to as Apostles) that Jesus had risen from the dead.  In recognition of this Mary Magdalene is given the title of Apostle to the Apostles. 
Not all authorities accept that Mary Magdalene came to Turkey.  One Greek Orthodox Church website[8]accepts that she could have come to Ephesus with John the Apostles, who is referred to as ‘John the Theologian’.  John was probably buried in what is now known as Selçuk, near Ephesus.  As Jesus was dying on the cross in Jerusalem the Apostle John was given care of Mary the Mother of Jesus by her son with his dying words.  It wouldn’t be surprising for Mary Magdalene who had been part of the group supporting Jesus to have formed a deep bond with the Apostle John and Mary the mother of Jesus, so that when they travelled to Ephesus she came too.  Tradition suggests that Mary Magdalene was buried in a burial chamber that is now part of the ruined church built to commemorate the seven sleepers of Ephesus.  In one side chapel that is part of this complex there is a fresco of Mary Magdalene, lending some weight to the tradition that she may well have come to Ephesus with John the Apostle and Mary the Mother of Jesus. 
Mary of Magdala and other women were at the foot of the cross as Jesus was crucified.  Those who were at the crucifixion, followed the burial party and later returned to the tomb were loyal followers of Jesus.   They could well have put themselves in danger by so closely associating themselves with a man who had been crucified by the Roman governors and soldiers.   Mary of Magdalene is mentioned as being part of each group of women who were present at the crucifixion, burial and resurrection.  She alone stayed weeping at the tomb and as a result met the risen Jesus, was a witness to the Christ and was then charged by Jesus to teach the faithful followers about his resurrection.  She is considered pure at heart and having spiritual maturity.  Mary is an “excellent woman”[9]according to Claudia Setzer.  She is an apostle.  Most importantly, she is the first apostle.  She is the one who had courage and devotion to announce the resurrection first in her role as the Apostle to the Apostles. 
The Collect for Mary Magdalene’s day:
Almighty God,
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of body and mind
and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 


[1] When the 22 July is a Sunday Mary Magdalene can be celebrated on 23rd July. 
[2] The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. Luke 8:1-3
[3] Mark 5:1-20.
[4] Fallon, J E, “St Mary Magdalene” New Catholic Encyclopedia.  Ed. Berard L Marthaler.  2nd ed Vol 9, Washington DC, Thomson-Gale P.285 (Quoted in Tolbert, Blair. “Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles P1.
[5] Matt 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49; John 19:25.
[6] Matt 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8;  Luke:23:55 – 24:12;  John 20:1-18.
[7] John 20:17-18.
[9] Claudia Setzer Excellent Woman: Female Witness to the Resurrection” Journal of Biblical Literature.  116.2 (Summer 1997): P.259

Copyright © 2018 Rev Ros Wilkinson