Monday, August 10, 2015

Go and tell my brothers and sisters

Noli Me Tangere by Fra Bartolomeo via Wikimedia 
From the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John:  Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.

One of the dynamics of a retreat we discussed at length during the practicum at ISI two weeks ago was how to send retreatants back into the world.  Underlying this was a conversation about the purpose of the retreat — to vacation with God, to 'unplug', a yearly spiritual 'cleanse', a moment to pick up tools to help one "make progress in the life," a step along the way toward magis  — keeping in mind that the dynamics of the retreat planned may not be consonant with the desires that retreatants bring with them, and that the magis Ignatius speaks of might not be for everyone. 

This was a practicum, so we had a chance to do a little preaching and were encouraged to sketch out retreat talks we might give.  I'm still grappling with how a weekend retreat framed around Ignatius 18th Annotation might move retreatants, how resurrection and mission might be presented in this context. 

The scene with Mary of Magdalene in the garden is what came to mind, perhaps because I was sitting outside in the heat, in a small rock garden, perhaps because her feast had been a few days earlier. 

St. Augustine called Mary Magdalene "the apostle to the apostles," because she was went from the garden to tell the apostles the good news. Magdala means tower in Aramaic and I frankly enjoy the image of Mary the Tower as a complement to Peter the Rock. The Church may be built on that rock of Peter, but Mary of Magdala ignited it with these words, "I have seen the Lord.” 

I found myself wondering what happened to Mary Magdalene next, after she returned and the disciples dismissed her as crazy (or so Luke's Gospel tell us).  The medieval legends says she went to France and lived in a cave, repenting of her sins and fed by angels.  I find myself more taken with the Orthodox tradition, which puts her with Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, in Ephesus.

“Go” Jesus told Mary Magdalene in the garden.  Jesus didn’t mean for her to take a walk and deliver a message, the end.  The Greek word translated here as go (poreuouin John’s Gospel carries the sense of heading out on a journey, to re-order your life’s direction, to carry forward a message. Go out, cries Jesus, I want you to proclaim again and again, “I have seen the risen Lord.” The ultimate root of poreuou is aptly enough "pierced through" (as a needle carries a thread through...) 

Did Mary tell the apostles, give up when they laughed at the women's "nonsense" (leros) and then quietly retire to Ephesus (or a cave for that matter)?  Or did what she saw and believed pour out of her?  Does she pray, as C.S. Lewis would say centuries later, because "I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. " Does she proclaim the resurrection as she was sent to do?  Does she meet Paul?  Are the two Mary's at the core of the church in Ephesus?

It's given me much to think about, not only in the context of retreat preaching, but in terms of my own vocation.

What is most often translated "brothers," adelphous, is literally "from the same womb" as are, of course, brothers and sisters.

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