There is no such thing as a secret gospel, because the good news dies when we keep it to ourselves. Mary Magdalene has given us the good news of Christ’s resurrection; how will we add to her story?
Vicar Jessica Christy
The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene
Text: John 20:1-2, 11-18
For a brief moment, Mary Magdalene was the entirety of the church. She alone had met the resurrected Jesus. She alone knew that the jaws of hells had been broken open, and death had been defeated forever. For that moment, she was special, irreplaceable. All of God’s plans for the human race were contained in her.
The second that she announced her good news, she lost that uniqueness. She gave the gospel to others so that they could share it, and share it they did. From her first proclamation, the church grew and spread until God’s word took root in every nation on Earth. Every sermon that has ever been preached begins with Mary saying, “He is risen.” But the church has not always rewarded Mary for her willingness to share the good news. Today, we honor her as an apostle, a financial supporter of Jesus’ ministry, and a witness of the resurrection, but for centuries, we misread the Bible and called her a sinner and a prostitute. We pushed her to the margins of Jesus’ circle, instead of recognizing her place near the center. For too long, we took her message while dishonoring the messenger.
And so there’s a part of me that wants to linger with Mary in this moment when she, and only she, carried the gospel. I want to stay here, just outside the tomb, and bear witness to her shining faith and love. I want to hold tight to this time when all of history was waiting for her words – before the church took her words and left her behind. Here in the garden, she is safe from suspicion, safe from slander.
But the first thing that Jesus tells her is, “Do not hold on to me.” He says: don’t cling to me, because you can’t stay here. I have chosen to show myself to you, but you can’t keep me to yourself. Your job is to go out and tell everyone what you have seen. She will always have this moment with Jesus in the garden, but it cannot last. She needs to go out and ready the other disciples for Jesus’ return – because the gospel dies when we keep it to ourselves. It is like a plant: while it lives, it must grow. So of course she doesn’t consider keeping the good news to herself. Of course she doesn’t want to be the sole bearer of the knowledge that death is not the end. She doesn’t worry about credit or attribution or her place among the apostles – all that matters is that Christ has conquered the grave. Her joy carries her back to the upper room where she can proclaim, “He is risen!,” This news cannot be contained, no matter what the cost of sharing it might be.
There were some ancient Christians who recognized Jesus’ closeness to Mary and wrote Gnostic texts imagining that he gave her special, secret teachings. They called her a prophet and a mystic who knew things that the other disciples did not. And yes, it is exciting to think that some people in the early church lifted up the insight of a woman above the knowledge of the Twelve – but the idea of a secret gospel is missing the point. Nothing about God is secret or exclusive. There are no hidden revelations, no teachings reserved for the chosen few. A private gospel is a dead gospel. Everything that God has done for us is ours to share. We do not receive the gospel to hold on to it but to let it flow out from us in our relationships and our words and our work. Each and every one of us are how God’s kingdom grows. We just need to be willing to witness to God’s love, and not try to keep that love to ourselves.
So what is the thing that God has shown you that you can share? What is the good news that is waiting to break out of you and spread through the world? Where have you seen God in your life, and how can you invite others to see the light and love that you are seeing? What gospel needs to be brought to life through you?
As I prepare to leave this place in two short weeks, I have been thinking about where I have met God in this place, and how I will carry that good news with me. Because I promise, I will take your witness with me as I move on. So I want to tell you a few of things that I want to go out and proclaim about how God is at work here.
I have seen God in your deep and joyful faith in the resurrection. Funerals in this place are a celebration of God’s saving love like nothing I have ever seen before. When a loved one dies, we gather together to mourn, yes, but far more than that, we gather to remind ourselves of God’s unshakeable faithfulness, and to look forward to that time when we ourselves are united with God’s everlasting glory. And this is a witness that we most certainly do not keep to ourselves. We consider it a privilege to host the funerals of non-members, and our people show up both in the chancel and in the pews – even if the deceased is a total stranger – so that we can bear witness to God’s salvation and to hold those who mourn in love. That is how much we care about the resurrection, and it has been a blessing for me to experience that confidence.
I have seen God in your commitment to our environment. Although I was not here for the conversations at the beginning of the building renovation, I know that you faced a difficult decision around what sacrifices we should make to care for our planet. But sacrifice you did, and now this building is cooled by the soil and the sun, instead of by harmful fossil fuels. If we are going to find a way to keep living on this planet, we’re going to need to make many more such sacrifices. People are going to need to come together and make hard, costly decisions for the sake of our future. But here, you have shown that such action is possible. And more than that, you acted not out of fear but out of faith. No matter how scary our climate situation might seem, your actions proclaim that God is still walking with us, and God will show us the way forward. That is a witness that the world needs to hear.
And I have seen God in the love you have for each other. You have been nothing but warm and wonderful to me as a sojourner in your midst, and I know that you strive to show that same grace to one another. When my family visited on Thanksgiving, my sister was struck by how many people hung around the nave after worship, simply enjoying one another’s company. Afterwards, she told me: “I liked how people cared about each other. That’s what a church should be.” Jesus says: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” She saw that here, and so have I – time and time again. Your life together, the ways you love and serve each other, testifies to how the love of Christ has the power to heal the world.
I will go out and tell of these things, and many more besides. The good news of how God is bringing life to this place cannot be contained. That’s how we honor Mary’s witness – not by simply watching and praising her, but by joining her in her work. She has given us the gospel: Christ is risen! That Gospel is living and growing in us now, taking shape in each of our hearts, yearning to be shared with the world. So what good news will we add to the story?