Friday July 22, is the anniversary of my ordination on the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalen. My ordination date was a factor of scheduling, and probably without divine intervention, the experience that I have had these 18 years to meditate with Mary Magdalen has been a blessing. Mary’s narrative in both scripture and legend, opens a door for me to reimagine our theological and spiritual history from a feminist point of view. Why my curiosity with Mary Magdalen? I trust that she alone had the most significant influence on the early church, as the apostle to the apostle.
“All-male images of God are hierarchical images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men,” writes Elizabeth Johnson. “Once women no longer relate to men as patriarchal fathers, lords, and kings in society, these images become religiously inadequate. Other feminist theologians see a deliberate plot in the early emerging church hierarchy founded on the assumption of a male-only and celibate succession from the original apostles, Mary Magdalene’s apostolate was clearly an anomaly and a threat. Unlike the canonical gospels, which emphasize “right belief” as the basis for salvation, these wisdom gospels emphasize “right practice.”
Gregory of Antioch in the 6th century preached that Jesus said to the women at the tomb “proclaim to my disciples the mysteries you have seen. Become the first teacher of the teachers. Peter, who has denied me, must learn that I can also choose women as apostles”. It is the western church that has taught that Mary was a prostitute, the eastern church honors her as an apostle, and claims she is the apostle to the apostles.
Stephanie Spellers writes in the Church Cracked Open, “How did we land here? Most historians point to the pivotal moment in 312 CE when the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and Christianity converted to become an ally and instrument of the emperor. From then on, with too few exceptions, the way of empire, domination, established order, and cultural supremacy has eclipsed much of what Jesus inaugurated some two thousand years ago.”
Reflecting on Mary, we have the opportunity to view our history from a different point of view. A point of view that has not been impacted for hundreds of years by hierarchical and at times even short-sighted or misogynist aspects of the church. The Way of Love challenges us to view the way of Jesus with first century eyes. As we reclaim Jesus embracing the way of love, we are called to study, question, reject, dismantle, and transform historical privileges and powers: racism, classism, and misogyny: the abuse, harassment and assault of women, and all non-male gendered humans, and our planet home.
Are we prepared as the first century followers of Jesus, led by Mary, to put aside the accumulation of wealth and provide for the common good, where we make it a moral imperative to provide for the others in our midst?
Are we prepared to push back against empire, the state, and move the church away from the domesticated role it has enjoyed since the 3rd century…?
Are we prepared to fully embrace our commitments as baptized people to throw down our swords and live as peace makers and not war makers?
Are we prepared to love, beyond reason, and follow Jesus, and the Holy Spirit wherever she leads us?
Can we imagine a community where understanding what Jesus taught us about God is more important than debating what the church as taught us about Jesus?
Can we imagine a church where our justice and service budget is as large as our operating budget?
Can we imagine a church where conscientious objectors are considered as heroic as soldiers? Where LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters are fully welcomed and incorporated into our community, without distinction?
I trust that we will….
We are sent into the world to experience a tired and hurting world, a world that needs our compassion, strength, and joy. A world where our ministry of courageous compassion and helpfulness will not be completed unless we do them, and words of hope and healing that will never be spoken unless we speak to them.
We are a church where together we can push back against a culture of fierce individualism….and together experience joy and resurrection.
I want to share with you in the light of Mary a new mission I am working on with the Bishop. The church, in this case ECMN, often works in silos… each congregation responding to the Gospel and the World independently. As we learned so well with the immigrant family, it is possible for three communities of faith to work together on a ministry project. Challenges, yes… Success, yes. We can do this!
I am in dialogue or will be in dialogue with several very local Episcopal faith communities in addition to the Lakes Trinity (Saint’s John, Paul, and Luke-James) on mission outreach where we are called and active in similar projects. In my early discernment it seems that there are 6 major themes: food, shelter, dismantling racism, Earth Matters, immigration-immigrants, systemic violence (police reform, abuse, militarism, etc). My call is to determine where we might all work together in a Way of Love companionship. Saint John’s has a long history of engagement in each of these, as do other communities, together imagine where the Holy Spirit might be calling us. More to follow.
Finally, I want to thank the members of my discernment committee (Dick, John, Ann, Steve, Kara, Mariann) for your love and support beginning over 20 years ago. I have been blessed by you, the entire community, and the Holy One.
Blessings and Peace