Full of Surprises


 Luke 8: 1-3 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. 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[a] out of their resources.

Mark 15:33-41 At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o’clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders who heard him said, “Listen, he’s calling for Elijah.” Someone ran off, soaked a sponge in sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

There were women watching from a distance, among them Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women followed and served him, and had come up with him to Jerusalem.


 “The story of Mary Magdalene reminds everyone of a fundamental truth: she is a disciple of Christ who, in the experience of human weakness, has had the humility to ask for his help, has been healed by him, and had followed him closely, becoming a witness of the power of his merciful love, which is stronger than sin and death.” Pope Benedict XVI. July 23, 2006 


What do you do when you are surprised?  What happens? Are you in shock?  


Mark 16:1-11 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.[a]

[[And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.[b]]]

 [[Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.


I like very much that Mary Magdalene has been included in this series–Faces of our Faith.  This series has taken us on a journey through the guidance of visual art of characters in the Bible that we may be less familiar with yet they play very important roles in our journey of faith.  Some of the characters that we have visited are ones we may have heard a lot about—especially in Sunday School growing up or sermons of the past.  But the truth is there may be more truth in their stories to uncover.  I believe Mary Magdalene is one of those characters.  And unfortunately our history, our imaginations, and our mis-readings of Scripture have led us to paint cultural pictures of Mary Magdalene.  There are other other ancient gospels not included in the Bible that include accounts of this Mary.  There are Renaissance depictions of Mary Magdalene that tell a story about her.  And there are fictional depictions that have clouded the image of Mary of Magdalene.  There have been debates and fictional stories:  such as Dan Brown’s depiction that she was a mistress of Jesus.  So we may have a tainted lens from which we view Mary Magdalene.

The reason I wanted you to hear all these scriptures that included Mary Magdalene was to help refresh your memories about the truth about Mary Magdalene from scriptures.  She is included in all four gospels.   So, lets get back to what we know about her.

And when we do, we learn that that Mary of Magdala is not much different than us.  Jesus healed her.  So, she chose to follow Jesus on his teaching journeys.  And she supported him with the means she had.  Financial means are implied.  She watched with dread and sorrow as Christ was crucified.  She drew close to his side.  At his death, she looked for ways to honor him.  She went to anoint his body with oil in a way to still offer her care of Jesus. When she and the other women with her found the empty tomb…she was surprised, terrified, amazed.  And when Jesus appeared to her after she had seen an empty tomb, she had to tell someone.

The name of the town Mary is from, Magdala, means “tower”.  Certainly, Mary Magdalene is a tower in our faith. In the last decade there have been several thrilling archaeological discoveries in the area by the Sea of Galilee that was discovered to be the ancient town of Magdala.  It was a city of financial reputability, known for its supply of fish markets.  Also, discovered there was a temple known to be built in the first century.  And nearby, was found the Magdala stone which is an engraved altar used for worship.  The city of Magdala was also known for its corruptness.  Some historians believe that the idea that Mary Magdalene was once a prostitute may have value simply because she was raised in Magdala.

We already know from Luke that Mary Magdalene had been healed of evil spirits.  In some sense, she was given space to repent or to be healed from whatever ailed her…whether it was unethical behaviors, psychological ailments, spiritual demons, or other evil forces.  The truth is that she was healed.  She was given a second chance by Christ.  Mary Magdalene was surprised with the gift of mercy and grace.  And in return, she helped make sure the story kept going by staying devoted to Jesus, supporting his ministry and following him even to the cross.

Jennifer Ristine is an author on the life of Mary Magdalene.  She is from Chicago and has relocated to the area of Magdala where she runs the Magdalene Institute at Magdala and Coordinates the Visitor’s Center Tour Program.  In her article “Who was Mary Magdalene?”  She shares this little bit of recent history :

On June 3, 2016, Pope Francis initiated a “liturgical upgrade” to offer Mary an honored position among the celebrated apostles in its liturgies.  The decree offers renewed reflection on her story considering God’s mercy and the testimony of an authentic promoter of the Good News.

 Mary Magdalene was filled with God’s surprise and became an “authentic promoter” of the good news.

Another time Mary Magdalene was surprised was when she encountered the empty tomb.  She ran from the tomb in terror and amazement.  I imagine surprise and shock.  I imagine hearts pounding, blood pumping, tears flowing.  Stunned.  Thus, comes our visual guide for the day.

Check out the wide-eyed, stunned expression.  Can you feel her surprise, her stunned-ness as she is met by the living Jesus—who was suppose to be in the tomb.  Can you feel in your soul?

She was surprised and what did she do?  She went and told somebody.  Isn’t that what we do after we are surprised?  We can’t believe it, so we go tell someone to make it more real!  Mary went and told the story to others. I can just imagine:  “Guys, you will never believe what just happened?  I went to the tomb to freshen up Jesus’ body and it wasn’t there, so we ran.  And then Jesus came up to and met me face to face.  It was amazing.”  And they did not believe her.  Well, why in the world not?

I will come home from doing something with the kids and I will share with Jason something funny that happened.  I will tell him every little detail so that he can experience the moment just like I did…just through my words.  At the end of my story I sit briefly waiting for him to giggle or laugh or show some sign that he thought that the story was just as funny as I did.  And nothing.  And when I say, “I hoped you would have been more excited than that”, his response is something like “I’m sorry.  It’s just not as funny to me because I wasn’t there.”

Or was it because of where she was from, Magdala, a place known for being corrupt? Maybe the disciples remember her before she was healed and were unable to offer the same mercy and grace to her that Jesus did.

I have this vivid memory of one afternoon at home when I was a sophomore or junior in high school.  I was sitting at the piano at home practicing for my lessons. That was the first time that I distinctly listened to a voice from within.  The voice said, “This is what I want you do for me.”  “This is what I want you to do for me.”  I was a bit shocked and more overwhelmed with the sudden clarity over my life direction as a high schooler.  After I let this settle within me for a little bit, I remember going into the kitchen where mom was preparing dinner.  I said, “Mom I heard this voice and I want to be a music minister.” “I want music to be the way I tell others about Christ.”

Mom’s response was very wise and a typical mom answer:  “Honey, that’s great.  And you have time to change your mind.”

Christ had stirred within me and I had to share it.  And…I couldn’t control how my mom…or anyone else that I shared this with would react.

We cannot control what others do with our stories.  We cannot control how they react or what they choose to believe.  Mary Magdalene could not control the disbelief of the disciples.

It’s not our job to make others believe.  It’s our job to tell our story.

Surprises make you full.  They fill you up.  And you just spill out and something happens…often it is a story to tell.

Mary Magdalene was full of surprises-God’s surprises. And she shared her story.  She didn’t keep in.

(Start singing…I Stand Amazed in the Presence of Jesus the Nazarene; and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean…)