A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lent: Entering the Darkness

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:37-41)

We must never forget that Jesus had women disciples. They didn't get the title officially in the Gospels, but there were women who believed in Jesus and followed Jesus and assisted Jesus in his ministry. And, perhaps even most importantly, Jesus treated them as disciples.

Mark mentions a few of the more prominent female followers, and one in particular bears important mention-- Mary Magdalene. Mary, who was from the Galilean town of Magdala, endured great darkness in her life. Unfortunately, Mary's reputation has suffered much abuse through the centuries as she has been mistakenly  identified as a prostitute (the Gospels say no such thing) and under the false disguise of "scholarship," some have offered the fanciful scenario that Jesus and Mary were married and had a child together and that after Jesus' death Mary and their daughter went to France. Such a suggestion is slanderous, and is not based on any sort of scholarly and evidential reality. It is therefore not worthy of a response.

But what we do know about Mary of Magdala is that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2). Whatever the exact nature of the darkness that had entered her life, it was totalizing. She was imprisoned with no hope of escape... that is until she met Jesus. He delivered Mary from her darkness that she had so long endured. No wonder she became a follower of Jesus.

And now she stands on Calvary's hill before the Jesus who had restored light in her life. The Jesus who took away Mary's darkness now finds himself in the midst of his own. The Jesus who freed Mary cannot free himself. "He saved others! they shouted... But he cannot save himself!" Mary could not save Jesus either. Surely, she would have tried if it were possible.

But Mary is faithful to Jesus. Unlike the Twelve who have fled and are in hiding in fear for their lives, Mary remains a faithful follower even though the one in whom she hoped seemed to be in a hopeless situation. No doubt Mary remembered what it was like to enter her darkness; now Jesus enters his.

But what Mary surely did not know, as she remained on that hill of crucifixion, was that for Jesus to deliver the world from its darkness, he had to enter it, to do battle with the forces of darkness. For reasons, some of which can be explained, and most of which cannot, from the very beginning of the gospel proclamation, its first preachers never claimed that God just summarily dispensed with sin and evil and darkness; rather he entered the darkness, became like the most helpless of humanity, in order to bring the light of salvation to the most helpless of humanity. Charles Wesley was right, "'Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies! Who can explore his strange design?"

Jesus entered the darkness and came out the other side in the light of resurrection. Jesus entered the darkness for Mary of Magdala; and Mary stood faithfully with Jesus as he entered his. Perhaps that is why she is the first disciple to hear the voice of her risen Lord and encounter his life and light giving presence in the garden by the empty tomb.

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