Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. Luke 8:1-3
Magdala is the site on our pilgrimage where the women of the New Testament were honored. It is in the Galilee area, not that far from the Mount of Beatitudes, and on the Sea of Galilee. We were able to walk through Magdala and see the current archeological excavations going on down there. They have discovered houses of rich men, which included their own ritual bathing spots, and houses of poorer men, who did not have them. A synagogue has been uncovered with the original mosaic tile still somewhat intact. A church has also been built on Magdala, and it had one of the most beautiful altars I have ever seen. In the narthex, there were smaller chapels with beautiful mosaics depicting a different Bible scene surrounding a baptismal font. Magdala was an impressive place.
Mary Magdalene is a rock star in the New Testament. Luke tells us that she was healed of seven demons by Jesus and began following Him around as a kind of “an apostle to the apostles” (a phrase attributed to St. Augustine). Mary may have come from Magdala, which is why she was called Magdalene. But she followed Jesus all the way to Jerusalem. She was there when Jesus was on the cross: “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) She saw where Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus laid Jesus to rest, and she came on that Easter morning to find that Jesus was not there in the tomb. Mary was the first to encounter the risen Savior, and she was the one who told the disciples that He had risen (I don’t think they believed her at first).
The treatment of Mary by Jesus in the New Testament really is radical for its time. To have the place of honor of being the first to see Him after He has risen? To be prominent enough to be mentioned in the New Testament, not once, but several times? Mary Magdalene was a rock star. Unfortunately, we have no idea what happened to her afterwards, though I imagine she remained a follower of Jesus, helping in the new churches. She is an example for us.
Mary is the predecessor to the faithful women of the church. Our belief is that the role of pastor is for men only, however women do have an important role to play in the church. In fact, in my church, women keep it all going. We set up the altar for Sunday services, make sure that we have treats on Sundays after worship, play bells, sing in the choir, serve on the Board of Directors, teach Sunday School, greet people on Sunday morning, count offerings, keep the kitchen clean, serve as librarian, run a Mercy ministry to visit homebound, maintain the website and Facebook page, change the sign outside when it needs changing, serve on the call committee, and more. Our church secretary is a woman; our extremely talented organist/music director is a woman. Mary Magdalene and the other women, while not running a church in the same way we are, probably did a lot of the same things; they helped keep Jesus’ ministry going. They probably washed clothes and made food. They worked behind the scenes, but they were not unimportant.
The women of my church are important to me, because we are sisters in Christ. We have found time to talk about Jesus with each other, to talk about our problems and concerns, to pray together, to learn together. We encourage each other and support each other. None of us feel unimportant because we can’t be the pastor; in fact, I think most of us are happy that we don’t have to have that particular responsibility. There is a place of importance and love for all of us; we all fit in somewhere in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus looks at each of us as individuals, and He loves us. He gives us our vocations and places in life to serve others. During Lent, we follow Jesus to the Cross, and on Easter, we find His tomb empty. We encounter Him in Divine Service and proclaim Him risen. Mary Magdalene walked alongside Jesus, and so do we.