Preacher Lady: Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles


Last week we saw the stories of Saints through the history of art and iconography. Over the next five weeks, we will work with a saint or two each week, learning about their lives, how they searched after God, and what they left for us in the way of stories about God’s work in the Church. We might say that saints are friends of God, exemplars of holiness, and witnesses to God’s work in the world. Remember that even though we are reading and exploring the stories of Saints, these stories are still about what God is doing. Remember to ask yourself (and, when the moment seems right, ask your class): what does this have to do with God? How does this person’s story point to God and who God is? How does this person help us worship God more fully?

Anointing of Jesus, miniature from Heures d’Étienne Chevalier, by Jean Fouquet

On Mary Magdalene: Mary Magdalene has a varied history in Christian interpretation. You may have observed last week that many in many of the depictions of Mary Magdalene, her hair is uncovered (unusual in depictions of Biblical women), she is often pictured in red, and sometimes exposed or covered only by her hair (though I left many of those images out). In the history of interpretation, Mary has often been labelled a prostitute. The Gospel according to Luke mentions that Mary became a disciple of Jesus after he healed her from seven demons, but this is all we truly know about how she came to be Jesus’ disciple. Other figures in the Gospels including the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears and wipes them with her hair and Mary of Bethany who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus have historically been conflated with Mary Magdalene (hence the label of prostitute, her long hair, red attire). This conflation is called the “composite Mary” and has it’s roots in a sermon preached by Pope Gregory the Great in 591.

What is true about Mary (and all four Gospels seem to be in agreement), is that Mary Magdalene followed Jesus closely during his life, witnessed his death when his male disciples fled, went alone or with other women to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week, and was the first to see the risen Christ. Because of this, Mary plays a role in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection for the first time to the male disciples. Because of this, Mary came to be called the Apostle to the apostles (no minor title!), a name that is bestowed on her by Saint Augustine (though the honorific was likely in was in use prior to that).

There are not many details about the end of Mary Magdalene’s life and she is not mentioned outside of the Gospels. One popular legend says that Mary Magdalene once had the audience of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Over a meal, with an egg in hand, Mary exclaimed, “Christ is risen!” The emperor is said to have laughed, saying “Christ is no more risen than the egg in your hand is red.” Immediately the egg in Mary’s hand turned red. There are some other variations of this story (We have books about this legend in the Christian Education cabinet under “saints”). This story explains the red egg in icons of Mary Magdalene as well as our use of dyed eggs at Easter (In the Orthodox Church, eggs are dyed red instead of the pastel colors that are popular for us.) Don’t get too caught up in whether this particular story/legend happened. What the story says that is important for us is two-fold. First, Christ is risen! Second, Mary Magdalene witnessed and preached the resurrection to the disciples and likely to others.

1. Children will be able to share one of the important stories about Mary Magdalene.
2. Children will ask (and maybe answer) the following questions: What does this story tell us about God? How does Mary Magdalene’s life point us to God?

Hear the Word

You can choose to share some of the stories I mentioned above or some of the stories that are included below. You can find more detailed information here (yes…wikipedia… I know.).

Respond to the Word: Select one of the themes below and one of the corresponding activities to explore the life and significance of Mary Magdalene.

  1. Reading the Gospels Together (older children):
    1. Together, read the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ in John 20:11-18. Ask your students to divide into pairs and discuss the following question with their partner: What happens in the story? What is their favorite part? What part do they think could be left out, if any?
    2. Synoptic parallels: Read the story of Mary’s (and the other’s) first encounter with the [news of] the risen Christ by breaking your class into three groups. Each group should take one of the following texts: Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, and Luke 24:1-11. Have your students take notes about what happens in the story, then give students time to work through the text together. Come back into the large group and ask each of the groups to share what happened i their story. Compare and contrast the accounts. What is Mary’s experience in each of the accounts? Which story do they like the most? Which raises the most questions?
  2. Mary Magdalene and the Red Eggs: Orthodox Christians exchange red eggs during the 50 days of Pascha and say “Christ is Risen.” This practice is believed to have it’s roots in the legend of Mary Magdalene and the red eggs (mentioned above), the color red as a symbol for the blood of Christ, and the use of eggs as a symbol of resurrection beginning sometime in the 2nd century. After sharing the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Jesus, talk about how she shared the story of the resurrection with the disciples. Mary Magdalene is also reported to have shared this story with people all over the known world.
    1. Reading: You can find the legend of Mary Magdalene and the Red egg online here or read one of the two books we own, The Miracle of the Red Egg or The Story of Saint Mary Magdalene & the First Easter Egg. Ask your students what they think Mary might have been thinking when she stumbled on the empty tomb. What was her response to Jesus in the Gospel of John? What made her want to share this news with everyone? When she did share this news, how did the disciples respond? How did she come to believe the story of the resurrection herself? Does the story of the red egg help us remember and believe this story?
    2. Art: I have about 15 wooden eggs (older children may want to try blowing the yokes from real eggs. Here’s a tutorial if you are interested). Set your students up with red paint (acrylic, watercolors, or a food coloring and water mixture) and wooden eggs. After they have painted the eggs red, they can select symbols of the resurrection (butterfly, Lamb of God, tomb with stone rolled away, even crosses are a sign of Jesus’ victory over death) to paint on their eggs. If you have writers in your class, suggest that your students write “he is risen” on their egg (4th+5th grade class, here is an opportunity for a short Greek lesson!). Encourage them to share their red egg and the story of Mary Magdalene seeing the risen Lord and then sharing the news with a relative this week
  3. Act it out (younger children): Create a montage of scenes from Mary Magdalene’s life using fabric and costumes from the supply closet. Together, make a list of all the things your class knows happened to Mary (her being at the foot of the cross, seeing the risen Jesus in the Garden, her preaching to the disciples, and her legendary encounter with Emperor Tiberius). Divide your class into smaller groups of 3-4 students (put a teacher with each group). Groups can work on acting out each scene for the class (take a photo of each scene).
  4. Holy Play: Our youngest children may want to focus just on the resurrection story. Use play dough (free-form, 3-d, or with these play dough mats), cardboard bricks (supply closet near the nursery), or found stones to build a tomb and talk about how Mary found the tomb empty before she saw Jesus. If using the cardboard bricks, have the children act out the scene for each other.
  5. Mary Magdalene’s Proclamation: Ask your students to imagine that they are present with Jesus and the disciples at his trial, death, and resurrection. How would they respond if they were the disciples? If they were Mary? Would it be easy to believe Mary’s story? Is it hard for us who have not seen Jesus in person to believe that he has been raised from the dead? If your class plans to do this activity, let me know. I have an icon of Mary preaching the resurrection to the 12 disciples (a favorite icon of mine) in my office. I can lend it to your class for the day as an anchor to your discussion.
  6. Repentance: Tradition holds that Mary Magdalene is the model of a penitent sinner. She points us to a life of holy devotion to God, confession of sin, and living a new life. In our weekly worship, we practice confession of sin. This confession is not just something we say, but opens us to God’s work on our hearts, minds, and bodies. Our prayer of confession is literally one of the instruments God uses to change us and make our lives holy. Challenge your class to memorize the prayer of Confession that we say in the liturgy every Sunday and with your remaining time, work on the prayer together. Older children can do copywork, writing the prayer and making a small booklet. Younger children may want to illustrate confession–our confession and Mary’s confession. How does this prayer lead to a new life?

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will, and walk in your way, to the glory of your name. Amen.

Pray before you conclude


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