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Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast day of Mary Magdalene. We read part of her story in John 20. Mary came to faith in the resurrected Christ through tears. Mary visited the tomb in the darkness of early morning, between 3 and 6 am. All she wanted to do was weep over the body of the man who had cast seven demons out of her. Faith had died; hope had died; but her love for her Lord had not died.

As Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as Jesus spoke to her, she could not recognize him at first because of her tears. Secondly, she could not recognize him because she was facing away from him toward the tomb. However, when Jesus called Mary’s name, her tears turned to joy. When Jesus called her name, Mary experienced her own resurrection, a resurrection of hope and faith.

In 1872, the poet Christina Rossetti wrote a poem that only appeared after her death. About thirty years later, Gustav Holst set the poem to music and it was originally entitled simply: A Christmas Carol. Today, we know it as In the Bleak Midwinter.

However, there is a fascinating back-story to this beloved Christmas carol. Rossetti was a devoted follower of Christ who for many years volunteered at the St. Mary Magdalene house of charity, a refuge for women coming out of a life of prostitution. In the Victorian Era of Rossetti’s day, economic forces often caused women to eke out a living by selling their bodies. Some of these women were as young as twelve years old. Rossetti’s poetry often reflected her concern to offer Christ and help the poor, like these marginalized women she served.

For example, Rossetti’s Christmas carol pictures a Savior who entered our world of suffering and brokenness—a world much like “the bleak mid-winter” of Rossetti’s native England. “Heaven cannot hold … nor earth sustain” Jesus, and yet “a stable-place” and “a manger full of hay” sufficed for him.

In light of Christ’s great power and love, Rossetti’s poem asks: “What can I give him, poor as I am?”

This question would have weighed heavily on women struggling to come out of a life of prostitution. With their broken lives, what could they possibly give to Jesus, especially since “Heaven cannot hold him”?

According to Rossetti’s poem, there is one thing that all of us can give Christ—no matter who we are. She wrote:
If I were a shepherd,I would bring a lamb.If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
Yet, what I can I give him?
Give my heart.
Despite our tainted past or our present struggles, there is one gift that Christ wants more than anything else—he wants our hearts. Regardless of who we are or where we have been we can give him that much.[1]

Some of us may be like Mary in any number of ways. We may feel like we have nothing to give to Jesus in response to what he has done for us. There are so many demons in our past we wonder whether we will ever be truly free of them. We may feel unworthy of the love of the Savior.

Others of us may be grieving the loss of a loved one through death, or the loss of a spouse through divorce, or the loss of a job through lay-offs. We may find it hard to share in the joy of the resurrection at present. Our tears blind us to a vision of the risen Christ.

However, when we hear Jesus call out our name: that changes everything. Once Mary heard Jesus call her name, she also heard that Jesus had a job for her to do: “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Then we read that Mary did go to the disciples and she gave them the good news: “I have seen the Lord!” Mary Magdalene became the first missionary.

Once we have seen the face of Easter, that of the resurrected Christ, then we have good news to share. In fact, if we really believe that he is alive, we cannot help but share it with others.

What is the best news you have ever heard? One of the best pieces of news I ever received was at 3:30 on Easter morning in 1993. I was lying in bed, fast asleep, next to my wife Becky who was nine months pregnant at the time with our first child. She shook me awake and said, “It’s starting!”

By dawn, we knew she was really in labor. The contractions were coming at regular intervals. We were so excited. Our first child was going to be born on Easter. We just had to share the news with someone.

The first person I called was my father. When I told him the news, he choked up and had to hand the phone to my mother. Then we had to call our senior pastor and tell him we would not be there to participate in the Easter Service.

We went to the hospital at 10:30 that morning and James was born at 5:30 on Easter night. When I saw the face of my first-born child, I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

By Easter evening, our entire church knew about James’ birth. One family after another visited us in the hospital. They all thought it was rather amazing that a preacher’s kid would be born on Easter. One of my nieces put it best when she said, “So two people rose up on Easter!”

The point is: when you receive truly great news then you cannot help but share it. When through faith you see Jesus’ risen face, you will not be able to keep the news to yourself.

[1] Matt Woodley, managing editor,; source: Karen Swallow Prior, “The Best Christmas Gift Ever”, Her.meneutics blog (12-22-10)


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