To hear Maureen Greaves speak of forgiving the two men who murdered her husband Alan must be one of the most moving events of the last few months. Alan Greaves, a church organist in Sheffield, was brutally beaten on his way to play for Midnight Mass. He died in hospital three days later. In the eulogy at his funeral, Mrs. Greaves said,
It has to be a daily act of saying ‘I place them in your hands, God’, so that I don’t have to worry about them, I don’t have to hate them. After the massive shock and heartbreak, this was probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, to go down the path of forgiving them.
“It has been a wonderful release that I have not had the burdenof hatred towards them. I have to do it every day so I don’t lapse. It is not an easy journey to look two men in the face who have killed the person you love most in the world and hang onto that.
When you are sitting there in court and you see them and you are heartbroken at what they have done to you, they have taken from you the person who is still your soulmate, it is very difficult to sit there and continue to forgive them and want to forgive them.
One thing I have comforted myself with is that the God I believe in had a son who was beaten as Alan was beaten. The God I believe in had a son who was resurrected as I believe Alan will be resurrected to be with God.”
After the trial, she said that she would be praying for their repentance for what they had done.
What love motivated the words of Maureen Greaves. It was love of her late husband, Alan, and God’s love for her.
A similar love motivated Mary Magdalene the saint we are remembering today. There are quite a lot of stories surrounding Mary Magdalene, some probably are about her, others not. Let’s begin with what we do know about her from the Bible. First, St. Luke tells us that Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of some demons that were possessing her. Secondly, she stood by Jesus’ cross at his crucifixion. Thirdly, with two other women she went to the Jesus’ tomb on Easter Day and discovered that he had been raised from the dead. Finally, on the same day, she had an encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ as we have just heard in the Gospel. These four events are definitely linked with Mary Magdalene.
But to the other events associated with her, namely, that she was the woman described by St.Luke as a sinner who poured the oil over Jesus’ feet in Simon’s house, often considered to be a prostitute, or that she was the person who anointed Jesus’ feet at the house of Lazarus, the Gospel gives no support at all. Still less is there any support given to the line taken by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, where Mary Magdalene and Jesus were supposed to have been married and the Merovingian kings of France were direct descendants of them. What is very clear is that Mary Magdalene was one of the followers of Jesus from early in his ministry, that she was with him at the crucifixion, that she was one of the first witnesses to the resurrection and that, according to St. John, she was the first to see the Risen Jesus on the morning of the resurrection and she announced this to the disciples. It is not surprising that, for this reason, she is known as the apostle to the apostles.
What also is undisputed is the love that Mary Magdalene had for Jesus. In a passage of rare tenderness, underneath which may lie a deep passion, we heard in our Gospel reading that encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene near the tomb. In tears, she pleas to the person she thinks is the gardener, ‘If you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him.’ And when she discovers that this is Jesus, she wants to embrace him, but Jesus says ‘no.’ Some scholars say that St. John had in mind our first reading, the love poem from the Song of Songs which tells of a lover seeking her beloved, when he wrote the account of Jesus and Mary’s meeting. Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus is very apparent from those earlier accounts to which I referred. She was an early follower. She was one of the three who did not desert him at his crucifixion, but remained by the cross until the very end. She was there for a final goodbye when she went to anoint his body on the day of resurrection.
We often think that Jesus had only male followers….there are, after all, twelve disciples, but Mary Magdalene shows that there were women who were close followers of Jesus, perhaps being more faithful than the men. But what was it that drew out such love from Mary? Was it the fact that he released her from her illness when, according to Luke, he cast out the demons that were possessing her? We will never know; we can only conjecture. But what we can say is that Jesus did draw out from Mary Magdalene great love and devotion which would have released her to witness to God in many ways and today we are celebrating it.
Each one of us is different. We think differently, we feel differently, we act differently and we love differently. One of the reasons we love another is that the person we love can, in turn, love, touch and release certain parts of us that bring us both life and energy. Mutuality is a sign of mature love, that is, we do the same for the person we love. Christians believe that our love for another has its roots in God’s love for us.
We can be sure that God loves us – all that he does in Jesus Christ is an indication of that. But how can we know whether we love God? Our love for God may not be expressed in feelings, nor in words, but it is expressed in the way we relate to others, recognising God at work in them. The real depth of our love can be seen in the way we follow the priorities that Jesus had, the ways we express concern and take risks for the poorest, loneliest and most alienated in our families, communities and wider society.
Maureen Greaves demonstrated God’s love at the murder of her husband. Mary Magdalene demonstrated God’s love in her devotion to and support of what Jesus was doing. Our calling is to go and do likewise.
Readings: Song of Solomon 3.1-4; John.20.1-2,11-18
Author of first image: Timothy E. Baldwin
St. Martin of Tours, Chelsfield
21st July, 2013.