“I have seen the Lord.” These five words, spoken by Mary of Magdala to Jesus’ disciples and friends after his Resurrection appearance to her, changed everything. We know, however, they weren’t easy words to hear, for the Gospel of Mark tells us “when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.”
Perhaps the disciples were too grief-stricken to entertain the possibility that this wasn’t the end of the Jesus story. Perhaps after watching their friend and teacher violently crucified, they were too traumatized to hope that good could conquer even, that light could dispel the darkness. Perhaps they were too paralyzed by fear to move into something new. Or maybe it was that the news was coming from Mary of Magdala -- a woman -- who would have been forbidden by Jewish law to give testimony... But eventually their grief was healed; their despair turned to hope; and finally fear gave way to courage.
And Mary of Magdala challenges today -- just as she did some 2,000 years ago. Speaking to us from Scripture, she challenges our notions of what’s possible with God; whom God chooses to be ministers; whom God calls to speak, testify, and preach; and with whom God entrusts the Good News.
Following in the footsteps of the Apostle to the Apostles, a growing chorus is making their voices heard. They are women called to serve in leadership and ordained ministry in the Church, talking about their vocations. They are students and parents – victims of gun violence – calling for action. They are lay Catholics calling for justice for victims of clergy sex abuse. They are women telling their #MeToo stories. They are migrants and refugees, speaking with their feet, telling us of the horrors they’ve experienced and the new life they seek. They are people of every age, race, religion, and situation in life speaking truth in love -- often to power -- challenging Church and society.
FutureChurch’s 2019 Mary of Magdala Celebration guide and resource sought to lift up, amplify and celebrate these voices. Their words became the foundation for the Liturgy of the Word, which culminated in the Resurrection narrative of John’s Gospel. The resource was downloaded by more than 200 communities and individuals throughout the world who joined us to celebrate Mary of Magdala on or around July 22nd.
In Cleveland, the Liturgy of the Word featured the voices of
· Emma Gonzalez, Parkland student and March for Our Lives Organizer, challenging policies that enable gun violence
· Melissa Cedillo, a Church reformer, challenging an all-male hierarchy
· Shannen Dee Williams, an African American Catholic and historian, challenging the Church to stand in solidarity with all people of color
· Deacon Ray Dever, whose daughter is transgender, challenging recent statements from the Church about LGBTQ Catholics
· Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, challenging family separation at the border
· Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, challenging the use of the death penalty
· Dr. Sylvia Hood Washington, an environmental science researching, challenging Catholics to embrace Laudato Siand work for climate justice
Each reading was read by a well-known member of the Cleveland FutureChurch community who has been actively involved in activism and advocacy on the issue of their particular reading.
We were also blessed to host Gina Messina, Ph.D. – a feminist theologian, writer, commentator, and professor – as our guest preacher. During her reflection, Gina reminded the congregation that Mary of Magdala – a women of means and privilege – supported Jesus’ itinerant mission to spread the Good News and ultimately followed him to the Cross. She asked us to consider where Jesus’ mission would take Mary of Magdala today: to the border; to March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, and Women’s rallies and marches; to protests against unjust firings of LGBTQ Catholic workers… In conclusion, Gina invited the congregation to consider our own means and privilege – whatever it might be – and how and where we might best put it to use for the sake of the Gospel.