A Sermon from Sherborne
Rescuing the stories of the saints
A sermon for the Parish Eucharist at Sherborne Abbey, preached on Sunday 23 July 2017 by The Reverend Guntars Reboks, Assistant Curate
The Church yesterday celebrated St. Mary Magdalene. Tradition remembers her to be the first one to witness the resurrection. That is why in iconography she is depicted with an egg, the egg being the symbol of resurrection.
We can say that Mary of Magdala was a close follower of Jesus, but her importance has been diminished through history. The chief diminishment happened because of Pope Gregory, who combined and confused different stories, particularly the story of the woman who is accused of adultery. From that moment on, Mary is seen as a woman who had lived a shameful life, repented, and then – accepted by Christ – followed him. In modern times that interpretation later has been much criticised, not least by Pope John Paul II.
Yet not so long ago Mary Magdalene became popular again, not so much because of theological re-evaluation but for these two reasons: 1) the find of Christian apocryphal texts in the 20th century, for example the Gospel of Mary and, 2), the publication of fictional novels such as The Da Vinci Code. From these sources, a notion has arisen of a very human – biological and physical – kind of relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, with the spurious suggestion that they had children, who, in turn, had different connections with European royal families. And so on!
Today we live in a world where even saints and their stories are secularised. But what happens with something that has come from heaven and is then subjected to a very materialistic interpretation? It loses its meaning. But that is what we humans do: we take heavenly things and drag them down to our level, and cover them with mud. All of that, because we want them to be at the same level as we are.
Do not take the saints out of the Kingdom of God. Let them remain at the spiritual level. Because, if they are there, they will do what saints do – they will lead us to the same place where they are: the Kingdom of God. But, if everyone is at the same level, then we will not move anywhere and will still be in the same place – at the same biological level.
An Easter egg is just an egg, if seen from a biological point of view. But from the viewpoint of a person who is familiar with icons, the egg will mean much more than that. That kind of symbolic language can speak a thousand words and one of these words is hope. It has been taken away by the secularised world and many people find themselves in despair. It is because we have taken God out of every aspect of our lives. We have even taken God out of the stories of the saints.
I believe (lat. credo), that we as a church can heal that despair by telling the story of Christ, his followers, and the saints: that is, telling the story of God. Amen.