Saturday, March 26, 2016

HOMILY: Easter Vigil, 2016 “All changed—changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born!” by Mary Eileen Collingwood ARCWP

Mary Eileen Collingwood, ARCWP

“All changed—changed utterly.  A terrible beauty is born!”

These are the words that W. B. Yeats wrote a century ago in his poem “Easter 1916” that not only echoed the rising of Jesus’ rebirth, but the rising of the Irish nation against British rule.  It is quite clear that Yeats chose this particular day and time to express to the world the importance of this historical event that created change and rebirth for the Irish people.  After the Easter event, no oppression could triumph.  A new life, a rebirth, was in order for Ireland!

Today, I ask you, what does the story of Jesus’ resurrection change for us?  Was this an historical event?  What has happened that makes you believe there was a resurrection at all?

When we look at the stories of the resurrection in the four Gospel accounts, they reveal that the apostles didn’t know what to believe.   They were incredulous.  They didn’t understand or recognize Jesus’ resurrection at all—they just weren’t ready mentally or spiritually to encounter such an extraordinary event.  If these stories of confusion and utter disbelief were made up, to be sure, the authors would never have portrayed a woman, Mary Magdalene by name, appearing in all four gospels, who first understood and believed that Jesus rose from the dead.  Surely, Mary Magdalene was rightly named “the Apostle to the apostles.”  She proclaimed to them all, “come and see, our Master, my Rabboni, has risen to new life!”

But what if Jesus did NOT physically rise from the dead?  After all, no one saw it happen—they just found his body missing . . .   then they encountered his likeness in some glorious form, walking in the garden, through doors, greeting them in words of peace and love, recalling the stories in Scripture that predicted his existence.  Who really knows?  Would your faith be changed if there was no physical resurrection?

Remember the family members, the close friends, the models in your life who have died.  Do they still have influence in your life?  Do they appear in your thoughts?  Does their life example that you recall-- whether good or bad--  keep you on the steady road of right living and truth?  Or perhaps, like the apostles experienced, the circumstances of their life and death may still be keeping you in utter confusion.  

Paul tells us in Romans that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain.  Is he saying that if Christ did not rise from the dead in the physical sense, our faith in him is for naught?
Personally, I take great umbrage by that thought.
Why?  Because Jesus’ life, ministry, and message is the model for my life.  Because Jesus opened up the locked doors of thought that oppressed the People of God.  Jesus freed us from laws and attitudes that held the living Spirit of God hostage.  Jesus was a true Jew; a faithful Jew that wanted his people to see that they were stuck and bogged down in the rules and formulas and attitudes they allowed to dominate their lives.  His message removed the oppressive yoke that held them down, a yoke that stopped them from recognizing the life and promise that lay before them.  And because he came to know that God was calling him forward to deliver this message of new life and hope, he embraced that calling and drew great crowds when he preached.  He appeared to have so much influence on the Jewish people at large, he became a threat to the Roman rulers of his time.  They did not want him to gain more power than they had.  They did not want him to rise up and take over the control they enjoyed in their Empire.  He was executed because they viewed him as an insurrectionist that had to be stopped.
And Jesus knew this.  Jesus spoke his truth to the power of his time and was willing to die for his beliefs.  He laid down his life for our ultimate deliverance. It was in his dying that he was freed.  It was in his dying that he rose up in power and influence and in the faithful imaginations of all who believed in the truth he proclaimed. 
When we break bread together at this Table tonight, and we hear the words, “You are the Body of Christ,” do we truly believe that Jesus has been reborn and lives within us?  This is not an original thought, my friends.  Recall the words of St Teresa of Avila who lived as a Carmelite in the 16th century, when she prayed:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
How will we put this Easter faith to work tomorrow?
All of us can live knowing that through Jesus’ death, a terrible beauty continues to be born!  Resurrection, indeed!


We Rise with Christ by Judy Lee, RCWP

Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community Celebrates Solemn Easter Vigil on March 26, 2016, Sarasota, Florida, (3 videos)

Lee Breyer presided at lighting of Paschal Candle

Presiders:  Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP, Sally Brochu ARCWP, 
Janet Blakeley ARCWP, Katy Zatsick ARCWP,  RC Priest Lee Breyer
Musicians: Linda Lee Miska, Mindy Lou Simmons, Cheri McDonough
Lectors: Mary Al Gagnon, Kevin Connelly , Jack Duffy

 Part 1: Service of Light

Blessing of the Fire and Paschal Candle

We will gather around the place of the new fire- in the courtyard outside the main doors of the sanctuary.  Presiders will invite each person to mention the names of those who have gone before and who have ignited faith and love and wisdom in her/his life.  After each set of names, the congregation will respond: They walk with us!

Lee: On this most sacred night, in which Jesus Christ passed over from this earth to a new life, the People of God everywhere come together to watch and pray.  If we listen to the word of God and live it, and if we honor the memory of his death and resurrection,  we will have the sure hope of sharing his victory over death and living a resurrected life with our Creator.
Lee sets the fire.  When lit, the fire is blessed.

Lee: Let us pray.  O God who, through Jesus, bestowed upon us the fire of your glory, sanctify (+) this new fire -- and grant that, by these paschal celebrations, we may be inflamed with new hope.  Purify our minds by this Easter celebration and bring us one day to the feast of eternal light.

Preparation of the Paschal Candle
Lee:  Christ, yesterday and today    (pause)   The Beginning and the End 

While saying:                 The Alpha and Omega (put in the first pin)
While saying:     All time belongs to God  (put in the second pin)
While saying:     And all the ages (put in the third pin)
While saying:  To Jesus, be glory and power (put in the fourth pin)
While saying:     Through all time and all places, Amen (put in the fifth pin)

ALL: May the light of Christ - rising in glory - dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
Lee: We Rejoice. We Remember.
ALL: The Christ - a spark that lit the cosmos at the beginning of time.
We Rejoice. We Remember.
ALL: The Christ - a spark that is expanding across time.
We Rejoice. We Remember.
ALL: The Christ - a spark that was borne, sheltered and passed to us by our ancestors.
We Rejoice. We Remember.
ALL: The Christ - a spark that was fanned into flame by those who ignited our lives in love and wisdom and joy.
We Rejoice. We Remember.
ALL: The Christ - a spark that is a sacred trust held by us to pass on to generations yet to come.

ALL:  We rejoice. We remember. We celebrate.                                                (Alexander J. Shaia)

Cheri will bring the candle into the Sanctuary singing 3 times: “The Light of Christ”
Response: Thanks be to God!
BMM:  May God be with you.      ALL:  And also with you.
BMM:  Lift up your hearts.   ALL:  We lift them up to our God.
BMM:  Let us give thanks to our God.  ALL:  It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Cheri (at the front in the sanctuary) sings:  The Exsultet, “Rejoice, heavenly powers!

Easter Proclamation
[adapted by Jim Marsh ARCWP]
Rejoice, heavenly powers!
Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation in God’s presence!
Jesus, the Anointed One, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of life renewed!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of our God!
Christ has risen!
Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church !
Exult in glory!
The Risen One shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the song of all God’s people!

My dearest friends,
standing with me in this holy light,
Join me in praising God,
as we sing this Easter song.

Our God is with you.
R. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to God.

Let us give thanks to our gifting God.
R. It is right to give God thanks and praise.

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices,
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful creator,
and the beloved one, Jesus the Cosmic Christ.

On this night, we remember our ancestors who escaped their slavery through the waters of the Red Sea .

Abba God, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your infinite love!
To gift us with Jesus, your beloved,
born of Miriam and Joseph.

Yet, this is our Passover feast,
for Jesus, the Christ, broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

This is the night when Christians everywhere
bathed in grace freely given,
promise to reject all that is evil and grow together in holiness.

Therefore, O Holy One,
in the joy of this night,
hear our evening song of prayer and praise.

Accept this Easter candle,
may it dispel all darkness and evil,
and renew our confidence and bring us joy.

May Christ, the morning Star,
who sheds peaceful light on all creation,
find this hope burning brightly in our lives,
today and evermore.
Part II: Liturgy of the Word
Reading: Story of Salvation History – adapted from the Books of Hebrew Scriptures
These are the inspired words of our prophets. ALL: Thanks be to God.

Responsorial: Sung Alleluia

The Gospel: John 20: 1-18 (Jack Duffy and Janet Blakeley)

This is the Good News of Salvation.

Response; Glory and praise to you, Jesus, the Christ.

Homily Starter - Bridget Mary

Chant: “Come Be Beside Us” – Jan Philips
 Come be beside us, come be around us,
Come be within us, Come be among us. X5

 Like Mary of Magdala, we embrace the Risen Christ who call us to be apostles of Easter joy.

The Good News is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, triumphs over evil, suffering, oppression, injustice and death today. 

On Holy Thursday, Roman Catholic Priests Janice Sevre Duszynska, Jane Via and Roy Bourgeois occupied the steps of the Vatican Embassy in an overnight Vigil of fasting and prayer for women's ordination and for equality for gays in the church. The good news is that the pope's representative in the United States, the Vatican Nuncio, turned down police requests for their arrest and engaged in two conversations on women's ordination. 

Let us rejoice that Christ is rising up in our movement as we begin a  dialogue with church officials for justice and equality. 
This week we witnessed horrific suffering in Belgium when hundreds of innocent people were killed and injured in a suicide bombing there.
While we may not have answers to the age old question of why there is suffering or evil in the world,  we do believe as Corrie Ten Boom, survivor of the Holocaust, reflected: there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still. 

The Risen Christ is beside us, among us, within us and before us, in all our worries, setbacks, hurts. 
Like Mary of Magdala we rise each day to embrace Christ anew and are sent forth as apostles to proclaim Easter joy. May those whom we encounter, respond as the disciples did to Mary of Magdala in the Gospel of Mary (40:7-8) "And they knew the truth of her and were all filled with great joy and believed."

So our question is how is Christ rising up each day in us as we are sent forth to witness God's love triumphing over suffering, oppression, injustice in our world today?

Dialogue Homily

Chant: “Come Be Beside Us” X5

Part III:  Liturgy of Baptismal Water
Blessing of the Water
Kathryn & Seth: May God renew us and keep us faithful to the Spirit we have all received.
ALL (with arms extended):
God, our Father and Mother, we know you are with us as we recall the wonders of creation.  Bless this water that you have made a servant of your loving kindness to us.  Your Spirit, “in the beginning of the universe, hovered over the surface of the waters” so that its very substance would take on the power to sanctify.   Through water, you set your people free from bondage and quenched their thirst in the desert.  With water, your prophets announced a new covenant that you would make with humanity. By water, you made holy by Jesus in the Jordan.  Let this water remind us of our baptism and of our covenant with all of creation.  Amen
Kathryn:  Holy people of God, through the Pascal Mystery we have been buried with Christ in Baptism and we now walk with our God in newness of life.  And so let us renew the promises that brought us to this point in our lives and will support us until we walk with our God in the next.
Hymn: “Come to the Water” #609 (during the water sharing rite)

Renewal of Baptismal Promises  (adapted from Jay Murnane)
Katy:   Let us renew the promises we made in baptism and try to fulfill in the years since.
ALL:   I promise to see what is good for my sisters and brothers everywhere, rejecting injustice and inequality, and living with the freedom and responsibility of the family of God.

I promise to work for the realization of God’s vision of harmony and right relations among people, rejecting the idols of money, property, race, gender, and position.

I promise to seek peace and live in peace in one human family, rejecting prejudice in every form, and all barriers to unity.

I promise to cherish the universe and this precious planet, working creatively to renew and safeguard the elemental sacraments of air, earth, and water.

I believe in God, the Creator, in Jesus, the teacher of justice and love, who lived among us so that all might live with abundant fullness;

I believe in the Spirit, the breath of God, who continues the work of birthing and blessing, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of challenge and hope, so that together we all can continue the work of creation.

Katy:  God has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May God also keep us faithful to Jesus the Christ forever and ever.  Amen.

Profession of Faith

Janet: Now that we have renewed our promises originally made years ago, let us now express the beliefs that give us strength and courage today.

ALL:  We believe in God, the fountain of life, flowing through every being.   We believe in Jesus, the Risen Christ, who reflects the face of God and the fullness of humanity.  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God in the cosmos, who calls us to love and serve without counting the cost.   We believe in our global communion with all in the circle of life.  Amen to loving actions on behalf of justice, healing, compassion and equality for all in the cycle of life.  In all of this, we surely do believe.

Part IV:  The Prayer of the Faithful
Sally:  Always mindful of God’s love and care for all creation, we bring the needs of the  people to our loving God.  Response: Loving God, hear our prayer.
Sally: For what shall we pray?
Sally: Healing God, we know that you hear our prayers.  May we celebrate our planetary oneness in our works for justice, equality, and peace.  We ask this through the risen Jesus, our brother, and the Spirit, our sanctifier.  Amen.

from left to right, Lee Breyer, Bridget Mary Meehan, Sally Brochu, Janet Blakeley, Katy Zatsick 

Part V:  Liturgy of the Eucharist
Preparation of the Gifts

BMM: (raise the bread and the wine):  Ever gentle God, as co-creators of our planet, we offer you these gifts of bread, wine and our lives.  May we celebrate our oneness with all creatures, large and small, in your earthly family.  We ask this of you through Jesus, our brother, and Sophia, our wisdom.  ALL: Amen

Sally: Pray that we become more aware of our oneness in the Cosmic Christ through the grace of the Risen Jesus.

(Please join us around the altar)

ALL:  We are gathered as a community to celebrate the gift of life pulsating in the glories of Nature everywhere.

Eucharistic Prayer

Janet:  Holy One, You stirred the waters of creation, and you dwell in us.
ALL:  And in every living being.

Katy: Lift up your hearts.
ALL:  We lift them up to our Creator in whom all are one.

Lee:  Let us give thanks for the Breath of life in all forms throughout the Universe.
ALL:  It is right to give glory to God, present everywhere and in everything, with thanks and praise.

ALL (sing):  We are holy (3x); You are holy (3x); I am holy (3x); We are holy (3x).  (Karen Drucker.)

ALL:  Holy One, we bring you these gifts that they may become the Christ Presence.  Fill us with reverence for all creatures, great and small.

ALL: (extend arms):  On the night before Jesus died, while at supper with his friends, he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to them saying:  Take this all of you, and eat.  Do this in memory of me.  (Pause)

In the same way, Jesus took the cup of wine.  He said the blessing, gave the cup to his friends and said:  Take this all of you and drink.  Do this in memory of me.

BMM: Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.

ALL:  This bread is you; this bread is me.  We are one body in communion with all creation.

Voice 1:  Christ of the Cosmos, we thank you that our bodies are made of stardust and that every place we turn, you are present, loving us.  You invite us to join the dance of creation in a mystical celebration of our oneness with all living things in your divine love.

Voice 2:  Risen Christ, we remember that it was you who said:  “Anything I have done in the name of the Creator, you can do too…and even more.”  So we remember all those in our world who are working for environmental healing, human rights and justice for all.

Voice 3:  Christ of the Cosmos, we remember Mary, mother of Jesus, faithful disciple,  and we remember St. Francis who sang canticles to brother sun and sister moon.  May we praise you in union with them and live your compassion now.

BMM & Sally:  Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, in  unity with the Holy Spirit, all glory, honor and praise to you, loving God, forever and ever.  ALL: (sung): Amen (5x)

ALL (sung): Our Father and Mother, who are in heaven….

Sign of Peace
Lee:  Risen Jesus, you said to your disciples, “My peace I leave you, my peace I give you.”  Look on the faith of all those gathered here.
ALL: Grant us your peace.  Help us to spread your peace throughout the world, always and everywhere, no exceptions.  Amen
BMM:  May the peace of God be always with us, and we will start by offering a sign of that peace among ourselves.  Let us experience that in a group hug.
Peace hymn:  “Peace is Flowing Like a River” - #501

Litany for the Breaking of the Bread

ALL: Christ of the Cosmos, may we live our oneness with you and all creation…may we work for the healing of the earth…may we celebrate justice rising up in a global communion everywhere.  Amen.


Sally:  This is the Cosmic Christ in whom all creation lives and moves and has its being.  All are invited to share in this banquet of love and celebrate our oneness with all living beings on the planet.
ALL:  We are the Body of Christ.

Communion: Instrumental
Communion Hymn: “Room at the Table” – Mindy Lou

Prayer after Communion

Janet:  Lover of the Universe, fill us with awe at your extravagant love flowing through us.  May we immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature speaking to us each day.  We ask this through our brother Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit.  ALL:  Amen.

Concluding Rite

Kathryn & Seth:  The Risen Christ is with us.  ALL: and loves through us.

ALL: Christ has come back as spring comes back out of the ground, renewing the earth with life, to be a continual renewing of life in our hearts, that we may continually renew one another’s life in his love, that we may be his Resurrection in the world.  We are the resurrection, always on going, always giving back Christ’s life to the world.
Caryll Houselander, The Risen Christ.

Closing Community Blessing

All (with arms extended):  The blessing of God is upon us as we go in the peace of the Cosmic Christ to live justice!  Thanks be to God.

BMM:  Let us go forth in peace and share the good news: The Risen Jesus is with us today and for all time.
ALL: Thanks be to God.  Let it be so!

Closing hymn: “We Will Rise Again” #447

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle by Karen King

From the Introduction to:

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala:
Jesus and the First Woman Apostle

by Karen L. King

Excerpt from: 
The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle
by Karen L. King (Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2003), pp. 3-12

Early Christianity & the Gospel of Mary
Few people today are acquainted with the Gospel of Mary. Written early in the second century CE, it disappeared for over fifteen hundred years until a single, fragmentary copy in Coptic translation came to light in the late nineteenth century. Although details of the discovery itself are obscure, we do know that the fifth-century manuscript in which it was inscribed was purchased in Cairo by Carl Reinhardt and brought to Berlin in 1896. Two additional fragments in Greek have come to light in the twentieth century. Yet still no complete copy of the Gospel of Mary is known. Fewer than eight pages of the ancient papyrus text survive, which means that about half of the Gospel of Mary is lost to us, perhaps forever.
The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle by Karen King
This is the best authoritative edition available, and includes a superb commentary by Karen King. 
Buy the Book
Yet these scant pages provide an intriguing glimpse into a kind of Christianity lost for almost fifteen hundred years. This astonishingly brief narrative presents a radical interpretation of Jesus' teachings as a path to inner spiritual knowledge; it rejects his suffering and death as the path to eternal life; it exposes the erroneous view that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute for what it is-a piece of theological fiction; it presents the most straightforward and convincing argument in any early Christian writing for the legitimacy of women's leadership; it offers a sharp critique of illegitimate power and a utopian vision of spiritual perfection; it challenges our rather romantic views about the harmony and unanimity of the first Christians; and it asks us to rethink the basis for church authority. All written in the name of a woman.
The story of the Gospel of Mary is a simple one. Since the first six pages are lost, the gospel opens in the middle of a scene portraying a discussion between the Savior and his disciples set after the resurrection. The Savior is answering their questions about the end of the material world and the nature of sin. He teaches them that at present all things, whether material or spiritual, are interwoven with each other. In the end, that will not be so. Each nature will return to its own root, its own original state and destiny. But meanwhile, the nature of sin is tied to the nature of life this mixed world. People sin because they do not recognize their own spiritual nature and, instead, love the lower nature that deceives them and leads to disease and death. Salvation is achieved by discovering within oneself the true spiritual nature of humanity and overcoming the deceptive entrapments of the bodily passions and the world. The Savior concludes this teaching with a warning against those who would delude the disciples into following some heroic leader or a set of rules and laws. Instead they are to seek the child of true Humanity within themselves and gain inward peace. After commissioning them to go forth and preach the gospel, the Savior departs.
But the disciples do not go out joyfully to preach the gospel; instead controversy erupts. All the disciples except Mary have failed to comprehend the Savior's teaching Rather than seek peace within, they are distraught, frightened that if they follow his commission to preach the gospel, they might share his agonizing fate. Mary steps in and comforts them and, at Peter's, relates teaching unknown to them that she had received from the Savior in a vision. The Savior had explained to her the nature of prophecy and the rise of the soul to its final rest, describing how to win the battle against the wicked, illegitimate Powers that seek to keep the soul entrapped in the world and ignorant of its true spiritual nature.
But as she finishes her account, two of the disciples quite unexpectedly challenge her. Andrew objects that her teaching is strange and he refuses to believe that it came from the Savior. Peter goes fur­t her, denying that Jesus would ever have given this kind of advanced teaching to a woman, or that Jesus could possibly have preferred her to them. Apparently when he asked her to speak, Peter had not expected such elevated teaching, and now he questions her character, implying that she has lied about having received special teaching in order to increase her stature among the disciples. Severely taken aback, Mary begins to cry at Peter's accusation. Levi comes quickly to her defense, pointing out to Peter that he is a notorious hothead and now he is treating Mary as though she were the enemy. We should be ashamed of ourselves, he admonishes them all; instead of arguing among ourselves, we should go out and preach the gospel as the Savior commanded us.
The story ends here, but the controversy is far from resolved. Andrew and Peter at least, and likely the other fearful disciples as well, have not understood the Savior's teaching and are offended by Jesus' apparent preference of a woman over them. Their limited understanding and false pride make it impossible for them to comprehend the truth of the Savior's teaching. The reader must both wonder and worry what kind of gospel such proud and ignorant disciples will preach.
How are we to understand this story? It is at once reminiscent of the New Testament gospels and yet clearly different from them. The gospel's characters-the Savior, Mary, Peter, Andrew, and Levi-are familiar to those acquainted with the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So, too, is the theological language of gospel and kingdom, as well as such sayings of Jesus as "Those who seek will find" or "Anyone with two ears should listen." And the New Testament gospels and Acts repeatedly mention the appearance of Jesus to his disciples after the resurrection. Yet it is also clear that the story of the Gospel of Mary differs in significant respects. For example, after Jesus commissions the disciples they do not go out joyfully to preach the gospel, as they do in Matthew; instead they weep, fearing for their lives. Some of the teachings also seem shocking coming from Jesus, especially his assertion that there is no such thing as sin. Modern re ad­ers may well find themselves sympathizing with Andrew's assessment that "these teachings are strange ideas."
The Gospel of Mary was written when Christianity, still in its nascent stages, was made up of communities widely dispersed around the Eastern Mediterranean, communities which were often relatively iso­la ted from one other and probably each small enough to meet in someone's home without attracting too much notice. Although writings appeared early-especially letters addressing the concerns of local churches, collections containing Jesus' sayings, and narratives interpreting his death and resurrection—oral practices dominated the lives of early Christians. Preaching, teaching, and rituals of table fellowship and baptism were the core of the Christian experience? What written documents they had served at most as supplemental guides to preaching and practice. Nor can we assume that the various churches all possessed the same documents; after all, these are the people who wrote the first Christian literature. Christoph Markschies suggests that we have lost 85% of Christian literature from the first two centuries–and that includes only the literature we know about. Surely there must be even more, for the discovery of texts like the Gospel of Mary came as a complete surprise. We have to be careful that we don't suppose it is possible to reconstruct the whole of early Christian history and practice out of the few surviving texts that remain. Our picture will always be partial—not only because so much is lost, but because early Christian practices were so little tied to durable writing.
Partly as a consequence of their independent development and differing situations, these churches sometimes diverged widely in their perspectives on essential elements of Christian belief and practice. Such basic issues as the content and meaning of Jesus' teachings, the nature of salvation, the value of prophetic authority, and the roles of women and slaves came under intense debate. Early Christians proposed and experimented with competing visions of ideal community.
It is important to remember, too, that these first Christians had no New Testament, no Nicene Creed or Apostles Creed, no commonly established church order or chain of authority, no church buildings, and indeed no single understanding of Jesus. All of the elements we might consider to be essential to define Christianity did not yet exist. Far from being starting points, the Nicene creed and the New Testament were the end products of these debates and disputes; they represent the distillation of experience and experimentation—and not a small amount of strife and struggle.
All early Christian literature bears traces of these controversies. The earliest surviving documents of Christianity, the letters of Paul show that considerable difference of opinion existed about such issues as circumcision and the Jewish food laws or the relative value of spiritual gifts. These and other such contentious issues as whether the resurrection was physical or spiritual were stimulating theological conversations and causing rifts within and among Christian groups. By the time of the Gospel of Mary, these discussions were becoming increasingly nuanced and more polarized.
History, as we know, is written by the winners. In the case of early Christianity, this has meant that many voices in these debates were silenced through repression or neglect. The Gospel of Mary, along with other newly discovered works from the earliest Christian period, increases our knowledge of the enormous diversity and dynamic character of the processes by which Christianity was shaped. The goal of this volume is to let twenty-first-century readers hear one of those voices—not in order to drown out the voices of canon and tradition, but in order that they might be heard with the greater clarity that comes with a broadened historical perspective. Whether or not the message of the Gospel of Mary should be embraced is a matter readers will decide for themselves.
Discovery and Publication
Where did the Gospel of Mary come from?
 Over a hundred years ago, in January of 1896, a seemingly insignificant event took place on the antiquities market in Cairo. A manuscript dealer, whose name history has forgotten, offered a papyrus book for sale to a German scholar named Dr. Carl Reinhardt.? It eventually became clear that the book was a fifth-century CE papyrus codex, written in the Coptic language (see Box 1). Unbeknownst to either of them, it contained the Gospel of Mary along with three other previously unknown works, the Apocryphon of John, the Sophia of JesusChrist, and the Act of Peter. This seemingly small event turned out to be of enormous significance.
Dr. Reinhardt could tell that the book was ancient, but he knew nothing more about the find than that the dealer was from Achmim in central. The dealer told him that a peasant had found the book in a niche of a wall, but that is impossible. The book's excellent condition, except for several pages missing from the Gospel of Mary, makes it entirely unlikely that it had spent the last fifteen hundred years unnoticed in a wall niche. No book could have survived so long in the open air. It may be that the peasant or the dealer had come by it illegally and, hence, was evasive about the actual location of the find. Or it may have been only recently placed in the wall and accidentally found there. In any case, we still don't know anything specific about where it lay hidden all those centuries, although the first editor, Carl Schmidt, assumed that it had to have been found in the graveyards of Achmim or in the area surrounding the city.
Dr. Reinhardt purchased the book and took it to Berlin, where it was placed in the Egyptian Museum with the official title and catalogue number of Codex Berolinensis 8502. There it came into the hands of the Egyptologist Can Schmidt, who set about producing a critical edition and German translation of what is now generally referred to as the Berlin Codex
From the beginning, the publication was plagued by difficulties. First of all, there is the problem of the missing pages. The first six pages, plus four additional pages from the middle of the work, are missing. This means that over half of the Gospel of Mary is completely lost. What happened to these pages? Carl Schmidt thought they must have been stolen or destroyed by whoever found the book. The man itself was found protected inside its original leather and papyrus cover but by the time it reached Carl Schmidt in Berlin, the order of the pages had been The considerably jumbled. It took Schmidt some time to realize that the book was nearly intact and must therefore have been found uninjured. In an uncharitable and perhaps even rancorous comment, Schmidt attributed the disorder of the pages to "greedy Arabs" who must also have either stolen or destroyed the missing pages, but to this day nothing is known about their fate. We can only hope that they lie protected somewhere and will one day resurface.
By 1912 Schmidt's edition was ready for publication and was sent to the Prießchen Press in Leipzig. But alas! The printer was nearing completion of the final sheets when a burst water pipe destroyed the entire edition. Soon thereafter Europe plunged into World War I. During the war and its aftermath, Schmidt was unable to go to Leipzig and salvage anything from the mess himself, but he did manage to resurrect the project. This time, however, his work was thwarted by his own mortality. His death on April 17, 1938, caused further delay while the edition was retrieved from his estate and sent to press. At this point, another scholar was needed to see its publication through, a task that ultimately fell to Walter Till in 1941.
In the meantime, in 1917 a small third-century Greek fragment of the Gospel of Mary had been found in Egypt (Papyrus Rylands 463). Being parallel to part of the Coptic text, it added no new passages to the Gospel of Mary, but it did provide a few variants and additional evidence about the work's early date and its composition in Greek. Till incorporated this new evidence into his edition, and by 1943, the edition was again ready to go to press. But now World War II made publication impossible.
By the time the war was over, news had reached Berlin of a major manuscript discovery in Egypt near the village of Nag Hammadi. As chance would have it, copies of two of the other texts found within the Berlin Codex along with the Gospel of Mary (Apocryphon of John and Sophia of Jesus Christ) appeared among the new manuscripts. No new copies of Gospel of Mary were found at Nag Hammadi, but publication was delayed yet again as Till waited for information about the new manuscripts so that he could incorporate this new evidence into his edition of the Berlin Codex. But the wheels of scholarship grind slowly, and finally in exasperation, Till gave up. He confides to his readers:
In the course of the twelve years during which I have labored over the texts, I often made repeated changes here and there, and that will probably continue to be the case. But at some point a man must find the courage to let the manuscript leave one's hand, even if one is convinced that there is much that is still imperfect. That is unavoidable with all human endeavors.
At last in 1955, the first printed edition of the text of the Gospel of Mary finally appeared with a German translation.
Till was right, of course; scholars continue to make changes and add to the record. Of foremost importance was the discovery of yet another early third-century Greek fragment of theGospel of Mary(Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3525), which was published in 1983.  With the addition of this fragment, we now have portions of three copies of the Gospel of Mary dating from antiquity: two Greek manuscripts from the early third century (P. Rylands 463 and P. Oxyrhynchus 3525) and one in Coptic from the fifth century (Codex Berolinensis 8525).
Because it is unusual for several copies from such early dates to have survived, the attestation of the Gospel of Mary as an early Christian work is unusually strong. Most early Christian literature that we know about has survived because the texts were copied and then recopied as the materials on which they were written wore out. In antiquity it was not necessary to burn books one wanted to suppress (although this was occasionally done); if they weren't recopied, they disappeared through neglect. As far as we know, the Gospel of Mary was never recopied after the fifth century; it may have been that the Gospel of Mary was actively suppressed, but it is also possible that it simply dropped out of circulation. Either way, whether its loss resulted from animosity or neglect, the recovery of the Gospel of Mary, in however fragmentary condition, is due in equal measure to phenomenal serendipity and extraordinary good fortune.

Dr. King's outline of the surviving manuscript fragments:

The Coptic Language
Although the Gospel of Mary was originally composed in Greek, most of it survives only in Coptic translation. Coptic is the last stage of the Egyptian language and is still in liturgical use by Egyptian Christians, called Copts. The oldest known Egyptian language was written in hieroglyphs, always on stone or some other durable material. In addition, Egyptians also wrote on papyrus, and for this they used a different script called hieratic, employed almost solely for writing sacred literature. A third script, called demotic, was developed for everyday transactions like letter-writing and book-keeping. Each of these scripts is very cumbersome, utilizing different characters or signs to represent whole syllables, not just individual sounds as in English. Sometime during the late Roman period, probably around the second century CE, scribes started writing the Egyptian language in primarily Greek letters, but adding a few from demotic Egyptian. This process made writing Egyptian much simpler and more efficient. Since Coptic script was used almost exclusively by Christians in Egypt, we can assume that Egyptian Christians were the ones who translated and preserved the Gospel of Mary.
The Berlin Codex
The book Reinhardt bought in Cairo in 1896 turned out to be a fifth-century papyrus codex. Papyrus was the most common writing material of the day, but codices, the precursor of our book form, had come into use only a couple of centuries earlier, primarily among Christians. The codex was made by cutting papyrus rolls into sheets, which then were stacked in a single pile, usually made up of at least 38 sheets. Folding the pile in half and sewing the sheets together produced a book of about 152 pages, which was finally placed inside a leather cover. TheGospel of Mary is a short work, taking up only the first 18% pages of a codex that itself is relatively small in size, having leaves that measure on average only about 12.7 cm long and 10.5 cm wide.
Papyrus Rylands 463 (PRyl)
This Greek fragment of the Gospel of Mary was acquired by the Rylands Library in Manchester, England, in 1917, and published in 1938 by C. H. Roberts. Like POxy 3525, it was found at Oxyrhynchus in northern Egypt, and dates to the early third century CE. It is a fragment from a codex—it has writing on both sides of the papyrus leaf—and exhibits a very clear literary script. It measures 8.7 cm wide by 10 cm long, although most fibers measure only 8.5. cm. The front of the fragment contains the conclusion of Mary's revelation and the beginning of the disciples' dispute over her teaching. After a short gap, the dispute continues on the other side of the fragment and ends with Levi leaving to announce the good news (GMary 9:29­10:4; 10:6-14). (See photos, pp. 1 and 35.)
Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3525 (ΡOxy)
This tiny and severely damaged papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mary in Greek was found during excavations of the town of Oxyrhynchus, along the Nile in lower (northern) Egypt. Published in 1983 by P. J. Parsons, it is now housed in the Ashmolean Library at Oxford. It dates to the early third century CE. The fragment has writing on only one side, indicating that it came from a roll, not a codex (book). Because it was written in a cursive Greek script usually reserved for such documentary papyri as business documents and letters rather than literary texts, Parsons suggested that it was the work of an amateur. What remains is a very fragmentary fragment indeed. It contains approximately twenty lines of writing, none of them complete. The papyrus measures 11.7 cm long and is 11.4 cm at its widest point, but the top half is only about 4 cm wide. The restoration is based largely on the parallel Coptic text. It contains the Savior's farewell, Mary's comforting of the other disciples, Peter's request to Mary to teach, and the beginning of her vision (GMary 4:11-7:3).
Excerpt from: 
The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle
by Karen L. King (Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2003), pp. 3-12
(The footnotes are not included in this excerpt)
(c) Karen L. King, 2003 All rights reserved.
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