St Bride's: Sermons

Da Vinci Code: The Verdict - Love one another as I have loved you

From a sermon on Sunday 21st May 2006

If you see me twitching uncomfortably or observe an occasional spasm of pain contorting my features - don't worry, it will merely mean that my cilice needs adjusting as I indulge in a spot of corporal mortification, which is now de rigeur for all who aspire to the spiritual high ground. And if you don't know what an earth I'm talking about then you must be one of the few people who haven't read the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - the hugely successful novel that has been turned into a Blockbuster film.

Yes, the nation is in the grip of Da Vinci Code fever, and the Da Vinci merchandise - probably including 'corporal mortification packs' - is flooding off the shelves of WH Smith and other retailers. It is an extraordinary phenomenon, and it has certainly got people thinking and talking about the whole Jesus story. Apparently 25% of British adults have read the book, and an awful lot of them believe that there's something in its conspiracy thesis.

For those who haven't read it, the story centres around the Priory of Sion, a supposedly ancient sect which claims to be in possession of a sensational secret about the relationship of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. The secret is that Jesus fell in love with Mary Magdalene and married her, and they had a daughter whose descendants, including the French Merovingian Kings, venerated "the sacred feminine". And among the members of the Priory of Sion who guarded the secret was Leonardo da Vinci who made reference to their love in his fresco of the Last Supper. The Da Vinci Code.

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All good knockabout stuff for a novel to read on the train or at the airport. The trouble is that apparently nearly 70% of those who have read the book believe that it probably was the case that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired a line of descendants. So according to Dan Brown the Church has been pulling our leg for the best part of 2000 years: the Roman Catholic Church in particular desperately struggling to conceal this secret and the existence of Christ's family and descendants. Indeed, as Boris Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph the other day, according to the conspiracy theorists "they [the descendants of Jesus and Mary] are probably all over the place; behind fish counters at Sainsbury's, creating loaves for Hovis, causing people to rise from their beds in hospital. They could be anywhere." They could be listening to this sermon. It's a beguiling idea and it has tapped into something powerful in the contemporary zeitgeist.

mmag.jpgSo let's explore briefly what evidence there is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were sacred sweethearts and where the original love story is really to be found. What does the Bible say? A key passage is in John's Gospel, Chap 20 vv.1-18 which describes a meeting in the garden between Jesus and Mary after his resurrection. This lovely story seems to have echoes of other biblical love-encounters in gardens - Adam & Eve in Eden and the lovers in the Old Testament poem the Song of Songs. In John's Gospel Jesus & Mary Magdalene also meet in a garden. Mary goes to give him a hug but Jesus says: do not touch me, do not cling to me. Could it be that Mary was Jesus' wife, as Eve was to Adam? Could they have been lovers like the characters in the Song of Songs? That is unlikely. What we do know is that she had been cured of illness by Jesus and became one of his close followers. Was she the same person as the woman in Luke's Gospel, who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair? We don't know. Was her love for Jesus physical or spiritual? The Bible does not tell us. Dan Brown makes great play of the face that there were other pieces of literature around in the 2nd, 3rd centuries, the Gnostic Gospels, not included in the Bible, which show that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers, but in fact the language used could just as easily refer to spiritual friendship. Certainly Mary Magdalene was close to Jesus, as were all his closest circle, and certainly she was very distraught at his death and burial. But St John in his Gospel gives us this scene in the garden not to reveal Jesus and Mary Magdalene as sacred sweethearts but to show that Jesus really did conquer death, that he did appear to those close to him, that sorrow could be turned to joy, and that the real love story of the Bible is the love God has for his world and which he wishes to share with all people everywhere.

The words of Jesus in the Gospel reading today go to the heart of what is the real messages of the Gospel and the original love story of all. "This is my command; love one another as I have loved you. You are my friends if you do what I command." (John 15) Jesus has acted out on the Cross the greatest thing love can do - he has given his life for us, he has come to make us more human, to give us freedom and joy, to enable us to bear fruit in our own lives. He did that for Mary Magdalene and transformed her life, and that's why she followed him; it was a personal relationship of love and loyalty to the one who loved her, and who loves us, more that we can begin to imagine.

So my verdict on the Da Vinci Code is - by all means enjoy the hotchpotch of cranky theories and half-truths in this arcane conspiracy thriller: by all means enjoy the film as a rip-roaring adventure movie: but don't confuse its half-baked ideas with the deep truths revealed in the Gospels - that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that we might have life in all its fullness, and be known as his friends as we learn to love God and each other. That's the real love story, the greatest love story of all time. Don't accept any substitutes.

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