Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mary Magdalene: The first to understand

This is my sermon from Easter Sunday, based on: John 20:1-18 .

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

At first she thinks he is the gardener.

Mary – they sometimes call her “the Magdalene,” a name that simply means she was from the town of Magdala – is the first to see who he really was, the first to understand.

She had followed him all the way to end, she loved him, and she could not bear to leave him now.
Jesus had died a horrific death on the Cross, executed by the Romans as another trouble-making Jew, a threat to public order.

There was so much chaos and noise, anguish and violence on that day we now call Good Friday but which must have felt anything but good that day.
And then there was quiet.

Mary goes to his tomb early while it is still dark. No one else is there. She finds the tomb empty. Completely and astonishingly and utterly empty. The body of Jesus is gone, vanished into thin air, only a few rags left behind.

Mary has no idea to make of this, so she goes back to tell the others.

Peter and the others run to the tomb to see for themselves. They are dumbfounded, so they go home.

But not Mary. She stays.

And then some very strange things begin to happen.

Mary goes inside the tomb, and sees two angels dressed in white. She turned around and sees a man standing there.

At first she thinks he is the gardener.

Then she understands. Jesus is standing there, and he looks the same only different.

He brings life and wholeness and healing to Mary. The line between life and death is erased in that moment. He is the gardener, the bringer of life.

Life for Mary will never ever be the same again – or the same for us.

So it was on that first Easter morning: The ugliness of death was swept away, and Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Risen Christ, the first to really understand what Jesus was getting at in all that he lived and taught.

Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus proclaimed; blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the kind and the merciful. Blessed are the many, blessed are you.

Those are not ideals to aspire to, but established facts.

Mary Magdalene is the first to understand these blessings.

Sometimes preachers say, “Jesus died for your sins” as if the meaning of that shop-worn phrase is self-evident.

But this is not about paying off God.

As theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar points out, “the suffering Christ is not…a magical event through which an angry, justice-demanding God would be changed into a gracious one…”
Rather, we are the ones changed.

Jesus went to the Cross to take upon himself the blows of hatred and death precisely because that is where much of the world dwells.

He went there as a human being to be with us in the worst moments of our life, to take our pain upon himself as a human being.

He took his divinity to break the bonds of hatred and death, to show us a different place, to bring us to healing, hope and wholeness.

He died and lived again to show us how to live again.

This ancient story of Easter is our story. We continue to write the story of the Risen Christ by how we live our lives.

By standing at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene, we are blessed by caring for the poor, and caring for each other.
We are blessed when we turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. We are blessed when we forgive.

And we are especially blessed when we pray from the deepest longings of our hearts and to listen for the Holiness whispering within us.

What would the world be like if we really lived and prayed that way? What would be different? What would be blessed by us?

That is the challenge to us as Easter people, as it has always been since the morning Mary stood at the empty tomb.

This is our hope as Easter people: Every time we share in the bread and wine of our Holy Communion, Jesus is with us, lighting our path, giving us strength, feeding us with new life, renewing us with the promise of Easter.
We aren’t just remembering a meal long ago; we are bringing forth the future promise of Resurrection now.

The question is not how is the bread and wine changed at our communion table; but how are we changed by the bread and wine?

How are we changed?

And there is related question for each of us: If you are changed, how will the world change because of you?

Today is a good day to ask these questions, and personally take stock.

For some, you have been coming to this church your entire life. Or, perhaps you come here occasionally, once or twice a year. Maybe you are visiting from somewhere else.

Or, this is the first time you’ve been here, and maybe you’ve taken a long time to decide whether to come to church, or come back to church, and this is a big step for you today.

I am delighted all of you are here. Please let me invite you back.

This is a good place to ask the hardest questions of life, a good place to look for the answers with other people also seeking answers.

And this is a good place to work with others to change our community, to bring blessings to those the most in need. Why do this alone?

Please, don’t just sample the appetizer table. Come back for the feast every Sunday.
This Easter feast is not just about an afterlife that we cannot yet see.

This is also about how we live right now, here, today. The promise of salvation does not wait until the next life; salvation is meant to be lived right now.

Yet, make no mistake, this promise comes with challenges that are not always easy. Who needs your kindness and patience? Who needs your prayers? Who needs your forgiveness?

In a few moments we will renew our baptismal covenant, pledging once again how we will live out our faith.

We will pledge to gather regularly for prayer and the breaking of the bread, to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for justice and peace.

We get the gift of living these pledges together. We get the gift of standing with Mary Magdalene, perhaps like her a little astonished, yet discovering with her the promise of new life that is ours forever.

May this Easter bring you many blessings; may you be filled with the power of the Risen Christ, and may you live into the hope of the salvation that is yours forever. 
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

No comments: