Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sermon for St. Mary Magdalene's

St Mary Magdalene - July 22nd, 2012 - John 20

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
    I find that this sermon was a bit of a tough one to write.  I mean, today is the day we celebrate St. Mary Magdalene, and on Saint's days you normally get some passage of scripture that is a bit less than common, normally about the person's background or past.  Not so today.  No, this passage today is the Gospel lesson for Easter - not an unimportant or often skipped reading in the Church year.  It's also interesting because in the past 20, 30 years so much utter junk has been written about Mary Magdalene.  Every crackpot who writes a book or novel about Jesus has Mary doing anything and everything, just making her the center of the wildest stories.  It's all quite crazy.  And yet, our text today simply thrusts us back to Easter morning, to the empty tomb, to our risen Lord.  This is most appropriate, because over and against all the hoopla and hype, over and against all the hero worship and things like that, Mary reminds us of a simple truth - we are called saints, we are called brothers and sisters of Christ, children of God, not on the basis of who we are or what we have done but rather because of Christ Jesus and what He has done.

    Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  Consider this for a moment.  The horrors of the crucifixion were a scant few hours in the past.  You had that horrible, dreadful Friday, and then, the Sabbath comes, and there must be rest.  Rest and fretting and fear and sorrow for Mary.  So early on Sunday morning, before the Sun has risen, Mary goes to the tomb.  We hear from the other gospels that other of the women were with her -- they go eager to mourn, to dress a body.  That's it.  That's all.  And if Christ were just any other man that had been admired, had been deemed just a great teacher - that would have been it.  Mourning, weeping, and then heading home and back into obscurity.  We don't have records of all the women who mourned David's death, or Elisha's, or any of the other folks.  If this had been anyone else's tomb Mary would have remained just another one of billions and billions of mourners in front of tombs of the dead that the world has seen.  But this time, this mourning Mary comes across something different, something new.  The stone in front of the tomb had been rolled away.  Something strange is afoot.

    So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  So much for a modern American hero.  Mary sees something that she doesn't understand, and what does she do?  She runs for help.  Hardly the ideal, hardly something heroic and brave.  No feminist professor is going to tout this as a mighty example.  No, Mary leaves it to Peter and John to creep into the empty tomb, to look around, to see it empty.  Or in otherwords, Mary is simply doing what you or I might do - see something strange and you tell someone else.  You get help.  Again - there's nothing here that screams out for Mary to be emulated, to be respected.  Just so matter of fact.  And indeed, when we continue on with following Mary, what do we hear?  But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  There is Mary.  She's confused and hurt and in pain.  But do you know what?  Hurt, confused, and in pain is quite often what God's saints look like.  Sometimes we can get this idea that being a Christian is supposed to turn us into Superheroes where we overcome all our problems in a single bound, where we fly from one success to the next faster than a speeding bullet, where our "prayer" becomes more powerful than a locomotive. That's become the idea of what a Christian looks like - a life of victory and power and might.  And yet, over and against that - there's Mary.  Standing and crying in confusion and sorrow.

    Dear friends, that's quite often what a Saint looks like - that's what God's own holy people often look like in a sinful fallen world.  Those who cry, those who weep - blessed are you who mourn.  Mary isn't a superhero - oh, no, unlike the fakes and posers she can totally sing the Psalm with David - How long, O Lord.  And the thing is, our sinful flesh wants to be horrified and repulsed by weakness, by sorrow.  That akwardness when someone else is crying, is weeping, that discomfort when you hear their tale of woe.  The quick thoughts of "something like that could never happen to me."  That's why so many people run around trying to pretend that the Christian life is one of power and might and nothing but success and bury their head in the sand to ignore the suffering of their neighbor.  And yet, there is Mary, standing and crying.

    Ponder this.  Who is the first person to see Christ after His resurrection?  Who is the first witness?  Someone powerful and mighty?  Someone bold?  No.  It ends up being Mary.  The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost - He came to comfort the afflicted - as we heard Zechariah sing a few weeks ago, "to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  Christ Jesus does not first appear to the joyous, the wonderful, the perfectly fine.  He shows Himself to a sorrowful, weeping woman.  And Mary is deep in weeping.  This next quote really is one of my favorite in the Scriptures: she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Not just a quiet or polite mourning, not just a keeping it down so as to not bother people.  Mary is mourning.  Mary is so deep in mourning that she doesn't recognize Jesus.  This is true anguish.

    Perhaps this is the lesson we ought learn from Mary's example this day.  America has inherited many traits in our history, and not all of them good.  From the British we have inherited a bit of a stiff upper lip, from the Germans stubborness, from the Scandanavians a sense of primness and properness - and when you mix those in a hard to farm southern plains you get a big dose of self-reliance, a strong dose of "I can do it myself, and if I can't, well, just move on to something else."  We become so guarded with our emotions, with our feelings, with our hurts, so focused on convincing others that nothing is wrong that often enough we end up lying to ourselves.  Instead of admitting our hurts and pain, we deny them, pretend that they don't exist.  While that can be practical for getting a job done, there is a danger to it, a spiritual danger.  Those hurts, those pains - they are simply the impact of sin upon your life.  Mary is mourning a death - the wages of sin is death.  The aches and pains of life - again, the result of sin.  Increased pain in childbirth, working and eating by the sweat of your brow.  Brother set against brother because of sin.  And the thing is - it isn't that far of a leap to go from denying or pretending that things don't hurt to pretending or denying sin.  It's a common move - I've seen it over and over again.  No, seeing pain, seeing suffering, these all should remind us that we are sinners in a sinful world.

    And in reality, in truth, there is only one cure, one solution for sinners in a sinful world.  Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  The only solution is Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus who has died and risen again looking upon you in the midst of a world of hurt and pain and sin and calling you by name.  It's only when our risen Lord addresses Mary by name that she gets relief, that she has joy.  Likewise - our denial, or stiff upper lip won't fix anything - at best it might help us to endure.  But God does not desire you merely to endure, or keep up a facade.  No, He has called you by name and washed you in the waters of Holy Baptism - He has called you unto His own family - and this He has done not only to give you salvation, but so that in the midst of this life, in the middle of all the trials and temptation you would remember that you are His, that you belong to Him, that He is indeed your Savior from sin, that He will Himself deliver you from this world of sin.  You don't belong to sin anymore, you won't remain under sin's sway.  You are forgiven, you are redeemed.  And it's when we see Christ, see Him, that we do have joy even in the middle of sorrow - that we learn to look head to the day when He shall come with Trumpet sound and call us unto His side by name, where we will leave the old world of sorrows behind and dwell with Him in the our own resurrected bodies in the New heavens and the new earth.

    Mary was simply a faithful woman, a woman who saw sorrow and pain in life - and yet had joy because she beheld her resurrected Lord who called her by name.  Christ Jesus has called you by name, gives Himself to you, and shall call you by name on the Last Day.  Like Mary, this is where we find our joy, not falling into the egotistical games of the world, but trusting in the deliverance that Christ Jesus has won for us.  Until that day our prayer will remain, Thy Kingdom Come, Come Lord Jesus.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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