The Rev. Janice Ford, Rector
The Church of the Reconciliation, 5 N. Main Street, Webster
Mary Magdalene was grief stricken. She went to the tomb to anoint the body of her Lord, and she found nothing. It was bad enough that they tortured and killed him, but now his body was gone, too. She had hoped for one last opportunity to be with him, to be able to look upon his face, and touch his hands one last time, and now that was not to be.
Much has been written about Mary Magdalene, and most of it has been slanderous. In the days of the early Roman church, in an effort to keep women in their place (and away from Holy Orders), she was called a woman of sin—one of those cast off hangers-on that Jesus seemed to collect. Some modern day writers have tried to contrive a romance between Jesus and Mary. Their twisted reasoning is simple: no woman could love a man in this way and have it be platonic. Their reasoning was twisted because they chose not to acknowledge the charisma of Jesus. They did not understand that Mary loved him passionately, as did all the others who followed him, because he was the Son of God. Making the relationship between Jesus and Mary sordid and pedestrian was much more fun to write about—and it definitely sold more books.
Regardless of who or what Mary Magdalene was before she met Jesus, he changed her life in a dramatic and terrifyingly wonderful way. She followed him with a pure love and devotion unknown to most. Perhaps she was confused herself about why she felt this way about him. Remember the song written for Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar? “I don’t know how to love him. I don’t see why he moves me. He’s a man. He’s just a man. Yet if he said he loved me, I’d be lost. I’d be frightened. I couldn’t cope. Just couldn’t cope. I’d turn my head. I’d back away. I wouldn’t want to know. He scares me so.” Whatever Jesus was to Mary Magdalene it defied description—even for her.
So, here sits Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. She is awash in tears. She tells the two men, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Her grief is so profound that even when Jesus speaks to her she does not recognize him. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus responds with just one word, and everything becomes clear. “Mary,” he says. She knows how he says her name, and she can scarcely contain herself. “Rabbouni!” Teacher! And her heart begins to beat again.
Mary rushes forward to grasp hold of this God-Man who she knows was dead, and now stands before her very much alive. But Jesus stops her. “Do not hold onto me because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” For a moment, she undoubtedly feels rejected, and disappointed, but this was Jesus, after all. Her Jesus, her teacher, never said or did anything without good reason.
“Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.’” That was the beginning of the Gospel, my friends. When Jesus spoke these words to Mary Magdalene, he set into motion a mandate for each and every one of us who follows after him. “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.’” This is it! This is the Good News in Christ. And Mary is the one who Jesus trusts to bring it to the world!
And so Mary goes and does as Jesus has commanded her. She announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord, and she told them that he had said these things to her.”
Do you suppose that Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than the other disciples? Could that be the reason why he chose her to be the one to carry his message? There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus had a deep affection for all those with whom he shared his life. Why he chose Mary to carry his message we will never know, but I doubt that he loved her more than the others.
In fact, I doubt that Jesus loved Mary or any of the others more than he loves each one of us. How can I be so sure? Because Jesus was sent by the Father specifically for that reason—to demonstrate his love for us by reconciling us with the Father through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So, if Jesus loves us as he loved Mary Magdalene, have we not received the same mandate as she did two thousand years ago? Are we not compelled by Christ to spread the Good News? Our immediate answer, of course, is “yes.” At least, I hope it is! Yet, I would be a liar and a fool if I said that I believe every Christian in the world is doing his or her part. Are we going back to our brothers and sisters and telling them Jesus’ story? Do we say the words? Do we act out our baptismal vows?
What are we holding on to that prevents us from doing all that Jesus asks of us? Mary Magdalene wanted to hold onto Jesus when she recognized him at the tomb. She wanted things to be as they were before all the horror began, but he said, “No.” Instead, he sent her away with a job to do.
What are we holding on to? Will we share the “alleluias” from today with others tomorrow? What keeps us from being free to tell the world what we know about Christ? Is it a fear that others will call us “Bible thumpers,” or “Jesus freaks,” or “evangelicals,” or “holier than thou?” Or perhaps we want to be politically correct and not trample on the freedom of others to live in a world where church and state do not mingle—as if that was what the First Amendment is about! (Hint: it’s not.)
What are we holding on to that prevents us from letting others see and know that Jesus is all that is good, and just, and sensible? How can we let go of our fear enough to truly evangelize the Word of God?
One day not too long ago, I was pulling into my driveway in the late afternoon when I saw two well-dressed young women coming down the path from my front door. They’d obviously been ringing the doorbell, and since no one was home, the two women were leaving our front yard. My first thought was, “Ugh! I’m sure they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I really don’t want to listen to them right now.” Quickly putting a plan together, I thought, “Well, I’m wearing my collar, so I can probably make quick work of them.”
As I slowed my car in the driveway and put down the window, God gave me a swift kick in the butt! I am embarrassed to tell you that for the first time in my life, I realized these two women were there to tell me about the same Jesus I have loved and worshipped my whole life. I may not agree with their theology, but the fact is that they were there doing what Jesus asked Mary Magdalene to do. “Mary went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord;’ and she told them that he had said these things to her.” These two women had come to my house to tell me they had seen the Lord, and I was plotting how best to get rid of them. Shame on me. I know that there are people in the world who think that I have written here are ridiculous, and contrived, and annoying. They think of me the way that I thought about those two women. Shame on me.
Mary Magdalene and the other disciples let go of their grief and fear and set out to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. They said more than “alleluia” when Jesus was raised from the dead. They did not stop doing what Jesus asked them to do in spite of the fact that people mocked them for their so-called Messiah who was hung on a cross like a common criminal. They did not stop doing what Jesus asked them to do in spite of the fact that they had to hide in fear for their very lives. They did not stop doing what Jesus asked them to do because they had no money, or because it meant leaving their families, or because it was just plain hard.
Instead, Mary and the others found comfort and strength in the sound of Jesus calling them each by name. They recognized him when he called them, and they did everything he asked.
Dare I suggest that in the coming days, we listen for the sound of Jesus calling our names in the way that only he can? Then let us go and tell our brothers and sisters in the world, “I have seen theLord.” Amen. Alleluia.