First United Methodist Church
April 9, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Easter Sunday: Mary Magdalene
It is odd that we know so little about a woman whose testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is so central. I speak of Mary, called the Magdalene. Both Matthew and Mark mention her by name as coming to the tomb on Easter morning, and John's resurrection account is essentially her testimony. What can we learn about faith from this particular woman?
She had the honor of being present at the death of Jesus; she remained at the cross when all the disciples went away; and Jesus appeared to her first and made her an apostle to the apostles. Nobody has a testimony like hers to the life, the love, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus—and of herself. But then, nobody has a testimony like yours or mine, either. Each Christian has a unique testimony of what Jesus' resurrection has meant to him or her. This morning, let’s take a quick look at Mary’s testimony.
Mary Magdalene was present and witnessed the death of Jesus, and there was a reason that she was there. She was one among many who had experienced the amazing grace of Jesus in her lifetime. While we are not told the details of that grace, what we are told is that she was set free from seven demons that possessed her. Seven demons might suggest that she had a recurring problem that needed a graceful solution.
Of course, many of us struggle with our own demons in life. We may speak of them only to our closest friends or relatives. But sometimes, we see these demons boldly presenting themselves in the major news stories of violence, where strong and angry words and actions lead to great tragedy. Then we realize that it’s not just us. There’s a lot of evil happening in the world. And humanity is possessed by it. And when we see it, we are immediately stunned into silence. If there is any thought we have, any words we say, any song we sing in these dark moments, it is only a thought, word, or song of
lament. That is always the first song in the face of tragedy.
Yet the light of God’s grace may break through even these dark walls and barriers in which these tragic evils hide. Even in our own lives, the light of Easter breaks through—maybe at least for a moment as it does this morning—with a thought, a word, or a song of joy; such joy is enough to think, say and sing, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, seeking some time by herself to lament and mourn the loss of Jesus. To her surprise, however, she witnessed that the stone that covered the tomb had been rolled away! With some excitement and haste, she ran to Simon Peter and the disciples to tell them what she saw. But her message still was the not the joyous good news of Easter.
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
She was convinced that the grave of Jesus had been robbed! Like most of us, whenever we face the reality of bad news, we immediately fear the worst.
Where was Jesus’ body? They did not know. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved ran to the tomb. When they arrived, Peter ran straight into the tomb, He saw that the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was now all rolled up—as if someone had purposely done so. Why would grave robbers take the time to do that?
The other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, sensed that something new was in the air. He believed what Jesus had told him about the resurrection from the dead.
But while the other disciples returned to their homes, Mary stayed at the tomb—and had an interesting encounter with two angels, who ask, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She responds, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Mary sees a stranger in the garden and mistakes him to be a gardener. He also asks her,
“Woman, why are you weeping?” But then adds a second question, “For whom are you looking?”
Mary replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Mary’s grief is transforming to hope. She still expects to find Jesus’ body, and with it closure. And indeed, she will, but she is in for an even greater surprise.
As this “stranger” continues to speak to Mary and calls her by name, Mary recognizes her Lord, Jesus.
The mere mention of her name is already a life-changing grace, even as it is for us all when we are baptized and our names are prominently mentioned to the community gathered there. Our own names are mentioned in connection with Jesus, his life, his death, and his resurrection. Recognizing this voice as One she has certainly known for some time, who has called her name many times before in grace and promise, her hope transforms into excitement and joy.
Finally, Jesus says to her, “Do not cling to me.” She wants to remain in this moment, but Jesus wants her to let go. It is not to let go of the joy but to let
go because the joy needs to be extended to many others who live in hopelessness and fear. Jesus says let go “because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Ascending means more than ascending to the cross, as he did. It means ascending to a place where all can be seen and cared for by him—indeed, where he can see the whole world, the whole populace of peoples and nations, so many still struggling with de-mons or caught in the shadows fear. But such ascension does not mean distance from them. It means being in a place where he can see and call out the names of all, with his voice and his good news and the grace that raises us—that the joy of his resurrection is a joy for everyone.
We already have some occasions for expressing this Easter moment that overcomes lament and sadness and brings joy to the hearts of others. When we share the peace of the Lord with one another, we go up to others, maybe even strangers to us. We speak to them, often by name, and even add their names as a preface to the words we now share: “The peace of the Lord be with you.” We may even hug as we do so. But now, we are no longer strangers, through the reconciling peace of Jesus our Lord. For these words of peace are his own, the words of our dear brother, our dear friend, our dear risen Lord Jesus the Christ. Even through our voice, we get to hear his voice, calling us by name, gracing us with peace that is greater than all our demons and tragedies, all our fears and laments. His victorious voice triumphs over death and the grave, giving us a new way to the light of heaven that casts all darkness aside. And this new way shows in our thoughts, words and songs as we declare that because of Easter, joy in Christ’s amazing grace will always be with us, for all ages to come!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!...He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!