Sermon of Rev. Kirsten
We enter the Easter story today from the perspective of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the wife of Cleopas).
Mary Magdalene had been a faithful disciple. She was present when Jesus died. She was there when they rolled the stone against the tomb. She was there when the guards were directed not to let anyone take the stone away. She knew that he was dead and buried.
So why did she and the other Mary go to the tomb on the third day?
I imagine Mary Magdalene’s state of mind: A terrible injustice has been committed. Jesus has been crucified by the Roman authorities. She has been with him throughout his ministry, and she has been with him from the last supper through his trial and on the walk to Golgotha. She has been following her teacher, she believes that he is the Messiah. When he is killed, she must have been just distraught. I imagine that she is incredibly angry at the authorities for having killed him. She is just seething with the injustice of his death. I imagine her wailing—this is just not right, it is not fair. Mary must have been outraged at the system of justice that would allow a good man to be killed. And it wasn’t just that the system of law was unjust, but the way he died was so terrible. He suffered being forced to carry his cross. He endured the pain of being nailed to the wood. A painful death, so unfair, so unjust. She must have been so angry and at the same time, so full of her own pain.
Maybe like Mary Magdalene, we come this morning with anger at the powers that control our world, the authorities who create unjust systems. We know the injustice that led to the use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. We know the injustice that leaves some of our neighbors here in destitute poverty without places to live, or access to care for mental health issues. We are outraged and overwhelmed by the powers that threaten us with nuclear weapons. We see what seems to be perpetual violence in places like Suday. We see child slavery, the flight of refugees, the oppression of women. We know that the world we live in is unfair; that power is corrupted and that good people are suffering. We know good people who serve for the good of all—people like Jesus who serve as teachers, firefighters, nurses, police or soldiers; people who are trying to do what is right for this world and who aren’t paid enough to live well here. Around the world we see people who are targeted, persecuted, imprisoned because they don’t agree with the policies of their governments. We read the news, we meet people on the street, we visit places and know that the systems that humans have created are not good. When we witness suffering and death at the hands of unjust rulers, we are angry.
But Mary must not only have felt anger; she has lost someone she loved. She has lost her teacher, her friend. The hole in her heart, this gaping raw wound of grief—where is Jesus? Mary must have been inconsolable, because there are no words to comfort someone who has suffered the loss of someone they love. Maybe we come today, like Mary, because we are suffering loss. Someone we love has died. Someone we know is dying. Maybe we are full of grief, there is a hole in our lives, holes in our hearts that cannot be filled. And where else can we go with that loss? We go to the gravesite, we sit with our lament. Suffering is so hard to witness and yet, when the person is gone we may be overwhelmed with our own feelings of loss. We are praying with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who are unspeakably sad, lost in their grief (our grief).
Mary must have been also very afraid for her community. She had been part of a tight knit group of Jesus’ followers. They had been together with him, learning from him, doing what he taught them to do. She and the others had been out preaching and teaching, healing and building up the community around them. They had been speaking out against the authorities and they were united in their opposition to the Emperor and the systems that oppressed the poor, and the weak. With Jesus, they had been imagining a new society, one in which the least would be first. The poor would get their fair share, those who were unjustly imprisoned would be set free. But now, the most faithful disciples were shaken—Judas has betrayed Jesus to the authorities. Mary must have felt this betrayal personally, they had been so close, how could he have done this. And then Peter. When he is asked if he is also a follower just before the trial, he denies Jesus. Three times, he claims that he is not a follower. A second faithful member has fallen—not standing up for Jesus when he should have. Peter, maybe too afraid for himself to stand with Jesus when it mattered most. And now Jesus is gone. Mary must have seen her community being torn apart and wondered how they could continue. Would there be anyone left to carry on the work that Jesus started? The fear and confusion about the disintegration of her community, the Jesus movement that she had been a part of, must have been profound. She had been part of this big project and now it was not clear who would lead, how they could continue, whether the community would even continue to exist.
Maybe we come today because we fear that this world, or our most immediate community is at risk. There are forces that threaten our security. Countries are pitched against one another. Our allies may not stand with us when we need them. Maybe at a national level, it seems as if we are becoming so polarized that we cannot work together to build a better society. Maybe in our families or neighborhoods, the people we thought we could trust have disappointed us. Maybe our identity, like Mary’s , our identity as a Christian is shaken—we have seen people who claim to be Christian doing terrible things throughout history and here today. What movement can we be a part of that will be steadfast and trustworthy? What community is going to support us when there is so much dissention and polarization?
And Mary must have been afraid for her own safety. Having just seen what the authorities did to Jesus, she must have known that being identified with him might lead to her own death. She must have been petrified that they would come after her too. Maybe we also feel some fear. Maybe we like Mary wonder if we will be safe. If the rulers of our world don’t protect the most vulnerable people, how can we be sure that we aren’t also at risk? How will we be protected from evil, how can we keep our children safe? We worry about what will happen to immigrants, refugees and activists.
And yet, in the midst of these overwhelming feelings—anger at the injustice, sorrow and loss, fear for her community and fear for herself, Mary goes to the tomb. Maybe Mary is so overwhelmed by her feelings that she can’t think straight. She is so full of grief and anger and fear and loss, that she can’t think rationally. Surely if she had been rational, she would have gone far away, not to a gravesite in full view of the guards and the authorities.
But something drew her there. Something brought her to the sepulchre in spite of these complex feelings. I believe it was faith and hope. I don’t think that Mary Magdalene was sure that Jesus would rise and appear again to her or the other Mary. But I do think that she was drawn to the tomb by a longing and a hope. Jesus had promised that he would come again and Mary Magdalene hoped, hoped that his promise would be true. Maybe in the midst of her emotions, this hope was the only thing that she could hold on to. She wanted so much for it to be true that she would go to the tomb, against everyone’s recommendations, she would sit at the tomb and watch. Her faith was the only thing that could carry her through these first days. I imagine her saying to the other Mary, this just can’t be the end, the end of everything. He promised that he would be with the Father, that he would come again. She believed that Jesus’ promises would be fulfilled. Maybe Mary couldn’t even fully grasp the idea of Jesus and God the Father as one being. Maybe she believed in God the Father—the God of Abraham and Sarah would make things right, even though everything was wrong. Hope and faith, believing even with doubts, enough to go to the tomb and wait and watch. Mary was ready for an epiphany, she hoped and believed that in the person of Jesus, understanding and relief would come.
And we come today in faith and hope. In the midst of hard times, in the midst of sorrows, anger and fears, we come. We come, even if we are not sure, because we hope and hold onto our faith. Today our hope and faith is confirmed. Breaking through the power of death, the angel comes to Mary and to us.
The angel says:
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Mary’s anger, sorrow, fear are answered by the angel of God who comes to tell her that Jesus is not in the tomb. He has been raised from the dead. Mary’s rage at the authorities is met by this triumph. The authorities didn’t win, Jesus is not dead. His opposition to Emperor and his authorities, his message of peace and reconciliation to the communities where he preached, his healing of people who were infirm, his teaching about how to live in the fullness of God—everything that Jesus taught Mary is now proven. This human life, the life of her friend and teacher was not the end of his work. Jesus has risen from the tomb as the new life that he promised to his disciples. While it might have seemed to Mary and other disciples that the authorities triumphed when they killed him, now the angel shows them that Jesus’ power is greater than theirs. The Father has raised Jesus up to new life and he is going to Gallilee to meet the disciples.
The angel speaks to Mary’s mourning, to that hole in her heart. While she will still miss her friend and teacher, the angel assures her, Jesus will be with you—he will not leave you for he is alive with God the Father.
The angel speaks to Mary’s anxiety about the divisions in her community. Jesus will bring you together, if you gather the disciples, he will be with you always. And maybe the angel speaks to Mary’s fears for her own safety—giving her courage. God’s love, God’s power is greater than any torture or death that the authorities threaten.
But Mary leaves the tomb with great joy and still some fear. Her sorrow has been transformed, but the fear still remains.
And then Jesus meets the Marys on the road to Galilee. When they meet him, the fall down and worship him, Jesus says to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” This miracle, the vision of the man they loved, their friend, their teacher, their leader—he has come to them to quell their fears. In this vision, Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is confirmed. Mary’s faith is built up, her hope is fortified.
This story speaks to Jesus’ presence in our lives. Jesus is speaking to us: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” We celebrate with great joy Jesus’ triumph over death. We know in the Paschal mystery, the resurrection miracle, that there is nothing of this world that is greater that the power of our God. We know that whatever divisions there might be in our human communities, God unites and brings peace. We know that when we see suffering and death, that God is present, working in those places with those communities to overcome the powers that be. We know that when we are afraid, afraid that we may be so divided that there is no common ground, that our faith can bring us together. Our God unites us, guides us on the road to Galilee and encourages us to “be not afraid.”
And this brings us today to look at Mary Magdalene’s response. What does she do when the angel comes—she goes out with joy and fear. And this is how we are to respond today. Our hopes, our faith are confirmed again by hearing the words of the angels and seeing the miracle that God is alive and with us in this place. We are called to express our joy. We are called to worship him, to reach out and touch his feet and honor him.
In our communities today, we will meet Jesus on the road to Galilee. We will meet Jesus as the man on median strip asking for change. We will meet Jesus as the student who comes to school without any lunch money. We will meet Jesus as the person who is alone in the hospital, or the person who needs a phone call because they can’t get out. When we meet Jesus—the one who has been marginalized, oppressed or forgotten by society, we will reach out and touch their feet. We will recognize them, know that they are Jesus Christ here in our midst. We will honor them and express our faith. We will go to Jesus’ brothers—other faithful people, and people who do not yet know God and we will tell them that God is alive and well.
Wherever we find ourselves, we will show by the way that we love one another that Jesus has given us new life. We are called by Jesus to live in faith. We are called to preach the Good News and build up the movement of God’s holy people so that they too may meet him in Gallilee.