July 22, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
Jesus said to Mary, "Do not hold on to Me, 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.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that He had said these things to her.
The Gospel is all about restoring hope to the hopeless, life to the lifeless, righteousness to the unrighteous. That is what we see in dramatic form on this day, the Festival Day of St. Mary Magdalene. As we in the Church commemorate one of Jesus’ disciples, we see her as a recipient of the Gospel. We see her hope restored, her life restored, her righteousness restored.
For this woman, one who had been helped by Jesus earlier in her life, Jesus’ death was devastating. She had followed Him through thick and thin. Tormented by demons, Mary had been freed by Jesus. In response to what He had done for her, Mary gave Him her money, so that Jesus and the Twelve disciples could continue on their mission of preaching the good news of the kingdom of God to the world. When most of Jesus’ disciples had run away and were in hiding, Mary was present outside of Jerusalem. She watched and mourned as her Lord was crucified, died, and was buried in the rich man’s borrowed tomb.
But now, as St. John recorded in the Gospel Reading for today, Mary Magdalene was devastated. Perhaps she had not known exactly why Jesus had to die, but she was there when He was crucified. Maybe Mary didn’t realize all that would happen to Jesus, but she was faithful even in His death. Once again, she had taken her money and offered it in service of Jesus. Mary had brought burial spices to the garden tomb: “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. 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.’”
Yet, when Mary was at the tomb, there is no dead Jesus there. There is no body to be found. Though Mary may not have understood why Jesus would die, she had seen Him dead. Now when Mary wanted to give Jesus one last act of devotion, she is prevented. The Gospel Writer told us: “As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
We can understand Mary’s sorrow. It is grief that goes beyond what even we experience at our funerals. When we lose loved ones, we know where they are laid. We have gravestones carved and placed. We have the committal rite. We even have tombs registered with the local government. The marking does not really give us any comfort; it doesn’t bring our loved one back to life. But there is a certainty about it. But there is none of that for Mary when she sees Jesus’ disturbed tomb. There is only sorrow and uncertainty instead.
Even when Jesus Himself comes to the empty tomb and speaks to her, Mary’s sorrow and doubt aren’t changed: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ 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.’” We can envision Mary’s hysteric voice breaking between her tears. We can imagine the total lost feeling she had. Her hopelessness is nearly tangible as we hear her words.
But when Jesus calls her by name with His words, then all Mary’s sorrows are driven away. As Jesus says: “Mary,” she is a recipient of the gospel: hope is restored to the hopeless, life is given to the lifeless, righteousness is granted to the unrighteous. She is overjoyed at seeing the Risen Jesus, for all that she had believed about Him is proven true in His resurrection. No more is Mary dazed and confused, sad and sorrowful. Instead, she goes and tells the Twelve what she has seen and heard, just as the Risen Jesus instructs her: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for 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.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that He has said these things to her.”
As Mary goes and as she tells, the Twelve will also have the same experience as she did. They, too, will have Jesus greet them by name. Doubters like Thomas will believe. Deniers like Peter will be restored. Even persecutors like Paul will be converted and made into apostles. Each will have their name called by Jesus, each will be a recipient of His gospel. Jesus will give them hope and life and righteousness. They will make the statement about what has been accomplished for them by Jesus’ death and resurrection: “To us has been sent the message of this salvation…. And though they found in Him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have Him executed. When they had carried out all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He appeared to those who had come up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people.”
So too are we called by name. Jesus calls you by name. He reveals Himself as risen and glorified, so that you are recipients of the gospel. All of us were just as despondent as Mary. We were tormented by sin and Satan, but the Lord drove them away. But as death and loss are seen all around us, we lose hope. Yet Jesus is there to greet us, to remind us that He is not a dead hero that we revere or a memory that we bring out from time to time to give us a few minutes of comfort. No, Jesus comes into our midst and shows Himself as the Living One: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
That is why He sent Mary to tell the Twelve and the Twelve to tell the world about His victory over sin, death, and Satan. Jesus is found here, in our telling, in our reading, our hearing. Here, Jesus declares Himself as the Living One for your salvation, for your joy. He calls you by name and says your sins are forgiven. He calls you by name and says you are His people. He calls you by name and speaks the promise of eternal life for your possession. And He calls you by name and sends you out with the instruction to confess this great news to all His brothers: “I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of Your works.”
The gospel is all about restoring hope to the hopeless. It is about you were hopeless people being given a new hope. You who were unrighteous people are granted Jesus’ righteousness for your own. You who were dead in sin and trespasses have everlasting life restored by His resurrection. The gospel is personal, just as it was personal for Mary. It is all about what Jesus has done for you. And this day of commemorating Mary Magdalene even points out that fact: the day is more than about her, it is about you—the ones whom the Living Lord has redeemed, called by name, and sent through life in this world with life and joy. The Collect of the Day speaks that well: “Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, restored Mary Magdalene to health and called her to be the first witness of His resurrection. Heal us from all our infirmities and call us to know You in the power of Your Son’s unending life.”
With Jesus, the Living One, there really is no more uncertainty in this earthly life for us or for Mary. No, there is only the greatness of His resurrection and ascension and the promises they bring for us—promises that even the confusion of this world cannot change: “Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.” Hold on to those promises and to the Living One who has given them to you, so that on the Last Day He may call you by name and bring you into His kingdom forever.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.