16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
Our final person in the Faces of Faith series is Mary Magdalene. I chose her to be the end for several reasons but one of them is because liturgically this the last Sunday of the year. This Sunday is named Christ the King Sunday. Now we don’t have many kings around anymore, but it is important to realize the significance of this event. My daily meditations come from a book called, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, written by Norman Shawchuch and Ruben P. Job. Their introduction to Christ the King Sunday is this, “We began the seasons of the church year with anticipation, and we end the seasons of the church year declaring a certainty. In Advent we waited for the needed and longed-for definitive and ultimate self-disclosure of God in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. On Christ the King Sunday we celebrate the fulfillment of the Biblical revelation of God in Christ Jesus.”
In the middle of all this revealing we need someone to reveal it to us, and that is Mary Magdalene. She reveals the fulfillment of the scriptures as Jesus goes from man to Christ, Savior, Redeemer, Messiah. Mary’s last name is probably not Magdalene, her second name means that she was from the town of Magdala, just like Jesus was the Nazarene from the town of Nazareth. Mary was possessed by seven demons. We have no idea what those seven demons might have been, but she was in a group of women that Jesus cured as he went through towns and villages according to the gospel of Luke. Some think she might have been the woman who anointed Jesus feet with her hair while Jesus was in the home of the Pharisee having diner. Some thought that maybe she was a prostitute and that not only was she possessed by demons she also was making a living by selling her body. Most scholars do not agree with that, instead because of the exorcism, she followed Jesus with other women just like the 12 disciples did.
From that time forward, Mary did not leave his side. She helped to prepare his meals. She helped by providing some of the finances for the group. She was with him when he was tried and was not far from the cross when he was crucified. She followed Joseph of Arimathea when he took his body and laid it in the tomb. She had planned to anoint his body with spices after the Sabbath and went to the tomb very early. It is here in the early morning hours that we realize the significance of Mary Magdalene.
According to our story from Mark, the sun had not even risen yet when the women set out to give Jesus a proper burial by anointing his body with spices. Along the way the issue of moving the stone came up among the women. Mary Magdalene had seen the size of that stone and was worried that the three of them might not be able to move it. They were being very practical about how to do the job that was before them. Their hearts were heavy with grief and they had witnessed so much violence in their lives that they knew Jesus was another victim of the cruel, occupied world that they lived in.
When they looked to the tomb, they realized that the stone had been moved already. They went in and instead of seeing Jesus they see a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side. We do not know what the women think because Mark jumps right to the young man saying, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Now the women are freaked out, they don’t know what is going on. According to the original ending of Mark, the women fled in fear and they didn’t say anything because they were too afraid. They said not a word, to anyone, because of their great fear.
Yet eventually word got out somehow and the truth was revealed. In the gospels of Matthew and Luke they run and tell the other disciples and Peter and James or John run to see for themselves. In the gospel of John, we get an even better story. After the women see the angel they go and tell the disciples and Mary Magdalene follows them back to the cemetery. While she sees them running into the tomb, she sees a man whom she believes to be the gardener. She asks the gardener where they have taken the body of Jesus, she is not mad or angry just give him back, so we can give him a proper burial she insists.
Now the really cool part is that the man is not the gardener, but he is Jesus. She does not recognize who it is until he says her name. Then she cries out Rabboni! which means teacher. Then she realizes who it is and tries to grab him and hug him. But Jesus tells her that she cannot touch him anymore, but to tell them he will return to them in a little while in Galilee.
Frederick Buechner who is a wonderful modern-day biblical scholar and writer in his book Peculiar Treasures he writes, “Noli me tangere, he said. Touch me not. Do not hold on to me, thus making her not only the first person in the world to have her heart stop beating for a second to find him alive again when she’d thought he was dead as a doornail but the first person to have her heart break a little to realize that he couldn’t be touched any more, wasn’t there any more as a hand to hold onto when the going got tough, a shoulder to weep on. Because the life in him was no longer a life she could know by touching it, with her here and him there, but a life she could only know by living it: with her here—old tart and retread, old broken-heart and last, best friend—and with him here too, alive inside her life, to raise her up also out of the wreckage of all that was wrecked in her and dead.”
Our artist tries to capture this moment in the picture this week. Look at the face and especially the eyes, the wonder, fear and amazement. Yet at the same time there is a hint of certainty of knowing what no one else in the entire world knows at this moment. The artist Hanna Garrity writes, “In this image, Mary Magdalene appears surprised. She also seems wiser and more aware in this moment as she looks toward Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified two days prior. How had he rolled the stone away? This was truly a miracle! In this moment, Mary knows. Jesus must have looked like himself. She never wonders if she is dreaming. She never questions whom she saw, though everyone she tells does not believe her.”
Garrity continues, “Perhaps she simply knows deep down what is right. She has nothing to hide, she has confessed her sins. She can see clearly.” I hope that our take-away from this series is that we know. We know that God uses people of all kinds to continue the march toward realizing the kingdom of God is near. That people who have struggles in life, real struggles are lifted up to do something extra-ordinary because God is with them when they do it. We too have real-life struggles and sometimes we work really hard to solve the situation for ourselves. But in the end, we have to turn it over to God and let God into our lives a little more today than yesterday. These people that we have looked at literally, serve God and do some amazing things. Yet they didn’t wake up one day and say today I will be a judge or defy the king for the good of others or submit to the will of God. No, these people lived a life with God. They made God a priority in their lives. They didn’t check in when they wanted some magic to happen in their lives and then hope like hell it did. They were people of faith that God used to keep God’s plan in motion. They loved, and they prayed, and they worshipped.
We are the same people living in 2018. We have the same God, we have the same Savior in Jesus and we have the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in our hearts. We grow in that life of faith by practicing. Every meaningful relationship takes work, and faith is the same way. It takes work, prayer, worship, reading the scriptures, writing to our friends and loved ones, trusting God and loving our neighbor. It is a lot, and it does require effort. But that does not mean that it is impossible either. Together right here in this sanctuary these are the people who help us the most. These are the ones who know the trials and tribulations of this world, but they also know the joy and utter surprise that Mary Magdalene witnessed. Today we declare that Christ is the King of our lives. May we continue to work on that declaration. Amen.