Sunday, 31 March 2013

SERMON: Mary Magdelene, Witness of the Risen Lord

Noli me Tangere by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1524
(Copyright free image)

The New Passover ("Easter") is the Greatest Story ever told. All of you know the story, but I want to speak about the part of the story in which Mary Magdalene meets Jesus at the empty tomb.

This story is found only in the Gospel of John, and is very much understated in the whole of the story of Jesus Christ's resurrection. For Latter Day Mormons, it is a very important story, and one that I think is missing from the other Gospels - maybe because Mary only told it to John personally.

Everything about this little story within a bigger story rings true to human nature as we know it. A woman alone by an empty tomb, weeping, wondering what has happened to the body of the Lord she loved. While the woman knelt alone weeping by the tomb Jesus suddenly appears, she doesn't recognise him at first. Then the women so overcome with joy and the spirit reaches out to touch the Christ she knows and loves, who confides in her that he has not yet fully resurrected and come unto his father. The vignette ends with the mourner turned into a missionary, running to tell the others what she has just seen and heard.

Although Mary Magdalene plays an important role in the life of Christ, the wider world knows very little about her and her role in the life of Christ. What we as Latter Day Mormons do know is that she is one of at least five different women named “Mary” in the New Testament, and unless we are careful, we will get them confused.

Mary Magdalene was one of a group of women who became followers of Christ during his earthly ministry. We know that she joined herself to Jesus in a way that no other women had ever done, As Latter Day Mormons, we know through modern revelation that Jesus loved her more than any other woman, indeed, more than any other of his disciples, and that they indeed were married. It has been taught by people down the ages, and is still taught by some, that Mary Magdalene was the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), but there is no evidence in the text to support this claim.

Others suggest she was the “sinful woman” who anointed the feet of Jesus in Luke 7:36-50, but the Bible does not make that clear, either. There is some tradition among many churches that it makes her a promiscuous woman, but there is no reason to say that based on the facts. After a time throughout Christian churches she became a symbol for repentant sinners who come to Christ from very chequered and colourful backgrounds, this may in fact be true in her case, but we have no way to be certain as to the validity of the stories attributed to Mary.

Far from doing Mary and her reputation throughout the world good, it has meant that this wonderful woman has been darkened and tainted with sin, sin which can not be proved she had committed.

However, this much we do know: That through her love and discipleship, Christ set her free, and liberated her from the world that surrounded her - a world that had kept her chained figuratively to darkness. Mary Magdalene is living proof that those whom the Lord sets free are free indeed. Having been liberated from the world around her, she said to herself, "I love him for what he did for me. I will follow him wherever he goes." And so when it came time for our Lord to offer his life and was hung on the cross, she stood nearby with Mary, his mother.

When they took his body down from the cross, she was there to see that awful image of her Lord. When they placed him in the tomb, she was sitting on a rock ledge, watching it all happen (Matthew 27:61). And so when the Sabbath had concluded, Mary, this woman whom the Lord had set free from the bondage of the world, this woman who loved him and followed him, and this woman who was there at his death, now went forth and purchased spices because she hoped to anoint his dead body. The Lord was hastily buried on Friday in order to finish before sundown, which is why they had not finished preparing his body.

Early on Sunday morning, before the sun came up, she and the other women ventured through the darkness to the Garden Tomb, expecting to finish the job of anointing the body of Jesus. When the women came upon the tomb they found it empty, they were confused and terrified. Then they saw and heard angels of the Father and they told them that Christ had risen from the dead.

They returned to tell the disciples who did not believe such a thing possible even though the Lord has told them such things were possible and that he would be resurrected. And so John and Peter went and investigated, and when they saw the linen wrappings exactly where the body had been placed on Friday evening, they believed, now they believed and they ran to tell the others of what they had seen. At that point, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb alone, confused, bewildered, in shock, frightened, and of course at the very heart of it, brokenhearted, her beloved not there, but missing. It has not yet occurred to her that the empty tomb meant that Jesus had risen from the dead.

It has often been said that Mary Magdalene was last at the cross and first at the tomb. Even though this may sound a slight to Mary it must be remembered that that can not be said of the men who followed Jesus, the men who lived by his side as she did, the men who saw his do so many great and wondrous things.

Mary was the first to see him alive and the first to hear his voice, this is the one person he chose to see first, he chose her above his Apostles, and he chose his beloved. The irony of the story is that when she saw him, she didn't recognize him. But when the truth hit home, she became the first evangelist in Christian history. As Latter Day Mormons we must always remember that Christ bestowed this great honour on her because she loved him so deeply and so devotedly, and he loved her.

Let us, therefore, be inspired by this great woman of faith to be faithful in our devotion to Christ and in our duties to honour God.

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