Life Without Him
(Easter Sunday – Luke 24.1-10)
April 8, 2007
The men said to Mary Magdalene and the women “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Lk 24.5-6) In the name of the Father, the Risen Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am sure that you all noticed as I have that Mary Magdalene has recently become quite the media darling. It seems there is a new book about her every few months. Or if not a new book, then a new discovery of ancient writings that may or may not contain new information about her. On one hand, it is a good thing for the church, because it raises the general public’s interest in the roots of Christianity. But on the other hand, it also leads to sensationalism and outright fabrications that are penned on in the name of so-called historical fiction. Historical fiction - the new oxymoron of literature.
Newsweek recently referred to Mary Magdalene as the “Inconvenient Woman.” Inconvenient, they meant to the church. Basically because some of the new ways of understanding Mary of Magdala challenge some long held church traditions. Maybe so. But my feeling is always that the church’s foremost interest should always be the truth. God’s truth. And therefore new information, and inconvenient questions, are always good for us. Because they make us reexamine what we believe and why we believe it. And ultimately lead us to a deeper understanding of our own faith.
And those new stories and new questions give us the chance to respond again with our version, the Bible’s version, of the story.
So go back with me if you will, about 2,000 years, and let me tell you the story of Mary of Magdala.
Mary woke up from her restless sleep that Sunday morning, still frightened and in shock from the events of the past week. She had hardly slept at all – tossing and turning with different visions flashing through her subconscious. And all of them disturbing. So it took her awhile really wake up and sort out what which nightmares were dreams and which were reality. But slowly, as her head cleared, she remembered. And at once – she cried out in agony.
Oh my God! How could you let this happen? Why didn’t you save him?
It just didn’t seem possible that he was really gone. And that she would never see him again. As she lay back down on her bed, she thought back to her life – the life that she had before she met the man called Jesus.
It was a life that in one sense seemed so long ago, but in reality was very recent. It was a life almost devoid of happiness . . . or laughter . . . . or any real pleasure. It seemed to Mary that she had been fighting the demons within in her as long as she could remember. Even when she was young and living in her hometown of Magdala – in the region of Galilee, she would get so angry and fly into incontrollable rages. People avoided her because they were afraid of her outbursts. Even her family ostracized her. So her life was lonely, and it seemed that she had little or nothing to hope for.
And then one day she heard about a prophet who was going through Galilee, teaching in synagogues, healing the sick and driving out demons. Mary was interested - not that she believed any of that stuff of course. Life on her own had made her much too cynical to believe that a Messiah would come in her lifetime. But she was curious, so she went to hear him teach.
And as the man talked about God’s love, and as he told stories in which things were upside down. Stories in which the last were first; stories of unconditional love; stories that rebuked the rich and powerful and proclaimed the lowly. As she heard those stories, she knew that he was talking about her. Knew that she was finally hearing the truth – the truth that God loved everyone unconditionally, even her – Mary of Magdala.
She stayed on the fringe of the crowd and watched as he moved through the people, speaking quietly with some – loudly exhorting others. But then, before she knew what was happening, he was right in front of her – looking at her.
He seemed to instantly recognize that she was troubled and he stopped, and put out his hand and prayed, and commanded the demons to leave her. Mary’s legs gave out and she felt herself falling to the ground. Then hands were lifting her up. And as she tried to stand on her own, she realized that she felt lighter – at peace. As if the weight of the world had left her body. She was too weak to stand for a moment and when she recovered, he had moved on.
But Mary knew at that moment, that she was changed. So she followed him to the next village, and the next. And when Jesus noticed that she was again among his growing group of followers, he immediately welcomed her as one of them.
Mary was amazed. Accepted into the inner circle with no questions asked. It was as if he could see into her very soul and didn’t need to ask her anything.
It was all so exciting then. All so hopeful. Surely the revolution had come they all thought. Surely others would hear that Jesus spoke the truth, and peace would come to the land. Surely he would take care of everything for them. Surely he would be with them always.
A noise outside her room suddenly startled Mary, and brought her back to the present. And she sobbed uncontrollably as she replayed in her mind again how it had all ended so terribly. To watch someone you love and admire – someone you believe in – someone who you hoped was the Messiah. To watch that person die an excruciatingly painful and prolonged death on a cross was a picture that she could not let go of. It kept playing and playing again in her mind.
When she closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep, she saw him again. Saw him hanging there – his body broken and slumped.
“Oh God, how can I possibly go on with her life now that he is gone – the very one who gave me a sense of self-worth – who affirmed me, and who had taught me that I was a unique child of God, made in God’s image. The one whose compassion and message about God’ grace had changed my life and the lives of many others.”
How could their lives possibly stayed changed now that he was dead? She could not even begin to imagine how to go on without her friend . . . her Rabbi . . . . her Lord.
Mary cried softly to herself. She knew there was no chance to sleep any more, so she got up and found some perfumes and spices and put them in a basket. She and a few of the women disciples had agreed that they would go to the tomb together as soon as Sabbath was over. They planned to go up to the cave early in the morning to pray together and to anoint his body if they could get in. It was important they felt, to give him dignity after the horrible indignity of the cross.
She woke up Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others, and they all walked quickly up the mountain toward the tomb.
As Mary got closer though, she thought her eyes must be playing tricks on her in the darkness of early dawn. Because it looked as if the large boulder had been moved away from the mouth of the cave. So they walked faster now, and then broke into a run.
As Mary neared the cave, her fears were confirmed. The stone had been moved away and the tomb was open. The women carefully went inside and looked around. His body was gone! How could that be? Who would have done such a thing?
They instinctively grabbed for each other as they frantically looked around for clues of his whereabouts. But before they had a chance to do or say anything, two men in dazzling white clothes were suddenly there beside them. The women clutched each other tighter and looked away in fear.
But the men spoke quite calmly.
“Why are you here?” they asked.
“Did you really think that he would still be dead?
Do you not remember what he told you?”
“That he would be handed over to sinners, and be crucified – but on the third day – would rise again?”
The women slowly looked up, but the men were gone.
And then it all came rushing back to Mary. All of the teaching and words of Jesus. All of those many times when she sat and listened to him talk of the new kingdom – a kingdom in which she was no longer a slave – but free.
No longer a slave to her demons. But free to choose her own path.
No longer a slave to the disdainful way that others looked at her. But free to see her beauty through the eyes of God.
No longer a slave to her poverty. But free in the knowledge that she would inherit treasures in heaven.
She was a slave no longer. He had made her free.
And so then. So then she understood. She understood how she could live without him. She understood that she did not have to go back to her old life, because she was still that child of God that he saw in her.
In fact she even understood about the last being first, because she – Mary of Magdala – had just heard about the Lord’s resurrection before anyone else.
Of course, she knew that life would never be the same without him, but she also knew that she would never be the same either. He had conquered death, and that assured her that life with him could and would continue, even without his physical presence.
And she knew to the bottom of her soul, that it was true –that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Messiah.
She was suddenly full of energy and her face shone brightly and she almost flew down the mountain with the other women as they ran to tell the eleven and the others what they had seen and what she now knew to be true. She ran back in joy and thanksgiving to declare the good news of Jesus Christ!
Like Mary Magdalene, we also live in a world that is full of evil and sin. Like Mary, we long to have the physical presence of Jesus with us. We pray that he could be here to pick us up when we fall, or to heal us when we hurt, to comfort us when we are afraid. Or to drive away the demons that keep us from doing what we know that we should.
But instead, we also have only his spiritual presence.
Like Mary, we struggle to understand what this kingdom of God is supposed to be like and why it has to be so darn hard sometimes.
And like her, we have to go out into the world tomorrow and the next day and the next in the hope of that empty cave.
But also, like Mary of Magdala, we go in the sure and present knowledge that death has been conquered for us.
Like her, we understand that Jesus came for the sake of all of us, particularly those who struggle in life. He came to affirm that we are all unique children of God, made in God’s image.
And nothing, nothing, that the world does or says to us can change that.
So like Mary, we celebrate the resurrection and all that it means for us. Because through Christ’s victory over death, we know that we have been changed and that we will never be the same again.
And lastly - like Mary - we go out in joy and thanksgiving, as apostles to the world, to tell others what we have seen and heard and know to be true.
Jesus Christ is Risen today, alleluia! Alleluia!