11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon April 5, 2015
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.And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.” 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.
“WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! This is the most appropriate Hebrew word with which to begin Easter preaching. This word actually consists of two words. Together they mean “let us joyously praise God.” Hallelujah, sisters and brothers, hallelujah!
Let me add that if we let this day go by without at least one “hallelujah” – then we fail to understand what this day means. An Easter spent without at least one “Hallelujah” is a poor Easter! So can I hear a “hallelujah” from everyone this morning? Hallelujah, brothers and sisters, hallelujah!
Yes, Easter is about Easter bunnies but it is so much more. Yes, Easter is about Easter eggs but it is so much more. Yes, Easter is about Easter bonnets but it is so much more. Yes, Easter is about the coming of spring but it is so much more. Yes, Easter is about lilies but it is so much more. Yes, Easter is about chocolate marshmallow eggs (my personal favorite!) but it is so much more. Yes, Easter is about pretty clothes and cute shoes but it is so much more.
Sisters and brothers, Easter is all these things because Easter – at its root – is about what makes us joyful. Easter – at its root – is about what makes us stop crying – if only for a day. Easter – at its root – is about what makes us shout hallelujah!
We’ve just heard the account of the Risen Jesus in John’s Gospel. We have Mary Magdalene crying at the tomb. Her tears are very understandable. We would weep if we were in her place. Mary Magdalene is pivotal to the Easter story. She is the only one who comes to the tomb in all four gospels.
In our account from John, Mary comes by herself to the tomb. It’s still dark - a dangerous time for a woman by herself – a woman alone - to come to a graveyard. Isn’t that so? Talk about courage! Mary Magdalene has it! Why? We know the answer: Mary Magdalene was a woman of great courage because of her love for Jesus. Because of her love, she followed Jesus from her hometown of Magdala, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, some 3 miles from Capernaum. We know from both Mark and Luke’s Gospels that Jesus cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene.
So what were these seven demons? We cannot know for sure. Scholars speculate that the seven demons represented a serious health problem such as epilepsy which in those days would have been misunderstood as a form of demon possession. One thing we do know for certain – Mary Magdalene was a virtuous woman. She is certainly not the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene, along with other women, travel with the apostles as Jesus moves about.
Listen to this passage from the 8th chapter of Luke: “The twelve were with Jesus, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for him out of their resources.” So these women help fund the travels around Galilee as well as the final, fateful journey to Jerusalem.
Mary Magdalene is named as being near the crucified Christ in Mark, Matthew, and John’s Gospels. And, of course, she is the first witness to the resurrection. Because she is the first to proclaim the resurrection, because she is the first to witness the Risen Lord, Mary has rightly been called “The Apostle to the Apostles.” With such a scriptural pedigree, how is it possible to argue that women cannot serve in every form of church leadership?
Of course, as we know, today is about the empty tomb and the Risen Jesus. It is not about Mary Magdalene – and yet – it is about Mary Magdalene. It’s about everyone who loves Jesus enough to shed tears at his death. It’s about everyone who has courage enough to come alone in the dark to anoint Jesus. It’s about everyone who wants to cling to Jesus to keep him from leaving us.
I tell you, sisters and brothers, in the Gospel accounts, I’d much rather be Mary Magdalene than Peter and the other apostles, who flee when Jesus is arrested and crucified. Do any of the apostles come to the tomb before the women? No, they don’t! They are all hiding, huddled together, for fear of meeting the same end as Jesus.
When the Risen Jesus commissions the disciples to go throughout all creation proclaiming the good news – what is he asking of disciples – then as well as now? Are we to go to people and say: “You know - Jesus was a really good guy and you should believe in him?” Of course not!
Should we go to people and say: “You know - you need to be baptized and believe in Jesus if you want to avoid hell?” Is this the good news we’re called to proclaim? Of course not! Should we go to people and say: “You know - if you don’t come to church, you’ll go to hell? Is this the good news? Of course not! The truth, unfortunately, is that much of what gets proclaimed as good news isn’t good news – sometimes it’s downright bad news.
So what is the good news of the Gospels? What is the good news of Jesus Christ? The good news is that the crucified Jesus was raised by God from death to life. This is the good news! This and this alone, is the good news!
In the Old Testament, God is described as the One who delivered the people from the oppression of Egypt. Listen to how God describes himself according to the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery ...” (Exodus 20:2) This is why the Jewish people believed in God. This definition of God is found throughout the Old Testament.
But in the New Testament, we have a new definition of who God is. Easter discloses the true character of God. God is the One who raises Jesus from the dead. Believing this affirmation is how we find salvation, according to Romans 10:9: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hearts that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Now, brothers and sisters, Easter is about getting to heaven after we die. But it is much moiré than that. Easter is about you and me undergoing the same divine transformation that raised Jesus from death to life on that first Easter morning.
Just as the power of God poured into the death place, into that the burial place, into that tomb of Jesus and woke him from death to new life, so it will be for you and me. Just as the power of God transformed the crucified, whipped, mutilated, nail-punctured body of Jesus into a resurrected, glorious, eternal body, so it will be for you and me.
Listen to our brother Paul in the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain … But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” The first fruits of those who have died!
Jesus was the first to undergo this transformation of human flesh into eternal, resurrected flesh. Even though we have accounts of people being raised from the dead in the Bible – all those people, including Lazarus, had to suffer death again. They were not given resurrected, eternal bodies. But something incredible happened Easter morning. The dead flesh of Jesus became the resurrected, glorious, eternal flesh of the Risen Christ. And so it will be for us.
Easter is not just about getting to heaven. Easter is about bodies lying in death – in tombs everywhere – or in ashes – or in the sea – having the same divine experience as did Jesus that first Easter morning. This is the good news we proclaim. This is good news that is truly good news.
Sisters and brothers - Easter will happen to you. Easter will happen to me. Easter will happen to all who are called to be transformed as Jesus was. Just as the tomb could not hold Jesus so the tomb will not hold any of us forever. Just as death was defeated that first Easter, so it will be for you and me. Easter is coming for all of us who have died in Christ. Easter is coming for all of us!
As Ronald Rolheiser asserts: “Easter means it’s never too late to start again. Easter means no betrayal is final. Easter means no sin is unforgivable. Easter means there isn’t any loss that can’t be redeemed. Easter means that God never gives up on us! (edited) This is what today means, brothers and sisters, God never gives up on us! Good news, indeed! Hallelujah, sisters and brothers, hallelujah!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister