The Scriptures tell us that when Jesus’ ministry first began, he was traveling throughout the towns in Galilee preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and healing every sickness and disease.
One of those people who was healed, whose life was changed forever was Mary Magdalene. The Gospel of Luke tells us that she was healed from demon possessions, and from that day forward she followed Jesus. She paid her own way and she went wherever he went.
It’s the kind of thing that you do – give up everything you have and follow someone when you have been changed – when you have seen a great light – someone whose life reflects such beauty and truth that you cannot help but follow.
So follow she did.
Like the other disciples, she was there when Jesus fed the 5,000, when he healed the leper, and when he taught in parable after parable.
And unlike most of the disciples, she stayed through the tense difficult moments, through the trial, the sentencing, and while Jesus was perched on the hill in Golgotha, life draining from his body as he lay stretched out on the cross in the agonizing death of crucifixion, Mary was there – at the foot of the cross until he died.
To say that she was stricken with grief is to minimize the depth of pain in her soul. Jesus was EVERYTHING.
And now – the one who had made life make sense – the one who had righted the wrongs and given her hope in a way she had never had it before – was GONE.
Her world was clouded in despair., for It seemed that the light had gone out CANDLE
But something strange, unexpected happened to Mary that morning when she approached the tomb to honor Jesus’ body –
So mysterious that at first she couldn’t see it.
The stone was gone. And the tomb was empty.
At first, this made the darkness even darker. Not only was Jesus gone, but someone had come and stolen his body. The despair was deep and Mary could not control her sorrow and grief.
She runs to share the news of such sorrow with John and Peter – They have taken my Lord – and we don’t know where they have put him. He is gone.
Peter and John race to the grave but they find a most mysterious thing.
The body is indeed gone, but the graveclothes lie neatly placed where the body once was.
And the light of what had happened began to slowly emerge in John’s heart – and he believed.
But Mary could not see. She could not see – it was dark for her – not even the brilliance of the angels could take it away - and so when she saw the man nearby – she couldn’t see who he was – she assumed he was the gardener. And she assumes – perhaps he has taken the body – please let me know where it is – the darkness in Mary has become too great to see what is even right before her. The light of hope and life within her has gone dim.
And then she hears her name –
And something in her spirit comes alive again.
The spark is reignited.
And she knows – that she is speaking with Jesus.
He is alive.
Her heart is bursting with joy and disbelief – the roller coaster of emotions is more than she knows what to do with – and all she wants to do is to jump into his arms, to touch him and feel that he is real, and to stay with him – to ask her questions and to experience his love and comfort.
But the first thing Jesus says to her – is “Do not hold onto me.”
It’s a crucial moment in Mary’s story – where something incredible begins to happen.
Because up until this point, the life of faithfulness was dependent on Jesus. He was central – she needed him – in the physical sense to ground her – he was the rock, he was the thing that made this work.
But Jesus is clear that now things will be different.
Yes, I have risen. I am alive! It is joyful. And yet – the story is not yet complete, for I am not here to stay, I am not here so that things can go back to the way they were, I am here that you might know that everything is new.
For I will be ascending to the father and
there will be no distinction. My God is your God. My father is your father. You do not need me to be with you physically. For now the story will be alive IN YOU.
The new life, the hope, the power, the presence of the living God. It is yours, just as much as it has been mine all these years together.
And then he tells her to GO! Go! Tell the Others.
He doesn’t pause and say, Now, Mary, this is all a little new to you. So, let’s just take it slow – maybe let’s enroll you in some bible and theology classes, maybe a small support group, you know until you are comfortable and ready to begin sharing the good news of the resurrection. When you feel ready.
No! He tells her to Go.
And this time, when Mary runs back to the disciples. For the second time that day. She is a changed woman.
For the light that she thought had gone out has come back to life. - CANDLE
And when she arrives to tell them what has just happened, she is not just a bearer of good news, she herself has also BECOME the good news.
For the resurrection of Jesus Christ has happened in her.
And there is Nothing holding her back from following Jesus with everything she has.
Part of the reason that this resurrection story has been passed on from one generation to another for two thousand years is that
This isn’t JUST a story about Jesus.
THIS is OUR STORY.
For the power of a God who makes life out of death and light out of darkness is that this God doesn’t just keep this power for God’s self – but the power of resurrection is OURS TOO.
We’ve lived it. Our lives became living walking breathing examples of the power of the Gospel.
Because we have walked through the moments of great darkness, we have suffered great loss, we have battled addiction, depression, survived violence, abuse, and racism, we have been told that we weren’t worthy of God’s love and that we were were going to hell, we have been so caught up in our despair, in the challenge of just getting through one hour of one day, that we believed that the light of hope had indeed gone out – and that we would ever see the light again –
But then often in times when we least expected it - the light returned. We found that God was still with us and hope was still possible. That something in our spirit that we thought was dead was actually still ALIVE -– and that resurrection was REAL.
Our resurrected lives continue to testify to the power of this story.
And even though this is true – we sometimes forget – we sometimes create stories that put up barriers…
When the truth is that we are FREE. FREE indeed. There is nothing holding you back.
The LIGHT is NOW in US.
And no amount of FEAR, Darkness, and Death can ever put it out.
For the risen Lord lives in you.
You are the good news.
And you do not need to be afraid.
There are few things that tell this story better than the sacrament of baptism.
In baptism, we celebrate the ways that God washes us new, and claims us as God’s own. In baptism, we celebrate our identity as beloved children of God, in whom, the light of the living God is present.
In baptism, we celebrate that just as Christ has died and been resurrected, so we too have died to our former selves – died to a way of living that failed to honor our own beauty and belovedness, died to a way of living that did not embrace love and community at its heart, died to a way of living that insisted on power and control for ourselves – CANDLE - and that we have come alive – to the power of the resurrection, freeing us to live as God invites us to – grounded in love and beauty, claiming our identity as beloved Children of God.
It was tradition in the Christian church for many centuries, to use the season of Lent as a time of reflection and conversion – for people who were deciding whether they really wanted to join the Christian community – to do that discernment and then, by the grace of God – to choose to accept Jesus and be baptized on Easter Sunday. To claim their status as beloved and to join in the participation of resurrection with Christ.
And it is our privilege to get to celebrate the sacrament of baptism for one of our own beloved students – who in these past few years with us has experienced just such an encounter with God – assuring him more and more that God’s love is indeed for him, and is shaping and moving him into a new creation – that the old has gone and the new has come. That the resurrection story is his story as well.
So, Monty – I’d like to invite you forward for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism