Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sermon July 22, 2018 - St Mary Magdalene

July 22, 2018: St Mary Magdalene                                                                                            
St Stephen Lutheran Church
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I wasn’t quite sure at first why the story of Ruth and Naomi
was assigned as the Old Testament reading for today,
the feast day of Mary Magdalene,
other than they are all three women in the Bible,
when so many of the characters of the Bible are men.
The stories of Ruth and Mary Magdalene are completely unrelated on the face of it.
Ruth is a Gentile who marries a Jewish husband,
and, when he dies, she adopts her mother-in-law’s land and religion.
Mary Magdalene is not a Gentile, and she is unmarried –
Two different women, two different stories,
but one common trait unites them both –
death cannot part them from the ones they love.

Ruth’s call to marriage
had brought her into new covenant relation;
and covenant relationships cannot end with death,
or they lose all meaning.
Economic necessity and ancestral ties
are no longer binding –
what is binding for Ruth is Naomi, Naomi’s people, and Naomi’s God.
We know that Ruth had a choice,
because her sister went back.
But Ruth’s choice had been made
before her husband died,
and we cannot know whether it was her love for her mother-in-law,
or her loyalty to her departed husband,
or the joy she had found in the worship of the God of the Jews,
all of these, or none of these,
which inspired her to remain.
All we have are her words to Naomi:
‘Where you go, I will go,
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die –
there will I be buried.
May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’

a cave hewn into rock,
for he who had freed her from evil was dead
and she may as well have been.
Where you die, I will die; there will I be buried  

Even as she had been with him
from the day he had called her and freed her from demons,
she had been with him until his death.
She saw where the tomb was,
and when the Sabbath was over she went to anoint his body.

But the body was gone,
and it seemed as if someone had cheated her out of keeping her solemn vow,
to refuse to be parted from Jesus.
May the LORD do thus and so to me and more as well if even death parts me from you.
We do not forget our loved ones when they die,    
we do not turn our backs on them and go back into the life we had before we met them.
We tend their graves,
we dust off their pictures,
we tell their stories to each other
and honor their families as our own
and say their prayers now that they can no longer say them.
May the LORD do thus and so to me and more as well if even death parts me from you.

That even Jesus’ corpse had been taken away now was unbearable.
And so she stood weeping outside the tomb,
and we are not to imagine a biting of the lip, a few silent drops running down the face,
but a full-on cry of bereavement, an anguish of despair, an endless overflowing flood of tears.

before Mary Magdalene could become the apostle to the apostles,
bringing the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the world,
they each had to come to the moment of truth –
is love strong as and stronger than death?
Ruth says, ‘Do not send me away from my family or my God or I will die;’
Mary Magdalene wails, ‘I will not leave my Lord, though he is dead.’

In a few minutes,
we will pray that we, like Mary Magdalene, may be messengers of the resurrection.
I think that we should pray that prayer.
If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be in the bulletin.
And yet, I think sometimes we say the prayer
and assume that it is that easy,
to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus,
and that if we’re not,
it’s because we need a better technique,
maybe a six-week course in evangelism,
or because it’s not our particular calling or ‘gift of the Holy Spirit.’
There was no technique to Mary’s witness,
and she was not particularly gifted.
Mary Magdalene became a witness to the resurrection
because death could not separate her from Jesus.
Jesus has died,
but there are those who take their stand with Mary Magdalene
in the garden at the empty tomb,
saying, May the LORD do thus and so to me and more as well if even death parts me from you.
These are the ones who hear Christ’s voice calling their name;
they find that though he has died, he is risen.
Perhaps it is that the Church needs no evangelism techniques,
but simply to stand at the tomb of Christ and refuse to leave until he calls us.

‘Do not hold on to me,’
Jesus says to Mary Magdalene,
and perhaps we find ourselves wondering at this seemingly harsh word.
Theologically, we can think about the nature of the resurrection in the Gospel of John;
but there are other ways we can think about this saying as well.
Ruth would rather have died than be separated from God,
and thus she was drawn into Israel’s mission,
Mary Magdalene would rather have died than be separated from her Lord,
and thus she was drawn into Christ’s mission,
to be something she never could have dreamed of being –
the apostle to the Apostles,
the first to carry the news that changes the world.
The demands of Ruth and Mary Magdalene are not so they can have a better more comforting life,
but because they have been called to a living relationship.
And so Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus
draws her not into a stagnant holding onto something,
but into a rapturous giving away of herself.
Your people shall be my people;
and your God my God.

And this is the life of the Church,
should the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit
be given faith enough to take her stand at the tomb.
Where you die, I shall die;
there shall I be buried…
but there shall I be raised.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!