Apostle to the Apostles
Happy Easter everyone!
In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive at the tomb nearly 2000 years ago. Because some of us have heard this story so many times there’s always a danger that the details become like wallpaper in someone’s home you’ve walked into a million times and you now no longer see the details of the wallpaper because it’s [literally] faded into the background. Gospel stories can be like that too. So can our liturgy. If we’re not careful, we’ll miss the beauty and detail.
Please allow me to help us focus in a little on what happened leading up to these first few verses in John’s telling of this story.
Mary Magdalene was arguably one of Jesus’s closest friends. When Mary first met Jesus she was in the throws of what would probably be identified today as PTS – Post-Traumatic-Stress. Scripture described Mary as having been possessed by demons. I don’t know anything about actual demons; but I do know a little bit about mental health and from what we can ascertain from historians, Mary had likely been the victim of emotional abuse – possibly physical abuse – in some manner and there were occasions when she would slip in and out of reality causing others around her to think of her as possessed.
After Mary was healed by Jesus she became one of his faithful followers, close to Jesus and close to the apostles and the other women who supported Jesus and His ministry. Some would argue that Mary, along with Peter, James and John, that Mary became Jesus’s most faithful follower. From what we can piece together from the scriptures and legends told about Mary, Jesus and his ministry became the most important part of Mary’s life. Mary is portrayed as “the apostle to the apostles.” [In 2016 Pope Francis elevated Mary to be on the same par as the other 12 disciples whom Jesus called. The Pope, of the Roman Catholic Church, elevated Mary, a woman, to be on the same par as men. That’s saying something; because until then, it was unheard of.]
I share all of this so that when you hear the Gospel read this morning you have some context leading up to the tomb. For Mary, it was just two days ago, somewhere around 35-36 hours ago that Jesus was betrayed, captured, taken into custody, led into a sham of a trial, beaten, spit upon, crowned with thorns, whipped 39 times, nailed to and hung on a cross, pierced with a sword and left to die.
When Jesus died and was taken down from the Cross, His body was laid in a borrowed tomb … and it was there that Jesus’s closest friends, most of them women at this point, hastily readied Jesus’s body for burial because a religious holiday was upon them.
After Jesus was laid in the tomb, His body was cleaned and anointed with burial oils. Seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloe and spices were placed in and around Jesus as was customary to the day.
When they placed Jesus in that tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the opening, not only was Jesus buried, but every hope they had ever had in a Messiah was buried right there alongside all of their hopes for who Jesus was supposed to be for them.
In a word, Mary was: SHATTERED. SHATTERED.
Can we relate to this? Can you relate to this?
Have you ever loved and lost someone … the someone who was the most important person in your life?
That’s how Mary felt. Jesus was everything to her. He was everything to Peter, James, John, Thomas, Matthew and Philip, and the others.
After Jesus died, Mary probably spent the last two days sobbing, screaming, horrified over what she had just witnessed. Talk about PTSD. [Mary probably had what Oprah would call, “The Ugly Cry” where you’re sobbing so badly you have tear-stained-clothes and snot running down your chin.] Mary was crushed.
We’re told that on the first day of the week, when it was still dark outside, Mary came to the tomb. Historians believe that Mary probably came to the tomb so early because they had hastily raced through the burial rites and maybe Mary thought she could finish what they could not finish on Friday. And besides, perhaps Mary thought, “where else would I be, than with my Lord?” So, while it was still dark outside, before anyone else would see her, still shattered and sobbing and choked up with tears, she arrives at the tomb and to her shock the stone had been rolled away.
You know the rest of the story:
Mary runs to tell the others.
Peter and John run back to the tomb.
They look in and we’re told John believes.
The boys take off running and when Mary arrives back at the tomb.
Mary peers inside and after conversing with angels she runs into Who she believes is the Gardener, only to have Jesus call her by name, and for Mary then to know exactly who He is – her Lord, her Messiah.
Jesus called her by name, “Mary!” just like on the day he saved her from her nightmares.
Then Jesus sends Mary to tell the other disciples that Jesus told her to tell them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary took off, for the second time this early morning, back to the upper room, to tell the disciples the Good News!
Let’s just sit with that for a minute. Let it sink in. So much happening. Mary goes from being shattered to complete joy, relief, purpose and mission, to spread the news that Jesus had Risen. That: He Is Alive!
After Jesus’s death and resurrection Mary knew how she would live out the rest of her life. She never stopped speaking about Him. Never stopped believing in Him. Never stopped telling the world – anyone who would listen – about the One Who saved her and set her free.
When you have loved and lost someone very special to you – you tend to tell the whole world what this person meant to you. Here’s another example:
A long time ago a great Italian musician lived who wrote operas. His name was Puccini. He wrote such masterpieces as Madame Butterfly and others. It is known that he contracted cancer when he was very young and so he decided to spend the last days of his life writing his final opera. When his friends and students would say to him, “Master, you are sick and ailing, take it easy and rest.” He would always respond by saying, “I am going to do as much as I can on this work and it is up to you, my friends, to finish it if I do not.” Puccini died before his opera was finished.
Puccini’s friends had a choice. They could return to life as usual … or they could build on his memory and complete what he had started. They chose to finish his work. Years later, Puccini’s opera was completed and performed for the first time, directed by the famed conductor, Toscanini.
When it came to the part in the opera where the Master stopped because he had died, Toscanini stopped everything, turned around to the audience, his eyes welled up with tears and said, “This is where the Master ends.” He wept silently for a short time, and then after a few moments, lifted his head, smiled broadly and said, “And this is where his friends began.” And he finished the opera.
When the most important person in the world to you has died, you tell the whole world about them, don’t you?
You continue to live the dream you shared together.
You live your life better because of who you are through the gift of them in your life.
When someone you know and love has died and ROSE AGAIN, then you don’t stop telling the whole world about them, and how your life has changed because of who they are IN YOU.
How does the world know of your love for Jesus?
How does the world know how much He impacted your life?
How does the world know that you place your whole trust and life in Him?
Puccini’s friends did his life justice by finishing his great masterpiece.
Mary Magdalene did Jesus’s life justice by the way she lived her life, until her last dying breath, proclaiming Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
I’m excited to see how you will live your life showing the world Who Jesus is in you?
And, I’m excited to see how I will live my life showing the world Who Jesus is in me?
Know you are in my prayers; thank you for keeping me in yours.
Happy Easter everyone.
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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog
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