The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Today we give thanks to God for the life and faith of Mary Magdalene; a woman who we know from the Gospels of Mark and Luke had seven demons cast out of her. The Gospels tell us twelve different times of how Mary’s post-exorcism, baptized life was a continual response and outpouring to Christ in thanksgiving for the deliverance from sin, death, and the devil that she had so freely and undeservedly received from Him. Her post-exorcism life—her new life in Christ—was a life that was lived out in the joy of her justification, the fruits of which were witnessed in her daily vocations as she supported and cared for Christ and His apostles and bore witness to Him and the life found only in Him. This is the woman who was tasked by Christ Himself to go and proclaim the message of His victorious resurrection and impending ascension to the apostles, who were still laying low and hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid. And she did just that, proclaiming the victorious joy of the resurrection to a room full of guys who would still not believe until Christ Himself would appear later that evening in table fellowship, showing them His wounds and proclaiming to them a peace that surpasses all understanding.
But that does bring up a good point. St. Mary Magdalene was a wonderful example of the faith, but…St. Mary Magdalene was still human, wasn’t she? She wasn’t perfect. She wasn’t without sin. She was no different than any other child of Adam in that regard. I mention this, not to knock her down a few pegs, but only because, as is often the case, the saints who’ve gone before us sometimes have their lives white-washed a bit; a little revisionist history. Simul justus et peccator becomes only justus and no peccator. We sometimes wind up portraying the person as a perfect and sinless saint who dwelt among a bunch of sinful mortals like us. People are always shocked to hear how sinful (not imperfect or slightly flawed) guys like Noah and Moses and Elijah and Abraham were. They weren’t perfect. Perfectly forgiven and redeemed, but not perfect. The same goes for Mary Magdalene. Without trying to conflate the Scriptures, we do know from Luke’s Gospel that Mary was going to that tomb on Easter Sunday morning, not to greet her risen Lord and Savior, but to anoint a corpse. The angel who greets her and the other women at the empty tomb gently chastises and points them back to their Lord’s own Word. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Consider also the fact that Jesus uses prohibitive terminology in His resurrection interaction with Mary. “Do not cling to Me.” To be sure, much has been written on these words, and there has been no shortage of conjecture. Many people, with the best intentions, have tried “cracking” this code, treating it as a problem to be solved. For some, these words of prohibition conjure up an image of a Jesus who doesn’t want to be bothered or mobbed on; a Jesus who performs a Heisman move on Mary, too busy or too great to be touched. (You can understand why these same folks feel the need to pray to saints, hoping that they’ll make intercession to a God who’s too busy or too high and holy to deal with the likes of them.) For others, especially those from a more reformed background, Jesus is understood as saying here that Mary is not to cling to Him with physical hands, but only with the hands of faith, as if Jesus no longer has any need for real and tangible means; only for the symbolic and “spiritual.”
Well…we certainly know what this doesn’t mean, right? But…what can we say about this? We can say with all certainty that God’s people have always had a bit of a problematic history with trusting in Him above all things. God’s people have had some history with romanticizing the past. Just think how Israel clung to the past and longed for the good old days when they had the flesh pots of Egypt. Let me ask you this: Have you ever been to a high school reunion? Have you ever been on some people’s Facebook pages? If so, then you know what it means to cling to the past. Again, remember that Mary was heading out to that tomb on Easter Sunday morning, seeking out a dead and decomposing Jesus. Her first and natural instinct upon encountering the resurrected Jesus is to take hold of Him and never want to let go again. She lost Him once, and she doesn’t want to lose Him again. Your Lord knows the heart. He knows that at that moment she is still clinging to a Jesus that existed in her mind and heart before Good Friday; not the Lord of Life standing before her in that moment. Jesus gently “corrects” her. With these words He gently teaches a lesson in what not to do; a lesson He already taught through Solomon centuries before; a lesson about not longing for the “good old days.” This is why your Lord admonishes her in all love, putting her hands to the proverbial plow and setting her gaze aright, not looking back at what once was, but looking now at what is—the victorious, crucified and resurrected Savior; the One who has conquered sin, death, and the devil; the One the grave cannot hold. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
This gentle word of admonishment at once drives away the dark pall of fear and doubt, and instead turns her around and opens her eyes, her heart, and her mind to the joyous, eternal resurrection victory reality standing before. Through the working of the Holy Spirit in that Word of Christ, this blessed example of faith obeys her Lord’s command and calling. That’s really what this is all about. St. Mary Magdalene hears and holds fast to Christ’s Word and assurance, obeying His command, departing with a peace that surpasses all understanding, knowing full well that she has Him not only for forty more days, but for all eternity. She lets go; better yet, she is released from that darkness of fear that worries about losing Jesus again, set free to joyously and confidently trust with a faith that only God Himself can give that she will never lose Him. He will be nearer to her now than ever, seated at God’s right hand in all power and glory, and thus forever with all those who are His. “Go and tell My brothers….” (This is the first time in all of John that Jesus refers to the disciples as “His brothers.” Things on this side of the cross and this side of the tomb are forever different.) “Go and tell My brothers that I am ascending to My Father and your Father.” This is the Good News St. Mary Magdalene runs to share with her brothers in the faith; the Good News that the crucified Christ lives; the victory is won; the Good News that He is their brother and God is their Father; the Good News that He, as their brother, is with them now and will be with them always—victorious—until the very end of the age; Good News that the apostles will hear their Lord speak verbatim forty days later at His ascension.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Mary’s peace and joy is our peace and joy today. “I am with always, to the very end of the age.” Nothing has changed! Christ lives. The victory is won. The Lamb of God, who once was slain, reigns victorious. And this Lord of Life doesn’t rule from afar or only in the past or only in the unforeseen future, but here and now, in our very midst. He reigns eternally. Immanuel lives! He comes today to once again bespeak His Word of peace and victory. He comes today to once again have table fellowship with us, feeding us with His victorious body and blood. He comes today, inviting us to come to Him, and not just grasp, but to take and eat; take and drink, for the complete forgiveness of all our sin. He comes today to feed us and nourish us in the most intimate, loving way with a peace that surpasses all understanding; the same peace that was Mary’s and all who’ve ever trusted in Him above all things. He comes today, just like He did with Mary, sending us out into a world veiled in a pall of sinful darkness, doubt, and despair, sending us out in the full confidence of faith to speak and share His Word of Life; His Word of ever-abiding grace, mercy, and peace.
We give thanks today to our heavenly Father for providing us with the example of life and faith that was daily lived out in our dear sister and mother in the faith—Mary Magdalene. We give thanks to God for the joy and peace that was hers in justification; repentant joy and peace that bore abundant fruit and was witnessed in her daily words and deeds as a baptized and redeemed child of God.
May God grant us this same confidence and joy and peace in our daily vocations. And may the peace of God; this same peace that was Mary’s; the peace that surpasses all human understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
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