March 27, 2016
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 20:1-18
It is such a small beginning: a woman and a man talking in a cemetery in the dark early on a Sunday morning. The woman is Mary of Magdala—Mary Magdalene. In movies she is usually portrayed as having the looks of Angelina Jolie and the morals of Mother Theresa—an interesting combination, to be sure. The DaVinci Code said she was so special that Jesus fell deeply in love, married, and had children with her.
There is nothing in the Gospels about any of that, of course, but Luke chapter 8 tells us this: The twelve were with Jesus, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, one named Mary Magdalene from who seven demons had gone out….”
Now I imagine as sophisticated modern people you don’t believe in demons, except maybe for the week after you saw the movie “The Exorcist”. Instead of thinking of demons as little Sulphurous creatures that whisper evil suggestions into your ear, New Testament demons are more like insidious and repetitious thought patterns that lead a person into self-destructive behavior. Mary had seven of these, so in our language it would not be unreasonable to think Mary Magdalene probably had an addiction or two—maybe she a opium problem and a wine problem. Maybe she cut herself and tried to kill herself a couple of times. Maybe she was also addicted to pornography and loved spreading malicious gossip like a school yard bully.
Mary Magdalene follows Jesus because he loved her enough to remove her demons and give her a new life, one connected to the love of God. Of all the people living on earth in AD 30 she has an encounter with this man in a graveyard early on Sunday morning.
And who is this man?
Let’s recap—this man was a Jewish Rabbi who was tortured and then executed by the government that uses a perfected technology called crucifixion, which only kills you after it inflicts maximum psychological and physical pain as you hang stark naked in the hot sun with everyone mocking you in your shame and suffering.
The religious leaders turn him over to the government not just because he threatens their power by proclaiming the arrival of God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven, but mainly because he saves all the wrong people. They grumble and say, “he welcomes sinners and eats with them”.
Why do they care about that? Because these are the people God is supposed to hate. People like Zacchaeus—Chief Tax-collector who worked for the Romans collecting taxes from Jews to pay for the soldiers occupying their land: Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner and brings salvation to him.
If you are a progressive Democrat just imagine your progressive Jesus enjoying fine meals with the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz up in Trump Towers in Manhattan. If you are a conservative Republican just imagine your Tea-Party Jesus enjoying fine meals with Hillary and Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders at the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas.
No, this is too much. If he keeps this up he’ll be breaking bread with terrorists and other lunatics.
No, we got to get rid of this guy!
Just a man and woman in a cemetery when the man calls her name—Mary—and changes her for good.
She runs to tell the disciples but in Luke’s Gospel we are told the men take her words as an idle tale and don’t believe her.
But Jesus finally encounters them in the upper room behind locked doors and it’s as if a giant asteroid has crashed into the ocean and a massive tsunami starts spreading in all directions across the cosmos.
After a few weeks there are about 120 believers in Jesus and the resurrection and after Peter preaches on Pentecost with his hair on fire 3000 men and women are also overwhelmed by the tsunami.
Three years later on his way to abuse Christians Paul is also engulfed by Jesus and the resurrection. Twenty years later he would write his little church in Galatia: ”I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live but Christ lives in me and the life I live in the body I live through the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself FOR ME.
The waves keep moving out from the resurrection of Jesus and here we sit today, dripping wet.
Without resurrection there would be no church and no people. There’d be no choir singing about a Crucified Messiah who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, forever and ever. Not here—not anywhere, at no time.
A man and a woman talking in a graveyard and now all this!
Nadia Bolz-Weber, former drug addict and stand-up comic is a Lutheran pastor of a church in Denver called House for All Sinners and Saints. Nadia is covered with tatts—but the biggest one is of Mary Magdalene on her forearm.
One day Nadia gets a text from one of her newer members, a Unitarian woman, named Andie, who says she may need some pastoral care.
They meet the next day for coffee and Andie says, “I think I am having a crisis of faith.” To which Nadia thinks, “What could that possibly mean for a Unitarian?”
“Yeah”, Andie continues, “I think I believe in Jesus.”
Nadia responds, “I’m so sorry! But sometimes Jesus just hunts your skinny-self down and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, page 146
Will Willimon thinks the promise of the risen Jesus to be us always, even unto the end of the ages, is not just a word of comfort but something of a threat to the church: “Yeah, I’m going to keep hounding you bunch of losers until you to get out there with my people, who are the wrong people, and tell them about me and the resurrection. Do yourself a favor and listen to him on his podcast from when he was Bishop of the United Methodist Church in North Alabama
Back in the 1970s my U. S. congressman in the 5th district of Atlanta was Andrew Young. Young recalls that in 1964 Martin Luther King was in jail in Birmingham so they planned a march from New Pilgrim Baptist Church to the city jail for the afternoon of Easter Sunday.
They set off, 5000 strong dressed in their Sunday best, until suddenly they run into the police and firemen with hoses blocking their way.
Young said they didn’t know what to do so he asked the people to get down on their knees and pray…But suddenly Rev. Charles Billups, jumped up and hollered, “The Lord is with this movement! Off your knees! We’re going on!”
Bull Connor yelled to his men, “Stop ‘em, stop em!”
Young said, “But none of the police moved a muscle…Even the police dogs …were now perfectly calm….[and] I saw one fireman, tears in his eyes, just let the hose drop at his feet. Our people marched right between the red fire trucks, singing, “I want Jesus to walk with me.”
Young says that he’ll never forget one old woman who became ecstatic when she marched through the barricades. As she passed through she shouted, “Great God Almighty done parted the Red Sea one mo’ time!”
Page 229-230 Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge
As Thomas Long wrote, “A Christ whose resurrection occurs only in our minds has no right to call us to put our bodies on the line for justice.” Christian Century, March 16, 2016 Shaunthea Monroe article
But Easter is not an idea, but Jesus of Nazareth, who as Willimon says, “lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly” and is still saving the wrong people—including people like us.