Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
Jesus’ command to Mary Magdalene – “Do not hold on to me,… but go to my brothers” (John 20:17) – seems to have the effect he wanted. She let go of his feet but held on to his words. “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her” (John 20:18).
A professor of psychology at the University of Mississippi taught a parenting class. In this class he always tried to emphasize reinforcement of good behavior. When your children do something good, reinforce the behavior by praising them with words and showing them your love. The professor’s wife was a youth counselor. He asked her to speak to his class about teenagers. In her professional life she used her maiden name, so no one in his class knew that they were married.
When she finished her lecture the professor stood up to thank her. He said to the class, “Didn’t Ms. Street do a wonderful job? Don’t you think we should reward her?” She expected a round of applause. Instead, her husband took her into his arms and gave her a passionate kiss. Then he looked at his students and said, “That is positive reinforcement! Class dismissed.”
Neither his class nor his wife expected the professor to kiss her. I assume that he eventually told his class who she was and they all got a good laugh out of it. But they were surprised by something they didn’t expect. This morning I want us to think about our expectations. What do you expect from Jesus?
Our Scripture lesson this morning is from John’s account of the resurrection. Early on Sunday morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. When she got there she saw that the stone had been rolled away so she went back and told the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb and Mary followed them. By the time she got back to the tomb Peter and John had already left. She stood outside the tomb weeping. Jesus came to her, spoke her name, and she recognized him.
I grew up with an image of Mary Magdalene from the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. She was a harlot who falls in love with Jesus, and sings a beautiful song. Yet the truth is that we don’t know much about her. Luke tells us that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her and that she, along with a group of other women, traveled with Jesus, supporting him with their own money. Mary was also at the cross when Jesus died and, according to John, was the first one to see Jesus after the resurrection.
Magdalene was not her last name. It was the name of the town where she lived, Magdala. It’s on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, about four miles from Capernaum, where Jesus lived. Magdala was a fishing village and in 2009 archaeologists discovered a synagogue in the town, so there were probably Jews who lived in Magdala, including Mary. Jesus probably preached in the synagogue in Magdala. That’s all we know about Mary from Magdala. Yet I would suggest that in some ways we have a lot in common with Mary Magdalene.
For one thing, like Mary, many of us live in darkness. Mary went to the tomb early on the first day of the week. The word “early” suggests that it was still dark outside, probably about 4:00 in the morning. Yet for Mary, the darkness was more than the fact that the sun had not come up. Jesus, her Lord, her Savior, and her friend, had been killed. Her life and her dreams had been shattered. She lived in the darkness of grief.
Darkness is a powerful metaphor. It comes in many forms. Certainly there is the darkness of death and grief. We all experience that at times and there has been more than enough of that at Sharon the last couple of months. There is the darkness of sin, which breaks our relationship with God, who is the source of light and love and life. There is the darkness of broken relationships with other people. This church went through that several years ago. Then there is the darkness that isn’t based on the circumstances of life, but on our internal world – the darkness of depression, fear, or confusion.
A young, teenage girl wrote a powerful expression of darkness. I don’t know her particular story, other than the fact that instead of living with her parents she lived at Buckhorn Children’s Center and wrote a poem titled “Inside of Me.”
Feeling confused in the darkness of night, Alone in my world, cold without light.
Anger rushing through my mistied head, Tears on my pillow, sweat on my bed.
Hatred filling the pulp of my heart, Fighting for love, confused where to start.
This hatred inside - all new to me. I once could love, twas clear to see.
Now full of hatred, I sometimes get scared,
I fight for love given and fight for love shared.
I want to go back to where I went wrong, And turn this hatred into a happy song.
I want to feel love and give it too! I want to sing my song, full of beauty anew.
What I feel inside is hard to explain,
It once was like sunshine but now it's like rain.
Until the light starts shining, I'll be the one to blame.
Until I know love once again, I shall live life in shame.
Mary went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. Her world was dark outside and inside. Like Mary, we know what it is like to live in darkness.
There is a second way that we are similar to Mary; we don’t expect much from Jesus. Mary went to the tomb expecting to find Jesus, but she expected him to be dead. She didn’t expect to see him walking around. She didn’t expect him to talk to her. She didn’t expect to receive his love. On Easter morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb with the expectation that Jesus was in her past, not her present or her future.
It seems to me, that is how many people approach Jesus. He was an historical figure, like Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, or Martin Luther King Jr. He lived in the past, but not now. Jesus was a great teacher who taught us how God wants us to live. He showed us how we are supposed to live. We know that he died on the cross for our sins was raised from the dead and now lives in heaven. But do we really expect to see Jesus alive today? Do we come to church with the expectation that we will meet Jesus here, that we will hear his word, that he will talk with us, call us by name, surround us with love and transform our lives?
If we believe that Jesus is alive today and present with us we won’t take our faith for granted. If we expect to meet Jesus when we come to church we would not treat our attendance at worship so casually. If we expect Jesus to speak to us through His word, our Bibles would not collect dust on a bookshelf and Sunday school and Bible studies would be overflowing with people. Honestly, what do we expect from Jesus? Do we expect Jesus, the living and reigning Lord of the universe to be present with us and to transform our lives?
This is an old sermon that I rewrote for today. I first preached it on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000. Sometimes, when I finish a sermon, I’ll write notes to myself, in case I happen to preach the sermon again. After I preached this sermon I wrote the following, “rethink and develop this idea (that we don’t expect enough from Jesus) for active and growing Christians.”
On Easter we expect that people will come to worship who only come on Christmas or Easter. We know that there are people who want a “spiritual fix” but don’t really want to take their faith seriously. On the Sunday after Easter, today, I assume that those of you who are here take your faith more seriously. So how does this idea of expecting more from Jesus connect with our lives?
To be honest, I wrestled with this idea all week, and I don’t have any great inspirations. I would love to hear your thoughts about our expectations of Jesus, and what it would look like if we expected Jesus to be present, to speak and to act. Ultimately, I think that if we are honest, even those of us who take our faith seriously, don’t expect enough, or much at all, from Jesus. We expect that he will forgive our sins and take us to heaven when we die. But I have a sense that Jesus wants to do so much more in our lives.
There is a third way that we are like Mary. We all need to experience the risen Christ. We need to know that Jesus is alive, not just up in heaven, but with us. We need to hear Jesus speak our name.
Mary went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, filled with the darkness of sorrow and grief, not expecting much. When she first saw Jesus she didn’t recognize him. Maybe it was because of the tears in her eyes. Maybe the resurrected Jesus looked different. The passage suggests that she might have been looking at the tomb rather than at Jesus. We don’t know why she didn’t recognize him. What we do know is that when Jesus spoke her name, she recognized him and her life was changed. The darkness of her sorrow was transformed into light and joy.
Like Mary, our basic need is to encounter the risen Jesus. We need to see Jesus and to hear him call our name. We need to experience his love. We need more than knowing about Jesus. We need to know Jesus. We need to hear him call our name. We need to experience the presence of our risen Lord and Savior.
We can’t create that type of experience. It is always an act of grace that God initiates. Mary didn’t plan to see Jesus alive. It was unexpected. It surprised her. Our experiences of Jesus will be unexpected surprises.
However, we can make it more likely that we will encounter Jesus. We can start by being open to something new. We can ask for Jesus to come to us. We can go places where we are likely to meet Jesus, such as worship. As the old saying goes, “You can eat a Big Mac at Taco Bell, but it’s more likely to happen at McDonald’s.” You can meet Jesus anywhere, but it’s more likely to happen at church, in God’s house and surrounded by God’s people. We can read God’s word that points us to Jesus, the living Word.
There is one more way that we are like Mary. When we meet Jesus we are given a job to do. After Mary recognized Jesus she grabbed his feet in amazement and love. She didn’t want to let him go. Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me. I still need to ascend back in to heaven.” Notice his next words to Mary. “Go to my brothers and tell them that I’m alive. Go, tell the world that you have seen me.” Our job is to tell the world that Jesus is alive, that we have seen him and experienced his love.
Last Sunday the sanctuary was wonderfully full. It’s exciting when there are that many people here, when there are people in the front pews. There is energy and life that fills this room. It’s contagious. Most of us would probably like to see the church that full on a regular basis.
There is one way for that to happen. All of us have the job of telling our friends, our neighbors, the people we work with, that Jesus is alive. All of us have the job of inviting people to church, where they can hear about and meet Jesus. The reason that people come to church is not because the pastor is such an eloquent and inspiring preacher. It isn’t because we have spectacular programs or a beautiful building. The reason people come to church is because they have been invited by friends. And then when they come, hopefully they experience the presence of God and the love of God’s people.
Go and tell your friends, and invite them to church. Say to them, “I have seen Jesus. I have experienced his love,” for Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!