Saturday, July 21, 2007

St. Mary Magdalene

St. Mary Magdalene
St. John 20:1-2, 10-18
July 21–22, 2007

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Saint Mary Magdalene is a picture of the one, holy, Christian and Apostolic Church. She is neither the “wife” nor the “lover” of Jesus Christ. She is a penitent sinner covered in the blood of the Christ. She is the first “evangelist” to the Apostles of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. She is an example of faith and devotion to us as we are penitents, witnesses, and “evangelists” of sorts of the gifts Christ gives His Church.

The Gospels of Mark and Luke write that Jesus drove out seven demons from Mary Magdalene. She was under Satan’s power until the Lord came to her and spoke the Word that drives demons away. We too were under Satan’s power. We were born into sin; slaves of Satan; bound and owned by the prince of the world. The Word of Christ draws us to the font of Holy Baptism where Satan is cast out and Jesus is put on us.

The Rite of Holy Baptism takes this seriously. Luther’s revision of the Roman Catholic Rite of Holy Baptism left the exorcism intact. You might think it’s a weakness of medieval religion to leave an exorcism in the Baptismal rite. Beloved, Satan is real. Sin is real. Satan must be cast out before the Holy Spirit makes His home in us. So it is today that the pastor proclaims, depart, unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit, and, I adjure you, you unclean spirit, that you depart from this child in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther took it seriously. So should we.

Consider also these words in the baptismal rite: Do you renounce the devil and all his works and ways? The power of God’s name and God’s Word with the water washes away sin, death, and Satan. Just as Jesus rescued Mary Magdalene from the demons of hell, so He claims you as His precious child rescued from hell.

Saint Mary Magdalene is one of several women who attended to the Lord’s needs. These women provided for the Lord and the Twelve from their own resources. Perhaps they gave them food and clothing. Perhaps they mended their sandals or patched clothes. Mary Magdalene rendered to the Lord grateful and cheerful service for all He did for her.

The Church gives back to the Lord what belongs to Him to support the ministry of the Gospel in this place and around the world. Mary Magdalene gave to the Lord from her very means and substance. Mary is our example. We give abundantly and generously to ensure the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments remains among us. We give not because we have to give, but because we get to give. As the hymn says, we give Thee but Thine own, /Whate’er the gift may be; /All that we have is Thine alone, /A trust, O Lord, from Thee.

Mary Magdalene was a witness of our Lord’s death. Though she didn’t understand the full importance of Christ’s death, she followed Him all the way to the cross. Every time she heard the preaching of the Gospel, she recalled that sad Friday afternoon where she stood vigil with her Lord Christ as He accomplished the salvation of the world.

The Church’s life revolves around the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There are really two seasons in the Christian Church: Easter, and getting ready for Easter. We cannot see Easter without first seeing Good Friday. Our Lord’s death for sin is front and center in everything we say and do as Christians. That is why we have crosses in our churches. That is why it is a salutary custom that our crosses have our Lord’s Body upon them. A cross with Christ’s bloodied body upon it is a sermon without words. The Lamb of God suffers and dies for all. The Lamb of God robs Satan of his most prized possession: mankind. When we hear the Apostolic preaching of the cross, we stand in the long line of witnesses who hear Jesus proclaim to Mary Magdalene and to you and me: It is finished.

Saint Mary Magdalene’s highest privilege is to see the resurrected Savior first. Three times she wonders out loud who has taken away her Lord Jesus. Mary is filled with sadness. She is hoping against all hope that Jesus would return from the dead as He promised. Her hope is not in vain. She meets a man whom she thinks is the gardener. All it took was the mention of her name, Mary. At His Word, she recognizes Jesus.

At His Word the Church recognizes Jesus. We do not cling to Him as Mary wants to cling to Him. Soon He will ascend into heaven. One day we will join Him, but that day isn’t here yet. Now that Christ is raised from the dead, we seek Him where He promises He will be. He is present wherever the people of God gather to hear His Word and receive His gifts. We do not cling to strange signs, visions, and prophecies. We cling to His external Word proclaimed from pulpit, font, and altar. Here is where the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ.

Mary ran to tell the Good News about Jesus to His Eleven chosen men. His Eleven chosen men, later to add Saint Matthias, would tell the Good News about Jesus to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world. Telling the Good News about Jesus is not strictly your pastor’s responsibility. It is the Church’s responsibility. Together we speak the Gospel of Christ to our neighbor who doesn’t know what Jesus does for us. Like Mary Magdalene, we leave Christ’s side here and go into the world with Good News. Christ has triumphed over death. He is alive and ready to make you His precious child through water and Word in Baptism. He is ready to nourish you with His Body and Blood in the Supper. He is ready to forgive your sins in Absolution. He is ready to nurture you through careful study of His Word with other brethren in Christ. God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Our common task with Mary Magdalene is to say I have seen the Lord!

Today we honor Saint Mary Magdalene not for who she was, but for Who she placed her trust. Today is all about Jesus and the wonderful things He did for her. Today is also all about Jesus and the wonderful things He does for you. Saint Paul is right when he proclaims: To you the word of this salvation has been sent. Today salvation has come to this house of God we call Saint Paul. Today you, like Mary Magdalene, have seen the Lord! In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.