It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for me to muse about what my sermon on Sunday is going to look like. Aren’t you lucky?
To sum up where I’ve been throughout this Lenten series, here is a list of the people I’ve focused on, in order:
The Bystanders, The 12 as a whole, Peter, John, Judas, and The Jewish Leadership.
This week I was going to just do Mary, Mother of Jesus, but I realized something: we have a grand total of 3 verse that have anything to do with just Mary, mother of Jesus. I can speculate on what she is feeling, but only as an outside without any real experience to empathize with her. I can pretend I know the pain of child loss, especially senseless child loss, but I can’t actually empathize. “Mary was at the cross, she was sad, and John took her as his mother,” it a pretty short and crappy sermon.
Though a short sermon gets the families home for ham sooner. So maybe…..?
So I thought about this for a bit and I decided we have a lot of women in the gospel story of Holy Week. Off the top of my head, we have Mary brother of Lazarus, Martha, Mary mother of Jesus, Mary Madeline, and the other women who were watching the tomb. Women play just a pivotal role in Christ’s death and resurrection and this entire event would be entirely different if they weren’t involved.
I’m going to try to go in chronological order with the women. How that will look as a practical matter is still to be determined but as a broad concept, I want to tell the story of Holy Week from the eyes of these women. What did they experience, what did they feel, why did they do the things they did?
The first, then, is obviously Mary brother of Lazarus. I touched on this part of the story with my Judas sermon but Mary brings a whole different view. I find it interesting that she seems to know what is going on before even Jesus’ betrayer does. She seems to understand that his end has come. This is really her way of mourning, her way of giving Christ an amazing gift at the end of his life, her way of accepting his death.
I am reminded of lesson I got in seminary about funeral honorariums. A lot of people in the class, myself included, initially thought that doing a funeral for a member of the congregation was just part of the job. We certainly wouldn’t ask for honorariums and would have a hard time taking them. (Oh, how innocent and pure we were as Juniors.) Then we were hit with a stark reality check: the honorarium is a way for the family to thank you for helping them mourn. In essence, it is part of the mourning process. To deny them that is to deny them healthy mourning.
So, applying it to here, we have become Judases if we refuse to allow them to present their gifts of mourning. We may not do it out of greed, but we have decided we know better what they should do with their money, and we’ve put our own desires above theirs.
So Mary is mourning in a beautiful way. And Martha isn’t, focusing on fixing the meal and working. So much could be said about that, but I’ll simply put this in there: people mourn in different ways. Not every way is healthy, not every way is proper, but each of us mourns differently. What Martha missed, though, is allowing herself to enjoy the company she had and instead worried so much about the appearance and the work that she missed the opportunity to mourn with Jesus. Still need to flush that out some more.
Then we have Mary mother of Christ at the cross. I don’t even know if I have words; maybe silence will speak louder than I ever could. A moment for mourning, both for Christ and for those who we have lost. A time of mourn.
Then we have Mary Magdalene. Who went to prepare the body. Who found the tomb empty. Whom Jesus appeared to first.
I am reminded of Lamb by Christopher Moore. Now, I won’t talk about any romantic feelings between Mary and Jesus, going one or both directions, but I think I can safely say she has a devotion to him that the other disciples and followers did not. I would argue that she is probably his closest companion. There is something special between them, and I can’t help but think that Moore touches on it better than anyone. Even if she is madly in love with him (entirely possible – Jesus is pretty awesome), she knows who he is and knows, at least in her soul, how this is going to end. You don’t fall in love with Jesus and expect a long, happy life. If nothing else, the Pharisees have given her ample reason to fear Jesus’ death. I don’t see anything in scripture that lets me think she was shocked or surprised by his death.
Pained, jarred, and saddened? Absolutely. Shocked? Probably not.
His resurrection, though, that was pretty amazing and shocking. What I think we need to focus on, given her devotion, is that she didn’t recognize Jesus even when she was so devoted. If his closest companion, the woman whom so much is written and speculated about the nature of their relationship, cannot recognize him, the change that happened was miraculous. He was no longer the same man. His resurrection was so healing and transformative that the new cannot be recognized as the old.
We are so changed by Christ. Whenever someone interprets new life as a Spring thing, with baby chicks and bunnies, I want to scream. The new life is not a birth; it is a rebirth. It is taking something that was before Christ and transforming it into its perfect form. Christ was transformed from is flawed body into a perfect version of his human self. Radical transformation.
So yeah, that’s where we’re going. From a point of mourning to a point of radical transformation given out of radical love. It’s ought to be a decent sermon.
To preaching and sharing the Word.