n my reading this year of the New Testament stories surrounding Holy Week, the thread of thought that has stood out to me is how much Jesus seemed to need his friends as he faced this terrible crisis in his life. In times of need Jesus did what we all need to do, he surrounded himself with friends and family. A week before his death he went to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus their brother, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Simon, whom Jesus had healed of leprosy, also shared in this intimate reunion meal of close friends. (Jn 12:1-8; Mk 14:3-9). His Last Supper in the Upper Room was essentially a farewell fellowship meal shared with the Apostles who had walked with him up and down the dusty trails of Palestine, camped out with him under the night stars, assisted in his ministry and been his supporters and confidants during their three year traveling ministry.
In today's Resurrection Story we see Jesus coming back to life among friends: John the Beloved, his best friend, Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven demons (Mk 16:9) and Peter, The Big Fisherman who had a boldness of faith that Jesus was grooming to be a General in his emerging Mighty Army were all there. There was also "the other Mary," or Mary the mother of James, whom some feel was Jesus' own mother Mary. They were his support group that he counted on in times of trouble. His need for friends should underline for us our own need for help that only friends can provide in our times of need. Those in this inner circle of friends have also historically allowed believers to see ourselves and to find our place in Jesus' continuing community of caring.
Of the four who celebrated in this "Victory Circle" on that first Easter morning, the most fascinating to me is Mary Magdalene, the one who was forgiven of the most sin and who seemed to love Jesus most.
The Church of Mary Magdalene stands along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I have a replica tile, a souvenir of our visit there, of the original ancient "loaves and fishes" tile still visible in the church floor. The church was built by early Christians as a memorial to the "sinful woman" who became a Saint of the Church.
Mary's tiny Jewish village of Magdala was located just north of the large gentile city of Tiberias and one tradition says that Mary would sell her body to gentiles who passed her way, although the New Testament does not directly say that this was the nature of any of her seven demons. Another questionable tradition identifies her as being the unnamed sinful woman who anointed Jesus. (Lk 7:37). For certain it seems that Mary Magdalene was regarded as something of a reformed, forgiven, and converted former sinful and fallen woman. I am intrigued that she was so readily forgiven by her fellow believers and also accepted as a leader in the early church. She was faithfully present at the foot of the Cross during Jesus' agony, along with a few other women and John the Beloved. After finding the stone rolled away from the door of Jesus' tomb she ran to find Peter and John for help. Just as Jesus had sought out his friends in times of trouble, so Mary Magdalene sought help when she discovered that the stone had been rolled away from his sealed tomb and assumed that his body had been stolen. Like the rest of the disciples she never expected the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Jesus had made an effort to explain that he would rise again, but none of them were able to grasp it. Peter and John ran to the tomb assuming that Jesus' body had been stolen. John was the fastest runner and arrived at the tomb first but hesitated at the doorway. Characteristically, the bold personality of Simon led directly into the tomb and found it empty. John followed Peter into the tomb and upon finding it empty became the first person to "believe." (v9).
"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been laying, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.' When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni!' which means teacher." (v.11-16, NRSV).
Imagine the joy that flooded her soul when she recognized her dear friend and Lord calling her name. Two thousand years of Christendom has honored John as the author of the biographical eye witness account of Jesus' life in the Gospel bearing his name. We have venerated Peter as a major leader who initially helped build the Church of Christ. But believers of all times have held Mary Madgalene sacred in our hearts as the very first person to see the Risen Lord.
Too often we Christians have forgotten that Christ is Alive and in our midst as the ever present Holy Spirit. Sometimes we think of him as a historical figure that is only a memory. The great miracle of Christendom is that Christ is our eternal contemporary. Just as Mary Magdalene was given a new life we too can be totally exonerated and used as healers in the lives of broken people. Her message is that damaged people can be changed by the Power of Christ's continuing presence and can be made whole. Easter is not only a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, but it also is an ever present reminder that there is always hope of a way out of even the most desperate situation. With His presence in our lives we are never between the rock and the hard place. The Living Christ always creates a way out of noway.
The Good News today is that if we will listen we can hear Him calling our name. Each of us can become a personal friend of the Risen Jesus who is in the world today. We can be included in The Victory Circle!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor