Friday, April 27, 2007

The Latest Sermon & Birthday News!

So my birthday is just a week away - well less than that now! Yay! May 3 I turn 32. Golly.

In honor of my getting old I've opened a facebook account, and wouldn't you know, I already have a lot of friends (and have been a bit obssessively checking that fact). It's definitely the only way to keep in touch with college students these days.

Also if any of you feel so inclined, I thought I'd let ya know that I have an Heifer international - seeds, an animal, education - always a great choice, or some fairly traded chocolate or lotion from Ten Thousand Villages. Woo-hoo!

OK, now to get serious. I did my first sermon yesterday in my new preaching practicum. The teacher actually kept me after class to tell me how much he liked it and to encourage me to risk doing more "new homiletic" stuff (I opened w/a first-person narrative that was highly dramatic). He's biased - has even written a book on narrative preaching - but he said I'm as good as anyone he's seen and have the skills to really make it work. So I guess I'm getting all dramatic now. Seems like a good use for that theater BA. And mostly it went over really well - just one classmate was really put off by it (and my husband, but he'll never like it, and we just agree that I don't rehearse in front of him). Fortunately my teacher was happy with it. So I took the opportunity to mention that I'd enjoy TAing for homiletics and also ask him about the preaching awards at Fuller, which he strongly encouraged me to apply for. That's really exciting. He definitely said I'd be in strong contention. Not that I care about preaching competitively (ewww, yuck) but it was just a great affirmation of my gifts. Made me feel all warm & fuzzy.

Anyway, here's the sermon. Enjoy.

Do Not Hold on to Me

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary 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: 11-18, NRSV)

In Character...
Are you serious? Rabbouni, I have followed you for three years. I was there when they took you away. The men, they were scared – they ran and they hid. But I – I got as close as I could. I heard them screaming to crucify you and I wailed in protest. I watched them hang you on the cross! I heard your cries, I saw them pierce you. I saw your limp and lifeless body taken down, and I watched when they put you – my teacher, my master, my best friend – I watched them put you in the ground.

And now you are standing in front of me telling me I can’t even embrace you!?! I loved you to the last, and I was here all morning looking for you, and now here you are in front of me. I can’t stand it. I thought I would never see you again, and here you are, and I can’t even touch you?? I saw your arms, ripped by the whips, nailed to the wood, wrapped in a linen shroud – and you won’t put them around me? Why, Jesus? WHY??

And back to me...
Mary Magdalene has just recognized her Lord Jesus standing before her. Her first reaction is to reach out for him – certainly understandable! But his response is strange: Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him. He gives her a cryptic line about his ascension, then instructs her to walk away and leave him. Leave him! After she’s only just gotten him back, and now he wants her to go!

Surely his reaction was painful for her. She had been through such a range of emotions the last week. By this point, she was probably numb. And the only thing that she wanted was to see him – and touch him – again. Why in the world would Jesus be so callous as to tell her to let go?

It feels good to be with Jesus. We want to be with him, and with our fellow Christians, because they sustain us and make us feel safe. We are afraid of what’s outside the walls of church. We are accepted in church (at least everyone has to pretend as much), but the people outside might reject us. We have authority in the church, but not outside. We are afraid of people outside not listening to us, not believing us, laughing at us. The more we’ve invested in Jesus, the more we have to lose. And for us, that is a lot – our savings, credit scores, marriages, careers, children. What if we let go and never find Jesus again?

But we know that Mary has to leave Jesus, in order for his resurrection to be preached to the world. You gotta let go, if you’re gonna go tell!

Sure, she wants to hold on. But I’ll bet she’s also itching to go tell! Hold on…go tell. Hold on…go tell. If she lets go, he might not come back. She just got him back! What if she lets go and he disappears, and she never sees him again?! But she can’t just keep this to herself. The others have to know! Jesus is alive! This can’t be a secret – the whole world needs to know!

I didn’t mean to let go of Jesus. We were so close, but I had to study and research and write papers and learn languages and now I’m in the thick of it and I can’t find Jesus anymore. I’ve lost him! I want to find him again and hold on this time…but I know I need to get out of here, out of my close comfortable ivory tower where I read God’s word all day and discuss God’s story all day and I have to get out there and share this secret, because the whole world needs to know!

So what do we do? Do we hold on? Or let go – and go tell?

What Mary learned was that she had to let go so that greater things could come. Jesus says he is ascending to the Father. There he can intercede for her, and give her what she asks in his name, and send the Spirit to teach her, and raise her up on the last day! Jesus has to ascend so that his promises can come true.

But there’s more: Jesus tells her that the Father is no longer just his Father – the Father is also HER Father, all of their Father. After Jesus ascends, Mary and the other apostles will no longer have Jesus to hold on to – not physically. But they are now, like Jesus, children of the Heavenly Father!

This is the first time in the gospel of John that Jesus refers to the Father as anyone’s but his own. Now it all makes sense, everything he’s said: I and the Father are One, whoever knows me knows the Father – seeing the risen Jesus, suddenly, it clicks into place – because HE is her Lord, the Father is her Lord. Because HE is her God, the Father is her God. And more, the Father is her Father.

When Mary sees the resurrected Jesus, she is the first to recognize who he really is – and she is the first to be told what this means. The resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of the life that he has been promising all along: eternal life in the Kingdom as children of God. Mary will not lose Jesus. She will gain life like Jesus has.

Although Jesus is ascending to the Father, he attends to his disciple Mary, sending her on a mission. He not only sends her out – he sends her up! She heads out on a road that seems horizontal – toward the disciples – and yet, it is also an ascension – in her own discipleship. She grows closer to the Father – her Father – by going and telling what she’s seen. Being the first person to recognize Jesus and figure out what has happened, the task falls to Mary Magdalene (a woman, cough) to carry the Good News of Christ’s resurrection to the rest of the world. (I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel awfully wonderful to be a woman preacher in her legacy!) Mary is the first person to preach the gospel of the risen Christ: “I have seen the Lord!” She takes the first step, away from Jesus’ arms, but onto a path that she will follow, up, up, up, for the rest of her life – until he embraces her again at the last day.

(show icon) There is an ancient Eastern tradition that understands the Christian life as a heavenly ladder. It is a difficult, arduous climb – and actually more dangerous, the higher up we get. When I viewed this icon at the Getty Center, an Orthodox iconographer pointed out how the crowd thins towards the top of the ladder. He told us a story of painting the ceiling of a church, and how his scaffolding got shakier, the higher he climbed on it. The path is steep and the ladder is narrow…but look who’s at the top.[1]

When we leave the safety of Fuller – when we put ourselves into the discomfort of public preaching, or the mission field, or pastoral care, or working a “regular” job, or teaching, or most often just going into a church that’s got a lot of problems! – we are setting ourselves on the ascendant path. We may not feel like it, but we are in upward motion.
Like Mary, we cannot hold on to Jesus, but are sent out to share the good news of the resurrection, to proclaim that we have seen the Lord. And it is in this very proclamation – what we are learning to do right here! – that we ourselves are ascending ever closer to the heavenly Father, and to Jesus’ waiting arms. And then we can hold on – with all of our might!

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your
only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended
into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend,
and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[2]

[1] Icon of The Heavenly Ladder from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai. Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2006), 245.
[2] Book of Common Prayer


rbarenblat said...

I turned 32 last month. So far, it's been good to me. :-) My rebbe taught me the Hasidic practice of studying the psalm of my year; since this is my 33rd year of life, I am spending this year reading and meditating upon psalm 33. I offer that in case it's a useful practice for you, upon turning 32...

And re: theatre background -- several of my most beloved rabbis have theatre backgrounds. Apparently it's a good basis on which to leap into ministry. *g*

The maiden said...

Happy Birthday. I just turned (gasp) 53, which prompted a blog reflection:

Funny thing about entering into the last 5th of my life is that I've no experience at it. There's so much to get used to, so much to figure out, and I suspect I'll die before I learn how to be old! Really wish there was some good stuff out there on spirituality of aging!

The maiden said...

PS--I LOVE rbarenblat's idea about studying the psalm of my year, and I'm linking to the suggestion. Thanks!!