Saturday, 21 July 2007

Sermon for the festival of Mary Magdelene

Here's tomorrow's sermon

Year A, B, C Mary Magdelene
The ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’

Today we remember a rather peculiar saint, someone who wasn’t the most expected of saints, a woman. It wasn’t common in the early church, or even in the church up to recent times, to honour women – except for Mary the mother of Jesus, of course – so Mary Magdalene stands out from the list of those who were remembered in the first days of the Church.

Mary of Magdala is exceptional, there was no way of escaping the fact that she is was the one chosen by Jesus to be the first witness to his resurrection, to the promise of new life for all that came on that wonderful Easter morning. But there is also no denying that this is a rememberance of both celebration and of frustration…

That’s right celebration and frustration. And this reflects much of our faith, even as we celebrate the risen life of our Lord Jesus Christ after his passion, the events of Holy Week and his painful, lonely death. We remember that we are, as I’ve said before, an Easter People, people filled with the joy of the new life of Christ and with a hope that conquers even death. Yet we remember that although the resurrection is the most wonder-filled event of our the Christian faith, we still live in a world which is full of pain and death.

But the resurrection is not a panacea for all of the ills of today’s world. The resurrection does not make everything better. In fact the resurrection highlights how painful this world can really be, as it offers a hope which, in contrast to the state of our world today, shows humanity to be sadly lacking in the great virtues of faith, hope and love. We see in the resurrected Christ one who still bears the scars, the holes in hands, feet and side, of the terrible ordeal of Good Friday. The salvation of humanity was won at a price, that price was the pain and suffering of Jesus that led to the cross.

Within our joy, therefore, is that knowledge of the effect that sin can have. Jesus took the sins of humanity on himself in his selfless act of sacrifice. Easter day transforms that suffering, as it shows the love of God made real in the life given back to Christ who gave his away for our sakes. We rightly celebrate this day, but we remember that it is a part of the week, the Holy Week, we have just observed, and that the benefits of new life come to us through the struggle of the passion of our Lord.

But life has overcome death, love has overcome fear and hate, and the wounds of Christ, though still visible, have been healed. Christ offers to us the hope and the joy of the resurrection that, despite how things may look, does point to the ultimate healing of all people and of the creation itself.

We live at a point between the ‘now’ of God’s love, the ‘now’ of the resurrection of Christ, of the power and the ‘now’ of the life of the Holy Spirit made manifest to all people, and the ‘not yet’ of the fullest coming of the reign of God, the ‘not yet’ of the consummation that will mark the restoration of wholeness to our world, still broken. It is this now and not yet that is reflected in the fact that Mary Magdalene in our reading from St John’s Gospel, is face to face with the risen Christ but cannot touch him because the fullness of his reign has not come, the not yet exists even face to face with the now of the reality of Christ’s resurrection.

Christian faith has always kept the ‘now and the not yet’ in tension, this is most evident in the fact that the reign, the ‘kingdom of God’ is among us, and yet is not fully realised. We pray every week that God’s kingdom come and his will be done, recognising that it is not yet here, and we live in that tension. It can be a creative tension. Just as we move from celebrating Easter to the joy and the power of Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is this Spirit that makes everything potential, and that opens up possibilities for the life of the believer today.

The Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of ‘Christ in us’ of ‘Immanuel’ makes it possible for us to live lives that reflect the joy, hope, peace and love of God’s Kingdom. Life is lived in the shadow of the resurrection - now we see in part, one day we shall see fully. Our lives can be filled now with the life and energy of God’s Spirit, but the ultimate healing of the world is yet to come.

And so, like Mary Magdalene we realise that we aren’t at the end of things, we can’t hold on to Jesus once and for all but we hold on to the promise of God, for the hope of New life not just for ourselves but for the whole of the created order. We hold fast to all that God has said he will do.

At the same time we must recognise that we are a part of this reign of God that is making itself real in the world today. The coming of the Kingdom is a process in which we are called to be involved. We are the bearers of the New Life. We have suffered in our own way, we are being healed if we open ourselves to God. We carry the scars of Christ in our own lives, as we have shared in his death through Baptism, so we share his new life through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are the ‘wounded healers’ of the world - or at least that is what we are called to be.

Like Mary Magdalene, sent out to share the message of the Resurrection, we are the messengers, the ones with the ‘good news to proclaim’, the evangelists, the heralds. If Christ means anything to us then we will carry his love, his healing, his resurrection to the world around us. We are the salt and the light of this world. We acknowledge our own inadequacies and need of healing, we are honest about the sin that returns to us again and again - but we also know that, painfully slow as it may seem, God is at work in and through us in order to bring us to wholeness. We are in tension between the ‘now and the not yet’, between what we long for God to do and our own shortcomings. When we acknowledge our own need for faith, hope and love, when we ask God for wholeness and healing, for our share in the resurrection life of Christ, then we are equipped, little by little, to bring in the Kingdom of God in our own way.

We bring in the reign of God by making ourselves subjects, by allying ourselves with God’s manifesto for the world. As we learn to live, speak and act like Christ, loving God, ourselves and our neighbour we are making real the kingdom which Jesus proclaims. We struggle in our own lives as we seek to be the people God longs for us to be - living as those caught in the creative tension of ‘now and the not yet’ in the joy and the frustration of the resurrection.

We proclaim the Risen Christ, we are the Easter People, like Mary Magdalene, we are those who know, not in our heads but in our hearts and in the depths of our souls that Christ is alive. It is therefore our task to show that life, to share that life with joy and with hope. We can change the world, little by little, maybe only in small ways, but we are the world-changers who carry on the work started by those who going to the tomb in the early morning one Sunday morning found it empty, and were later to encounter the risen Christ. Those who encounter Christ today have the same motivation as those who met him nearly two thousand years ago, the experience of new life, of the hope of the resurrection.

Allelulia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, allelulia

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