Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Easter Joy for Everyday

Sermon for the Commemoration of St. Mary Magdalene, preached on July 22, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    Today we're blessed to remember St. Mary Magdalene, and I do mean blessed, because the appointed Gospel reading for today is one that brings great joy.  You could say it brings Easter joy. 
    It's easy to have Easter joy on Easter Sunday.  I fondly remember Easter Sunday as a child.  I remember the smell of the sanctuary filled with lilies and the sound of the timpani drums crescendoing as we joyfully sang This is the Feast.  The whole day was filled with joy as the pastor proclaimed Christ is risen!  You could tell everyone had Easter joy knowing Jesus was risen from the dead, and since He lived, so would they!  Christ's resurrection means everlasting life for us, for those who trust in Him.  Knowing our salvation is complete in Christ, we should have an Easter joy every day.  But do we?
Do we have Easter Day joy in our lives?  Do we ever think about Christ's resurrection...what it really means for us?  Does the fact that Jesus died and rose again so that we'd have everlasting life affect us?    These are good questions to ask, and if we're being 100% honest, we might have to answer "No."  It's hard for us to have Easter joy every day of the year.  It's hard to see our risen Savior when our eyes are blinded with tears of sorrow and pain and grief.
    Our joy is blinded and darkened by the strife of life.  No one has an easy go at it.  No one has ever had a care free, stress free, struggle free, sorrow free life.  Everyone's gone through something.  We've all shed tears: tears over husbands and wives divided by divorce; tears over children who've strayed from home and faith; tears over broken and forgotten friendships; tears over losts jobs; tears over bills that are piling up and past due notices in the mailbox; tears over deployments and PCS's; tears over illnesses, surgeries, and positive test results; tears over the death of a friend, a spouse, a parent, a child.  All of us have had to walk through dark valleys.  During these times it's hard to see past the pain and hurt.  It's hard to see past the sin and death that plagues us and the world we live in.  It's seems as if there's no hope, no joy.  With eyes filled with tears and hearts filled with sadness, it's difficult to see Christ, to think about His life giving resurrection. 
    We see the blinding power of grief in Mary Magdalene.  On that first Easter she went to the tomb to finish the job of burying Christ's body.  Scripture doesn't specifically mention what her thoughts or feelings were, but I think it's safe to assume that she was filled with grief and sadness.  She had just witnessed the crucifixion of her Lord.  She saw her Savior hanging naked on the cross as He breathed His last.  She had been with Christ for a long time, ever since He freed her from the 7 demons that possessed her, and now she was going to His tomb to complete his burial.  Just imagine then the multiplication of her grief when she got there and Christ's body was gone. 
    We have the benefit of being able to see the whole picture of Jesus' death and resurrection.  We have the Gospels written down, so we know the whole story.  When we read about Jesus' crucifixion we know about His resurrection.  Mary and the others didn't necessarily have this.  Yes, they had the words of the Old Testament that prophesied the death and resurrection of God's Messiah and yes, they heard Jesus' words concerning His death and resurrection, but how easy is it to forget when we're consumed with grief?
Mary was consumed with grief.  She was so blinded by her tears that she couldn't see the risen Lord standing right in front of her.  She thought He was the gardener and all she wanted was Christ's lifeless body back.  She couldn't imagine anything else.  All hope was lost.  But the risen Lord didn't leave Mary in this hopelessness. 
    Just by speaking her name, Jesus cut through her blinding tears.  Christ opened her eyes so she could see Him.  He graciously called her to be the first witness of His resurrection.  Mary saw her Lord, not a lifeless corpse, but the risen Savior who conquered death. 
    Christ is your Savior and He has conquered death.  The grave has no power over you.  Because He lives, so will you.  Just as He did with Mary, the Lord's spoken your name.  In your baptism, God speaks your name and He puts His name upon you, marking you as one redeemed by Christ.  He joins you to Christ, to His death AND His resurrection.  "Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4).  This new life is everlasting life.  It's the life that death can't take away.  It's the life in which the Lord promises you no more blinding tears. 
    In your baptism the Lord has opened your eyes, giving you eyes of faith to see your risen Savior.  These eyes aren't blinded with the tears you cry because they're ever focused on Christ.  They see Jesus and His atoning death on the cross.  They see the resurrected Lord who conquered death for you.  And they see His promised salvation.  All of this brings an Easter joy that is there every day of the year; even though you might not feel it. 
    The truth is, we'd love to feel Easter joy every day.  We'd love to be happy happy all the time, never brought down from the joyful mountain top.  But the joy of Easter isn't only a mountain top feeling.  The joy of Easter is the quite confident hope of your everlasting life in Christ even when it looks like all hope is lost.  Because we still live in a sin-filled world, we're still going to experience pain and loss and struggle and grief.  Our eyes will still fill with tears as we cry over broken relationships, the hardships of life, illness, disease, and the death of loved ones.  At these times we won't necessarily feel joy.  We may feel like all hope is lost.  But with eyes of faith, focused on Christ and His resurrection we can repeat the words of our psalm today: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps 73:26).  With faith, looking at Christ, we know what God has planned for us, an everlasting life that is free from tears.  This is the life Christ won on Easter and this is the life that brings Easter joy. 
It's hard to have Easter Day joy when all around us we see troubles, grief, hurts, and pain.  Mary Magdalene couldn't see the risen Jesus through her tears, and neither can we.  But with eyes of faith, opened by God, we do see Him.  We have Easter joy, knowing that no matter what we see and endure now, we still have the promise

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