A sermon for Easter Eve, April 20, 2019. The scripture readings used for the Easter Vigil include Luke 24:1-12.
Listen to the sermon HERE.
In 2016, Pope Francis made an effort to get the story straight about Mary Magdalene. It was one of his predecessors, Pope Gregory (in the 6th century) who perpetuated the unfounded myth that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute who was healed from her former way of life. But Pope Francis, reading the Bible closely, reclaimed an earlier observation that Mary was the very first witness to the Resurrection. Luke’s Gospel says that Mary and the other women found the empty tomb, heard about the Resurrection from the two angels, and then “told this to the apostles.” John’s Gospel, which the Church hears tomorrow, fills in other details—that Mary found the stone removed and ran to tell Peter. Together, they see an empty tomb. Peter goes home, while Mary stands weeping outside the tomb. It’s then, in John’s Gospel, that Jesus appears to Mary and specifically tells her, “…Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Pope Francis used an old term the church has used for centuries to proclaim Mary Magdalene, Apostolorum apostola, the Apostle of the Apostles.
Mary tells the others what she has seen. She bears witness. In the language of some Christians, Mary testifies to God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s power to resurrect Jesus. Through his Resurrection we have hope, we have faith, and we the way to eternal life. But all of this would have been left in the tomb, had Mary not spoken. Had she not spoken up.
Mary bore the cost of speaking up. We don’t know the specifics of how the other male disciples regarded her, but if history is any indication, we can guess that they ignored her. Or more truthfully, they stole her voice, made it their own, and pushed her to the side.
The saints and martyrs told their truth, and some were persecuted, and some were put to death for their faith. And this continues. According to the Open Doors Organization, every month, around the world, an average of 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons, 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked, and 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned.
While we enjoy enormous religious freedom where we live, we face risks when we speak of our faith- on the subway, in the workplace, or in social settings. People may think we’re fanatics. They may think we’re simple-minded or unsophisticated.
Some lament the lack of children and young people in churches, the demise of Sunday schools and robust programs. But the trite truth is that Christian faith is caught, and not so much taught. Unless children experience and see faith in their parents, they’re not going to be in church or school for formation.
St. Francis is credited with saying something along the lines of “Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.” We know that we don’t always and everywhere have to use words. But we do need to live out our faith. We need to witness. We need to testify, or faith will be as dormant as the tomb.
May the faith and ferocity of Mary Magdalene inspire us when we’re anxious, shame us when we’re lazy, and motivate us to join her and the other witnesses to change the world for love’s sake.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.