“Compassion & Strength”

Nov 7, 2021

The Scripture

Mark 16

16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe(D) sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’’

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

The Sermon

This morning we are going to read about a person who had compassion and strength; compassion and strength along with wisdom and leadership.  Even more surprising it is a story about a woman, a woman who often is seen in the background.  When I read this scripture passage, I think you will be surprised.  You might even find yourself saying, “this doesn’t belong here, why are we reading it today in November? This needs to be read on Easter morning!  I found myself thinking similar thoughts the first time I read through this, but then I was reminded of our sermon series theme, and it came to me.  Oh yes, I understand why it is good to read this passage today, at a different time of the church season.   Separating this reading from Easter and from Jesus resurrection allows us to focus on an individual who is so often found in the periphery away from the central character.  This morning our “Face of Our Faith” is Mary Magdalene.

As I read this passage with new eyes and my focus turning from Jesus and the empty tomb to Mary Magdalene, I realized just how important her role was in this post-resurrection account.  It caused me to pause a minute and ask, just who is this, Mary Magdalene?  I mean really who is she?  What is her history, her story, her connection to Jesus?

I had to search the commentaries to help me here…Professor of Religion at Bard College Bernard Bell gave me some important information that helps to answer this question.  First, Mary Magdalene is the only person in the Gospels named as being exorcized by Jesus, freed of seven demons (this is found in Luke 8:2).  Though we don’t know this for sure it was custom that when an exorcism occurred, the person being freed of demons was also anointed.  There is a lot we can draw from this experience of exorcism and anointing. Mary Magdalene knew what it was like to struggle, to fight her own demons.  One can imagine the questioning, the feelings of agitation, the anxiety and perhaps isolation because of this condition.  And then Jesus enters the picture and relives her of her pain and suffering.  He frees her from the agony and sets her on a new path and he anoints her.  Bell affirms that anointed conveyed Spirit to Jesus’ mind.  So, Jesus frees her and then reminds her of God’s very Spirit is within her. This changed Mary, she understands now on a deep, deep level what is means to have a personal encounter with Jesus.  She knows at her core what the power of the living God can do in one’s life.

I want to stop here and ask…can you remember a time when you had your own spiritual experience?  Something happened and the experience changed you?  A time when you knew the presence of God was there? When you knew it wasn’t just a coincidence but the very active movement of the Spirit?  Mary had this kind of experience with Jesus.  And this experience now helps us to understand in what other ways Mary Magdalene shows up.  Remember the journey to Jerusalem when Jesus stops by the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus?  It was at this visit that Mary anoints Jesus.  Mary is giving back to Jesus what she received from him. Professor Bell connects the anointing of new life to the anointing of life after death.  Life can be transformed by the inflowing of Spirit, so death itself could become the vehicle of God’s presence.  Have you ever thought about death in this way?  That death could be just another opportunity for God to be present to you?

Mary Magdalene had the compassion and strength to receive and then to give back to Jesus.  Perhaps her whole life, including the possession of demons, the exorcism, the anointing…all of her life experiences prepared her to then sit at the foot of the cross while Jesus hung there helplessly, dying minute by minute.  Maybe just maybe it gave her the compassion and strength to watch him die and then travel to the tomb after the sabbath to anoint the body of Jesus.  This was not some small undertaking…she was going to touch and care for the body of someone she loved…someone who loved her back.  Mary had to face her own sorrow and claim her newfound calling to lead.  It was after his death and resurrection that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene…it was a transformable moment as she then became the bearer of the message that Jesus was alive!

Mary Magdalene gives us hope in our own faith journeys.  Mary reveals to us that our past does not limit our future. Our own demons, the demons that come in many forms; regrets, mistakes, wrong doings, crimes, offenses…nothing, nothing can prevent us from experiencing Christ’s healing presence.  Mary teaches us that our own struggles and challenges can strengthen us and give us the compassion to be Christ’s presence in the world.  Mary shows us that we can be leaders and light bearers for others who are on their own journeys of faith.  Thank you, Mary Magdalene for being a face of our faith. Amen