After six and a half weeks of introspection and somewhat sombre readings in our services, after special services in which we retold the events of what had become the inevitable end of Jesus’ earthly life, today we celebrate.
Jesus died and rose again, defeating death. The tomb could not hold him, death was denied victory. Though for a while it seemed to have won, evil did not triumph. Today we say Alleluia! Today we rejoice in our freedom from condemnation as a result of sin. We are celebrating the wonderful action of God in Christ which has brought about our reconciliation to God. Today we recall what Peter told to those gathered in Cornelius’ house: “In every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to God.” And, “Everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
In the midst of remembering what God in Christ did for EVERYone, it’s important to remember that he did it for EACH one. Our heavenly Father created each of us as unique individuals and loves us in that way, as Jesus’ earthly life demonstrates. He related to each person in the appropriate way.
Today’s Gospel reading focuses on Mary Magdalene. We are told that Jesus had driven seven demons out of her. That had been her initial need when she met Jesus – freedom from possession by demons. It’s not hard to imagine how grateful she must have been or to understand how Mary wanted to be close to this wonderful person who had come into her life. She had been restored to healthy life by Jesus, moved from hopelessness to hope.
In the Gospel we are made aware just how terrible a loss Mary had suffered. Not only had Jesus died, but when she arrived at the tomb his body wasn’t even there. She had lost Jesus completely, dead and disappeared. The fact that Jesus’ body had disappeared was uppermost in Mary’s mind that Sunday. When Mary ran to find Peter and John she said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ When she saw the angels at the tomb, she said, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Initially mistaking Jesus for the gardener she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
In that Sunday morning meeting, Jesus answered Mary’s desperate need to reconnect with her Lord, to find him again, by speaking her name. Suddenly her beloved ‘Rabbouni’ was there with her. Jesus was no longer lost. The relationship, though different, was still there. As we know, Mary was commissioned as the Apostle to the Apostles, the one to bear the Good News to others: ‘I have seen the Lord!’
The Gospels are dotted with encounters between Jesus and individuals where each one is treated appropriately according to their need. Nicodemus sought insight into who Jesus was and how that might fit into all he had studied. He was treated to a deep conversation with Jesus. The man lowered through the roof by his friends needed assurance that his sins were forgiven (though his friends thought he just needed to be able to walk.) He received both forgiveness and healing. The woman with the issue of blood, and various lepers, needed healing so that they could be restored to their communities. Jesus accepted their touch and respected them as human beings as well as healing them. Blind Bartimaeus gained his sight even though he was just one person in a huge crowd on the outskirts of Jericho. Zacchaeus, another Jericho resident, gained a whole new perspective on life when Jesus invited himself to dinner at his house. Jairus and Mary of Bethany had lost a loved one to death and turned to Jesus in the face of their tragedy. The funeral of the widow of Nain’s son just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Each of the bereaved received their loved ones back fully alive. The Syrophoenician woman and the Roman centurion, though not Jews, came seeking healing for another and received it. The woman caught in adultery and the woman by the well at Sychar were guilty of conducting improper relationships but Jesus accepted them and helped them to turn their lives around.
Jesus’ earthly life shows us what God is like. Though each of us may feel insignificant, a mere dot living on a slightly bigger dot in the vast universe, we matter to God. He loves each of us with an overwhelming love, greater than we can imagine. He answers our individual needs in the way that is best for us. The Good News in a general sense is that Jesus died and rose again for us all. The Good News is also intensely personal. We are not just one more face in a crowd, someone who makes up the numbers in some way. Jesus relates to us as individuals; he knows each of us by name and calls us as he called Mary.
Jesus, the King of kings, cares so much for each one of us that he would have died on the cross for any one of us. We can each say for ourselves, with the psalmist: ‘I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me and have become my salvation.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor