A Week in the Word: Mary, Mirrors, and Dead Weight

I’m continuing in my “Week in the Word” feature to highlight messages I gave in a series on our new life in Christ following Easter, 2013, at Diversity in Faith, a Progressive Christian Alliance church in Fayetteville where I was serving.

I hope it blesses you this week!

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie,

your progressive redneck preacher,


micah spring hat

New Life In Christ, Part 2: Mirrors and Dead Weight

Risen Jesus speaks to MaryHappy Easter! He is Risen! Though often we fail to recognize it, is still Easter.  In the Christian year, Easter is not just one Sunday but continues for 40 days until Ascension Sunday, ultimately climaxing in the celebration of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Can anyone remember what we talked about last week?

As you may recall we are talking about the new life Jesus’ resurrection makes possible for you and for me. We mentioned that we would each week until Pentecost look at a different time one of Jesus’ followers encountering Jesus risen from the dead offering new life to help see what is possible for us with the new life we have in Christ.

Today I want to look at the story of Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus in John 20, verses 11-18.

John 20

11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

African version of Jesus with Mary in GardenWhat are some things Mary’s experience of Jesus taught her about the new life Jesus is offering her?

First of all, Mary Magdalene’s story suggests that new life in Christ shows us that God already loves us and already believes in us.

Mary’s back story helps us The description in Luke 8.2 of Mary as one from whom seven spirits had been sent out suggests Mary had some sort of mental illness when she met Jesus, since that was a common description for what we call schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder in Jesus’ day. Such illnesses rarely just happen.

Usually someone is deeply hurt to get in such a place. Likely Mary Magdalene had experienced years of abuse, mistreatment, heartache and rejection before she became mentally ill. Likely she experienced even more after she got the title “Mary with the seven spirits” – crazy Mary! – from those around her. Yet Jesus was different. When Jesus met her he had not judged her. He loved her for who she was. He had shown her a compassion she had never seen. He had treated her as a child of God,

dear, loved, accepted just as she was. When she met Jesus somehow she was changed. The Bible doesn’t explain how that mental illness no longer wrecked Mary’s life, only that Jesus healed it. I wonder if it was less a miracle in the form of hands being set right and more a miracle of the quality of his love. His love was so deep, so true, so healing, that Mary could not but experience and begin to be healed. Around Jesus Mary was no longer crazy Mary but loved Mary, embraced Mary, respected Mary.

AII80457Experiencing this healing power of love is a part of what your new life in Christ, when you embrace it, can do for you.

James Allison, one of my favorite theologians pictures the difference between the love our new life in Christ gives us and the love the world has taught us to expect in our old life in the following dialogues.

First, here is one picturing our Old life–

False god: I want to love you, but I can’t love you as you are, because you are sinful and objectively disordered.

Self: Well, what then must I do to be loved?

False god: You must become someone different.

Self: I’m up for it, show me how.

False god: Love isn’t something that can be earned, it just is.

Self: Well then how do I become the sort of person who can be loved?

False god: If I were you I would start somewhere else.

Self: That’s a great help. How do I start somewhere else?

False god: You can’t, because even starting off for somewhere else starts from you, and you can’t be loved.

Self: Well if I can’t start off from somewhere else, and I can’t start off from where I am, what can I do?

False god: Give up on the love thing; just obey and be paralysed.

The new life Jesus offers, which Mary has already experienced, is so very different.

Notice is Allison’s dialogue about the New life Christ makes possible –

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but I’m full of [garbage] how can you love me?

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but you can’t love me, I’m part of all this muck.

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: how can it be me that you love when I’ve been involved in bad relationships, dark rooms, machinations against other people?

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But …

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But …

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: OK then, so are you just going to leave me in the [garbage pile of a life]?

Unambivalently loving God: Because I love you, you are relaxing into my love and you will find yourself becoming loveable, indeed becoming someone that you will scarcely recognise.

Self: Hadn’t I better do something to get all ready for this becoming loveable?

Unambivalently loving God: Only if you haven’t yet got it that it’s I who do the work and you who get to shine. Because I love you, you are relaxing into being loved and will find yourself doing loveable things because you are loved.

Self: I think I could go along with this.

The power of God’s love heals Mary … and in your new life in Christ, a powerful love is available that when you embrace it is healing for you.

middle eastern mary magdaleneYet this new life does more. There are suggestions within the Gospel that Jesus not only loved and accepted Mary, but also drew her in as one of his own students, teaching her the Gospel and the Scriptures. Outside the Bible early Christian writings tell stories of Mary Magdalene sitting at Jesus’ feet as a student of a rabbi, learning to teach the Bible for herself. Early Christians later call Mary Magdalene an apostle just like Peter, James, and John. Not only did Jesus love her with an unconditional love that helped her accept herself and heal from whatever abuse she had faced but Jesus also believed in her. When others looked at Mary Magdalene they saw a failure, a broken woman, a crazy person. When Jesus looked at her he saw potential. He saw a woman who could be counted on.

He saw someone whom God had a plan for. A woman who can be counted on.

God believes in Mary when no one else does. God believes in you. Turn to someone and say “God believes in you more than you believe in yourself”. Turn to someone else and say “With God all things are possible for you”. This is a part of what new life in Christ is about.

Not only does this speak to us about our broken pasts. But also as a church we say our mission is to welcome all people, without prejudice, into finding their place in God’s family. What can we do to let the Mary Magdalene’s of our community find their place in God’s family, despite everything the world says about them?

Secondly, I think its important to notice that she is shown that seeming ends and broken places can be places we experience this new beginning.

mary magdalene kinda native american lookingMary Magdalene already had a lot of broken places in her life, as we just discussed. And now Jesus, the first one to believe in Mary, the first to show her unconditional love, had been taken from her – beaten, left for dead. To Mary it must have looked like an end, another broken place in our life. To Mary this new life in Christ must have looked like a dead end all of the sudden. Yet in encountering the risen Jesus Mary finds out things are not always what they appear.

Early mystics used to say that God allowed broken places in our life not to harm us but so they might become windows through which the light of God shines through. Now coming to the tomb Mary doesn’t see signs of death but is surrounded by signs of new life: She sees angels like the ones who appeared to the prophet Daniel proclaiming a new day was dawning. She sees Jesus alive again – appearing like a gardener who brings life out of dead ground. That Jesus is like a gardener is important because Adam was created as a gardener. This is a sign of God has begun making all things new.

What looked like the ultimate brokenness is not an end but a new beginning. Through the resurrection life Jesus gives Mary, her broken place has become a window through which God’s light shines through.

What is your broken place? The fact that you have been born again to living hope means that if you open yourselves to the light of God in this dark place, the brokenness you feel need not be your end but can become a window through which God’s light shines into your life and, through you, to others.

As you invite the new life Christ makes possible into that broken place it can become a window, a place in your life God’s light shines.

black mary magdaleneFinally a part of entering new life is to quit clinging to the old. Jesus hints at this when Mary so glad to see him greets him with his old name – Rabboni, or teacher– and grabs on to him, literally clings to him so as to not let go. Mary in some way wants to hang on to how she had come to know Jesus and who it had made her be.

On the one hand, who can blame her? Jesus had loved her like no-one else. In a land where she was known only as crazy Mary, in a world where women were to be seen not heard, Jesus had taken Mary on as his student, breaking all the rules to teach her Scripture, and to equip her just as much as the men in his life to be able to teach the disciples.

Mary saw Jesus and hoped this meant she could cling to him, and keep to the life she knew. Jesus says – no, you cannot cling to me. You cannot cling to how you have known me – as teacher – or how you have known yourself – as student. You certainly can’t cling to the names the world gave you of crazy, of useless, of worthless. Instead you must let me go ahead of you, prepare a place for you, and then you must follow me into a role of life, a place of life you could not expect.

It is easy for us to do as Mary and try to cling to our past, or dig our heels into our present. Even though the new life is available to us, we can refuse to embrace all its benefits when we do this. We can cling on to the way of relating to God we always have had. We can cling to those old patterns of life that are destructive. We can live in the past, reliving over and over again our abuse, our heartache, our pain. We can continue to stay hooked on the bottle or the pill. We can even cling by clinging on to a picture of Jesus or a way of worshipping or serving God we have come to be comfortable with,

forgetting that Jesus always goes ahead of us, preparing a place for us, calling us to follow him out of our comfort zones to something new.

What are you clinging to, instead of letting it go so you can see Jesus go ahead, prepare a place for you, and call you out of the comfortable into the new?

I have placed two things in this room I want you to engage with as we close.

First in the corner I have placed a big cardboard window. Take a moment as we end and go to the window and write down a broken place in your life right now. As you do so invite the life of Christ into it, so it can become a window through which you see God. Take time to ask and look for God each time you face that brokenness, so God can show you how it is becoming a window.

Also I have placed strips of paper on the table beside them. I want to challenge you as we conclude, to think of what things you have been clinging on to which have kept you from fully entering into the new life God has for you or, if you have entered it, what comfort zones you are clinging to that keep you from fully being God’s light and love to others.

Take time to figure out what it is. Write them down on the slip. And then pray a prayer giving that to God. When you feel you have – whether this week, next month, or next year, come back here and lay that strip on the altar to God.


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