We are just over a quarter of the way through 2015 and there are already far too many who can relate to Mary Magdalene, who was forced to realize how quickly life can change against our will, when someone we hold so dear can be taken away within an instant, when we go to bed at night in hopes of waking up to see that it was all just a dream. Far too many people in 2015 have already experienced how Mary felt: when words can no longer do justice to our overwhelming sadness and relentless anger, and we just have to unleash these tears built up from our soul. Entire families killed in Syria for not adhering to a fundamentalist version of someone's belief, hundreds of teenage girls kidnapped in broad daylight from schools in Nigeria and college students brutally murdered in Kenya, and a routine flight in Europe crashed into a mountain range. Mary Magdalene more than gives us permission that sometimes it is not only expected but essential to just break down in tears.
However, one of the most overlooked parts of the Easter story, and something we take for granted almost every day in this life, is that God will not allow Mary to cry alone. God will not permit her to endure the suffering, even for a moment, by herself. Two angels reinforce the reality that Jesus blew her away with time and time again in His ministry to her: she mattered in the eyes of God! In a culture that constantly put women down, that did not allow them to sit in the same section as men, that they could not serve in any position of influence whatsoever; this Messiah, this King of Kings, raises her up, calls her by name out of her pit of despair and tells her that she, a woman, is going to be responsible to start telling the world the Greatest News of all time, and in doing so ignite the church for eternity.
And so it continues today: the church is not here for its own good. We are not set aside by God to reach certain quotas of attendance. Easter is not about the hope of a pastor trying to craft an impressive enough sermon to convince you to come back next Sunday. God raises us up from our own days of anguish and reminds us in no uncertain terms that Christ is Risen indeed. We see it through our youth, we experience it through music; we taste it through bread and wine as the very body and blood that saved us all forever.
Nevertheless,there are days of anguish for the church. St. John's has already experienced too many funerals in this calendar year because of a disease that continues to plague this country year after year. Cancer has put us right where Mary was outside the tomb, looking into darkness. And yet, just like on that day, God will never, ever allow anyone to endure any kind of suffering alone. On that day God not only raised up Mary Magdalene. God raised up a church of people who know what it's like to feel so small in the face of an overpowering death; and yet somehow, someway, life arrived on the scene for them every time. The Risen Lord, in God's own mysterious, but holy way, showed up for people who desperately needed Him, and we cannot keep such Good News to ourselves.
And so a couple weeks ago St. John's hosted a family game night where laughter and fun was had by all. In a few weeks we will have an auction downstairs, and then a few weeks after that our youth will do a street collection at a couple intersections here on Shawnee Road, with all the proceeds going to Relay for Life. But it's not so much about the fundraising and the dollar amount to help continue the hope that one day this terrible disease will finally be defeated. It's about the time in community, bringing people together from all walks of life, from different backgrounds and faith traditions. It's about providing the space and opportunity for so many people to share their stories, some of miraculous recovery, to be sure, and yet some that can only be expressed in uncontrollable tears.
But...we've been there. We've been outside that tomb of death and stared into what seemed like a never-ending darkness, and we will not allow anyone to go through that alone, because we know of this God Who invaded that darkness of death and came out with the light of everlasting life. We know this God Who promised Mary and the disciples and all children of God, that when we, or any of our loved ones, have to go into that darkest valley, they will be met by the Good Shepherd of us all, and He will lead us beside the still waters into a Kingdom with no more suffering, no more pain, no more darkness, no more tears, no more death.
We will not keep that Greatest News to ourselves. We will shout it from the mountaintop: from hospital rooms to relays around a track to church basements to family living rooms. Death has been conquered and it will fail every single time, because Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! And so on this day that we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, we give thanks to our God of everlasting life for the love that knows absolutely no ending! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon