In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was nothing made that has been made. And that same Word has become Flesh and dwelt among us, conceived and born of St. Mary, in order that we may behold His Glory, the Glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
So has He come down from the Father in heaven, and taken our sins upon Himself, into His own Body of flesh and blood, and gone to the Cross, and laid down His Life for all of us in holy Love. In this way, by His Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead, He has departed from this vale of tears and returned in the Flesh to His God and Father, so that we should live with God in Him.
This is the great journey of the Son of God, from heaven above to earth below, and back again with you in tow. He comes down to raise you up. He becomes like you, that you might become like Him. He has taken your sins upon Himself in order to atone for them, to remove them and be rid of them. But He has taken your Flesh to be His own and retains it in His Resurrection, free of sin and set free from death, in order to give you Communion with the Holy Trinity in body and soul.
It is precisely in this journey of the only-begotten Son, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And no one comes to the Father but by Him, who has come down from the Father and returned to the Father through the suffering and death of His Cross into His great and glorious Resurrection.
That is why He says to you, today, in the accomplished fact of His Cross and Passion, that He is now ascending to His God and Father — who is now also your God and your Father in Christ! For as you share His death by your Baptism in His Name, so do you share His Resurrection from the dead, and His Ascension into heaven, and His Sonship, and His Spirit, and His God and Father. Thus do you live with Him in His Kingdom in His righteousness and purity, now and forever.
In this same pattern of the Cross and Resurrection, such as you share with Christ Jesus by way of His Holy Baptism, so have you heard that Mary Magdalene was brought from darkness into Light.
She came to the tomb while yet in the darkness of her unbelief, overcome with grief and sorrow, and forgetting the promise of the Resurrection. But by His Word and Spirit, she was brought into the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. By His grace and tender mercy, she was given to see the Lord in whose crucified and risen Flesh the Father is revealed.
His Resurrection is the dawning of the New Creation, a new “in the beginning,” not only for dear St. Mary, but for all the beloved disciples of Jesus; for all of those whom He calls to Himself and catechizes in the one true faith. It is thus on the first day of the week that the Word-made-Flesh declares, in the Voice of His Resurrection from the dead, “Let there be Light!” And it is so.
There is a similar transition from darkness to light, from unbelief to faith, in the case of Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loves. But their journey from death to life in Christ is more ambiguous in this Holy Gospel, and not as poignant or as intimate as that of Mary Magdalene.
Consider how it was for poor, dear Mary to begin with. She comes in the darkness, and then she flees from the empty tomb in fear and sadness and confusion. Even after she returns, she is at a loss and does not know what to do. She weeps with anguish and despair and stands there frozen in perplexity and grief. She does not recognize Jesus when He appears, nor does she perceive the evidence of His Resurrection. She supposes that He is must be a gardener, as though He were the old Adam, who must die, and not the New Man who lives. She is so consumed by her concern for the handling of a corpse, for the burial of the dead, that she cannot comprehend the Light of Christ.
It is rather pathetic, and far too familiar, I fear.
But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls this poor little sheep, this tender lamb of His, by her name: “Mary,” He says, in much the same way that He has called you by name, and given you His own Name, in your Holy Baptism. And just as He has promised, His sheep hear His voice, they know Him, and they follow Him. As her Teacher, her Rabboni, Jesus catechizes Mary to recognize Him in His risen Flesh. So does He also catechize you by His Word to recognize Him in His Supper.
Even then, dear Mary still wants to cling to the Jesus she has known before, not in the Flesh of His Resurrection, but according to the mortal flesh that bore our sins and griefs and sorrows to the death of His Cross. It is not that He is two different Men with two different Bodies, but she must let go of the past and lift up her heart and mind to her crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
Here is the problem: Mary at first is trying to hang on to the perishable and the mortal, just as you are tempted to hang on to your old Adam, and to the comfortable familiarity of your life in this world, despite the fact that it is cumbered by sin, by sickness and death. And when a loved one has died, is there not a place in your heart that longs to have him back and keep him here in this vale of tears — even though you know better — because you are selfish and lonely and afraid?
But Jesus, your dear Savior, your crucified and risen Lord, He is not to be sought in the commerce or confines of this body and life. His Kingdom is not of this world. He has returned to the Father in the life of the Resurrection from the dead. He has not left the Body behind; it is in His Body that He has risen from the dead and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father. But so has He also, in His Body, put sin and death and the legacy of sin and death to an end, once and for all. He has put mortality down, in order to raise you up to immortality. He has risen, never to die again.
Thus He declares that He is your Brother, and that His God and Father is yours forever in Him. He does not leave humanity behind, but in His Resurrection He reveals Himself as the true and perfect Man, in whom you are justified, reconciled to God, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit. In Him you are rescued from sin, raised up from death, and seated with Him in the heavenly places.
In His innocent suffering and death, He has descended into the depths of your depravity, into your sin, death, and hell. And so it is, that, in His Resurrection and Ascension, He raises you up with Himself to the heights of His divine glory, even to the Bosom of His God and Father in heaven.
Out of the darkness of death, He calls you by His Gospel — by His Word of forgiveness, as by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit — into this Light and Life of His Salvation.
By His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, He calls you from your unbelief to fear, love, and trust in Him by faith in His Word and promises. He opens your eyes to see that He is your Lord and Savior; to behold in His Flesh the divine Glory of His God and Father, and yet, by His grace, to call this Lord your own dear Brother, and this God your own dear Father.
In this faith and trust and confidence, in this beautiful new relationship that you have been given with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit — as a beloved child of God in Christ Jesus — He tenderly invites you to lay hold of Him, to embrace Him and cling to Him, to worship and adore Him, here and now at His Altar in His Church, in His holy Body and precious Blood.
Indeed, He thus lays hold of you and clings to you in Love, so that nothing at all, neither sin, nor death, nor the devil and hell, nor anything else, shall ever be able to snatch you away from Him.
Crucified and risen from the dead, immortal, imperishable, and glorious, He gives Himself to you in this Sacrament. He feeds your mortal body with His own Flesh as the guarantee and surety of your own bodily resurrection from the dead to the life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.
Has He not caused it to be written, and given you to know and believe, that He is your Redeemer, and that He lives!? Indeed He has, and so He does. And as He lives, who once was dead, so shall you also live forever in His Body. Even after your skin and bones have been destroyed, yet, from your own flesh, in the resurrection of your body, with your own two eyes made clear and bright by the Holy Spirit, you shall behold your Savior and your God, and your own dear Father in Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.