22 July 2011

An Excellent Wife He Has Found

Mary Magdalene is a woman who fears the Lord, and He has risen up to praise her in the gates. Her children also rise up to bless her, and her works follow her to praise her, both day and night. For as St. Mary the Mother of God is both an icon and a member of the Lord’s Holy Bride, the Church, so is St. Mary Magdalene. And as St. Mary of Bethany (the sister of Lazarus and Martha) is remembered wherever in the world the Gospel is preached — because she loved the Lord Jesus, and listened to His Word, and anointed Him beforehand for His burial — so also is St. Mary Magdalene remembered with thanksgiving to God for her works of mercy and her witness to the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Her gratitude runs deep, and she loves Him greatly, because she was rescued from great evil, and she was forgiven much. Jesus cast out seven demons from this dear woman, saving her life and cleansing her in both body and soul. He had mercy upon her, and called her to Himself, and gave her, not only another chance, but a brand new life, here in time and hereafter in eternity. Therefore she became a true and faithful disciple, following the Lord Jesus throughout His Ministry on earth, listening and learning. In love, she supported Him and His holy Apostles from her own means, because she recognized the value and importance of His Ministry, both for herself and for others.

She was there, then, to witness the defining events of the Gospel: the Cross and Crucifixion, the burial of Christ, and His Resurrection from the dead. In fact, she is the first witness of our Lord’s Resurrection — not only His empty tomb, but His risen and glorified Body — and He Himself sends her to announce His Resurrection to the Apostles, to the very ones who would be sent to preach this Gospel to the ends of the earth. So she is “the apostle to the Apostles,” as the Eastern churches regard her, and if their feet are beautiful because they have gone out into all the world to preach the Gospel of peace, St. Mary Magdalene is also beautiful among the saints of God in Christ. She is adorned with His beauty and His glory, as a bride is adorned for her husband. And as we thus remember her, and give thanks for her on this day, we honor Christ Jesus, our Savior, and give all thanks and praise and worship to Him.

Everything we know about St. Mary Magdalene is bound up in and with her dear Lord Jesus. She received such excellent gifts and benefitted from His Ministry, and so she supported His Ministry with her whole life and all that she had. She shared in His Cross and Passion, not only by her presence as a witness, but also by Holy Baptism and daily repentance; therefore, she not only witnesses His Resurrection, but she herself is raised up by it, in and with Him, to live before God in His righteousness and purity forever.

Dear little lamb of Jesus, the same is no less true for you, as well. Though you are not an eye-witness of His Cross and Resurrection, you are in fact baptized into the very same, so that you also die and rise with Christ Jesus through daily repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins. Consider the great treasures of His grace, mercy and peace, which are given to you by the Ministry of His Gospel. By these you have abundant life in Him, and with Him, both now and forever. For He is your true and heavenly Bridegroom, who has sought you out and found you, and called you by name to be His holy Bride, that is, within His Holy Church, as a member of His Body.

How, then, shall your life be a witness of His Resurrection? How shall your words and actions testify that God has raised your dear Lord Jesus from the dead? With what means, and by what works, will you support His Ministry of the Gospel, for your own sake and for your neighbor’s?

Everything about you, and all that you are and have, is bound up with Christ Jesus. For you are baptized into Him. You have died with Him — through your Baptism into His death — and so, now, your life is hidden with Him in the bosom of God the Father. Your temporary sojourn on earth, including your stewardship of whatever means the Lord in His mercy has entrusted to your use, is sanctified, and has real meaning and good purpose, because you are taken up into Christ and His Gospel — through His Cross and Passion, into His Resurrection and His Life everlasting.

Do not cling to Him, therefore, in the dead and dying things of this world. Do not attempt to find Him and have Him for yourself in that which has only the appearance of beauty, but inwardly is perishing. That sort of beauty is vain, and its charm is deceitful.

Trying to hang onto Christ and His Life in the transitory familiarities of earth is futile and fatal.

The fact of the matter is, that, apart from His Word and His Voice of the Gospel, you do not know where or how to find Him (and you can’t). You are still in the dark, and so you are confused, and afraid, and you weep with sorrow. You seek comfort and security and answers to your questions from your mortal father, old Adam, but he is laid to rest in the tomb and remains there to rot. And thus intent upon the dust and the dirt, you are unable to recognize the risen Lord Jesus. You do not know Him as He is.

But He is not that gardener, old Adam. He is the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep — and takes it up again — that they may have abundant life in Him. He does for you and all His sheep as He did for dear Mary Magdalene: He calls you by name. He calls you with His sweet Voice of the Gospel — which forgives you all your sins, and casts out all your demons, and heals all your diseases, and raises you from death to life. His Voice calls you, and leads you and guides you, to and from the quiet waters of your Baptism, through the lush green pastures of His Word, to the laden Table of His Altar in His Father’s House. There He has prepared a great Feast for you, and He pours out His overflowing Chalice, which is the New Testament in His Blood.

Now your heart sings for joy, because you know the Voice of your Good Shepherd. You recognize and respond to the tone and timbre of His Gospel with its persistent rhythm of mercy and kindness, and its melody of forgiveness. You know, when He speaks, where He is to be found, where His Body is given and His Blood is poured out for you to eat and to drink. You know, when you hear His Voice, not only who He is and where He is, but who you are, and where you are.

Beloved, not only are you a dear sheep of this Good Shepherd, but you are an excellent wife of this true and heavenly Bridegroom. O son or daughter of the King, you belong to His most holy Bride! With St. Mary Magdalene, with Mary of Bethany and Mary the Mother of God, with Peter and John and all the witnesses of the Resurrection, and with all the baptized in every time and place, you belong to the Wedding Party of the Lamb, and you are seated with Him at His Table. For He takes you to be His very own, to have and to hold forever, and all that is His, He shares with you.

He rises from the dead; therefore, you also rise. He ascends to the right hand of God, and you are seated with Him in the heavenly places. His God and Father is now your God and Father. And He has prepared a place for you with Him, where even now your life is hidden, safe and secure.

Not only has He called you by name to Himself, but He has also called you by His own Name. Even now that is your surety, your pledge, your guarantee, your down-payment and your dowry, unto the life everlasting.

You are no longer in the dark, since Christ your Lord is risen from the dead. Even in the middle of the night, His Word is still a Lamp that does not go out, and by its light you rise up to eat and drink His Food from afar, and so to feed your neighbors in love. You are clothed with His scarlet and His purple, that is, with the forgiveness of His holy and precious Blood, and with the dignity and strength of His own royal righteousness. Therefore, you are made strong, and you are able to strengthen your household and family, your neighbors and friends, and all your brothers and sisters in Christ. For as He speaks so sweetly to you with His Voice of the Gospel, He likewise opens your mouth to speak in wisdom and with kindness to others.

Were you to look at yourself and consider yourself, for now, you would see no such glory, but only a poor gardener of sin and death, waiting to die and to be buried. But listen now, and hear the Voice of your Bridegroom, who has risen from the dead for you, who blesses you and praises you according to His grace, mercy and peace:

“Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all. For you are worth far more to Me than silver and gold, more than many rubies and fine jewels. Have I not sought you out and found you for Myself, and given Myself for you? Surely I have done so, and you are My own forever. Even in the gates of Hades I declare that you shall never perish but have abundant life in Me, and no one shall snatch you out of My hand. Rest assured that you shall not be put to shame, for I am your Refuge and Strength. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.”

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

The most beautiful sermon for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene I've ever read. Thanks for sharing, brother.