Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Crafting of a Sermon - #7

The Risen Christ appearing to
Mary of Magdala
I'm back from the funeral of Ruth Petree. Linda and are friends with a number of her family members. She will be greatly missed.

I'm meeting now with N.T. Wright. We're talking about John 20:11-18. Wright asks us to "feel the force of v. 17": Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' By "feel the force" Wright does not have in mind "The Force" that Obi Wan Kenobi talks about. Rather, when Jesus says these words to Mary of Magdala, "something has altered, decisively. Something has been achieved. A new relationship has sprung to life like a sudden spring flower. The disciples are welcomed into a new world: a world where they can know God the way Jesus knew God, where they can be intimate children with their father." (Wright, John, 145)

I love this! And, it rings true to me, both hermeneutically and experientially.

N.T. Wright goes further in saying, because of what has changed, we can be "true Israleites at last." After all, Israel's calling was to be God's firstborn, God's son (Ex. 4:22). In various Old Testament writings and in subsequent Jewish thought "there was a sense that if Israel really was God's child an estrangement had taken place." (Ib., 145) When, e.g., Jesus told the story of the son who went in disgrace to a far country (the "parable of the prodigal son"), the Jewish listeners knew Jesus was talking about them.

Most American sermon-hearers do not make that connection, if it is to be made at all. The parable of the prodigal son is always taken as an "everyman" tale. Wright asks how Jesus' hearers would have heard this parable. He is certain that they would have taken it personally. I not only can see how they would have thought that way, but I'll add that I know the ways we think of these parables are mostly not how Jesus' hearers did. The Gospels are not to function like Rohrshach tests whereby we read them and speak forth what we see.

Let's follow the "lost son parable" a bit further. The lost son goes into "exile." But now, with his death and resurrection, Jesus has "broken through the exile, has made a way back from the ultimate far country, death itself. A way back to the father's house. And everyone who follows Jesus is welcome there in his name, as a beloved son or daughter." Whew! And...  wow... How beautiful...

So Jesus, in our passage of concern, gives Mary of Magdala a "stunning invitation." There she is, weeping, mourning. She is an exile. All exiles are now invited to join her. "Normal" life is death-inevitable. Mary's teacher is dead, and they have stolen his dead body. So things are worse, as if they could be any worse. Mary represents all people who have wept over this death-world that, frankly, at times just plain sucks. Here we have "the world's grief, Israel's grief, concentrated in Mary's grief." (Ib., 146)

Then, Mary looks in the tomb. It's not as expected in our world of expectations. Angels are there. When people are afraid, angels tell them not to be. When people's eyes flood with tears, angels ask why. Mary speaks to them (whether or not she recognizes who they are): "They have taken away my lord..."

Wright asks us to stand with Mary, peeking into the tomb. We bring our cares to these angels, saying... "They've taken away...  my home... my husband... my children... my rights... my dignity... my hopes... my life. "They have taken away my master."

I like what Wright is doing here. He understands the text (he "stands under" the text), and preaches from that point of view. Surely Mary brings her loss, the loss of her life, to the two white-dressed persons. She had placed her entire life into the basket of Jesus. Now Jesus' body is not even here to look at, to anoint, to care for.

Then Mary turns around, and there he is.

She thinks he's just the gardener. (Wright massages the word "gardener" and says that, in some ways, Jesus is The Gardener. right now the thought comes to me...  I won't be preaching this. It's taking too much textual liberty. It strikes me as doubtful that this kind of double meaning is God-intended.)

Jesus asks her, "Who are you looking for?" Does Mary know? Yes, and no. Yes, of course, she knows Jesus. But Jesus is alive "with a new sort of life, the like of which we'd never seen before." Wright then invites us. "Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you've brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today." (Ib., 146) Nice. this might be the way God asks me to go at the end of Sunday's message.