Sermon – April 5, 2015 – Easter Sunday

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyLooking Backward; Looking Forward

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, perfumed oils, so that they might go and anoint Jesus.” — Mark 16:1. [1]

It had been a long night. Salome was tired. She left the small dwelling, left her friends, wandered down the road a short distance and sat on a large rock.

A few moments after that she felt moved to pray. As she prayed, Salome thought about her friend back at the house.

Her friend was not doing well. She had some expectation that her friend was about to die and the very thought of that impending death filled her with a sense of sadness. She continued to pray but she also started to cry. (Slight pause.)

Salome looked to the sky, perhaps thinking there might be some solace in the endless vista. She could see many stars but the moon already had completed its rendevous with the horizon. Hence, stars provided the only light.

However, she was also aware a hint of dawn, the promise of a new day, has started to bristle in the Eastern sky. For a reason which should have been obvious to her but she did not consider, as she cried and looked skyward and prayed, memories of a similar Spring morning a long time ago began to interrupt her prayers.

Her recollection of that morning some thirty years in the past was still vivid. Mary of Magdala, Salome, Salome’s sister, Mary— Mary the mother of James— woke before sunrise. [2]

Mags— most of Magdala’s friends called her Mags— Mags was the most organized of the three, the strongest of the three, the one who was the clear thinker. There was no two ways about it. Mags was their leader.

It was Mags, the organized one, who woke up the rest of them that morning. “We need to be there when the sun rises,” she insisted.

In the near dark, together, they made their way toward the tomb where Yeshua— the name Yeshua is Jesus in the Greek and it means God saves— they made their way toward the tomb where Jesus had been placed. These thirty years later, there was no question in the mind of Salome about one inescapable fact.

Jesus— having been declared an enemy of the state, having been crucified by the Roman authorities, having been murdered by the state— Jesus was dead. She was there when the tomb was sealed.

Yet, when they came upon the tomb that morning, the stone used to cover the cleft in the rock had been rolled away. Even so, they knew Jesus had been executed, knew the body had been placed in that tomb. That the stone was not in their way made no sense to them. And so they entered the tomb, fully expecting to see the body of the Rabbi. They did not.

Salome clearly remembered a young person was sitting in the tomb but her memory of what happened next was a little foggy. She thought these words were spoken: “Do not be afraid! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was crucified. He has been raised and is not here.” (Slight pause.)

All these years later, the memory of those words took her breath away. Perhaps because she was thinking about those words she let out an audible sigh.

That’s when her sister, Mary, tapped her on the shoulder. “Mags wants to see you,” she said. “I think her time is near.”

“Oh, Mary,” said Salome trying to hold back tears. “Mags means so much to us. What shall we do without her?”

Mary could be quite practical. “There’s no time to fuss over that now. She wants to see you. She needs you.”

Mary and Salome returned to the house. Mags was sitting in a chair. She looked terrible. Her eyes did not seem to focus. Salome had seen death often enough. She knew Mags would soon die.

Mags waved at Salome and she approached the chair. Mags smiled and said in a whisper, “Right now I can’t help thinking about that morning at the tomb.” Salome and Mary nodded. Salome wondered if Mags realized she had been having those very same thoughts.

“We were very afraid. It took us some time,” Mags continued, “it took us some time but quite soon after that we understood what resurrection meant. We understood the presence of Jesus is real.”

Again Salome and Mary simply nodded. After all, they had experienced over and over and over what Mags was saying. The presence of Jesus is real. Resurrection affirms the covenant of God.

As Mary and Salome nodded, Mags smiled again. Then she said, “Do not be afraid. Jesus is with me. Jesus is with us.”

It was the last thing she said. She closed her eyes. A short time after that she stopped breathing. (Slight pause.)

After Mags had breathed her last, Salome leaned down and kissed the forehead of her friend. Then Salome stood tall and stiff and faced Mary. The two women looked each other in the eye and nodded. Then they hugged one another tight and they wept. (Slight pause.)

Hand in hand, they left the house. The sun was making its full presence known in the East. Suddenly they both started to laugh. They turned toward each other and looked each other in the eye again, smiling from ear to ear. Salome said, “It is like it was on that morning years ago: Jesus is with us.”

Mary said, “Do not be afraid. The promise of a new day is with us. I can feel the presence of the Rabbi. Jesus is with us and resurrection is real.”

Salome continued, “We are a part of the covenant God has made. We are a part of the presence of the living God. And it is as the Rabbi told us: we are and we need to be a part of doing the work of the living God, the work of healing, the work of forgiveness, the work of love.” Amen.

04/05/2015 ~ Easter Sunday
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I am sure the well known American composer Irving Berlin was a nice fellow. He wrote Easter Parade. He also wrote a lesser know Easter Song, It’s a Lovely Day, Happy Easter. I want to suggest, however, that to merely say, ‘Happy Easter’ is not a Christian sentiment. In fact, let me make a suggestion: if someone walks up to you today and says, ‘Happy Easter’ shake their hand and say, ‘Christ is risen.’ ‘Happy Easter’ is a secular sentiment. Christ is risen is the Christian sentiment.”

EASTER ACCLAMATION AND BENEDICTION: Please join with me in the Easter Acclamation.
ONE: Rejoice, people of God! Christ is risen from the dead! Go in peace to love and serve God. Christ is with you always. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
MANY: Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the love of Christ, Jesus, and in the knowledge of the Holy Spirit this day and forever.

[1] This was said when the reading from Mark was introduced: “I need to something one thing about translation: Mary Magdalene is at best a bad translation of that name. The name offered in the translation you are about to hear is a more accurate rendering. The Inclusive Language Version of Scripture was used.

[2] This is the only place in the NT Canon this Salome is mentioned. In non-canonical works Salome is referred to as the sister of Mary. Hence, I have here taken the liberty of applying that relationship which may or may not be the case. On the other hand, Mary is referred to as “Mary the mother of James.” Elsewhere in the Canon it is clearly stated James is the brother of Jesus. But this is not said in Mark. Hence, while this is not said in Mark, the Canonical implication made by that relationship is that Mary is also the mother of Jesus. If that is the case and if Mary is the sister of Salome, then the relationship implied is that Salome is the Aunt of Jesus. And, if that is the case, it would make sense that not only was Salome the Aunt of Jesus but that Salome would embark on the journey to the tomb with Mary of Magdala and Mary the Mother of James.

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