Sunday, July 22, 2012

St. Mary Magdalene and the Shooting in Aurora, Colorado: Homily for the 7th Sunday After Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

St. Matthew 9: 27-35
Epistle to the Romans 15: 1-7
There are times when terrible tragedies occur that no one can explain or make sense of.  The shooting in the movie theater in Colorado is one of those senseless, unbelievably bad events.  Though far removed from us geographically, the graphic reports of this crime have surely impacted us all.  They remind us that we do not have the luxury of living in a world that is all sweetness and light or even basically humane or secure.  When such things happen, we may feel the darkness bearing down upon us and fear threatening to overtake us.  It can be hard to find a way out.
            St. Mary Magdalene knew the darkness of despair, grief, and loss all too well.  She had been possessed by seven demons which Christ cast out of her, and then she became one of His women disciples.  She helped support Him from her own resources and stood at the foot of cross as the Lord died.  We can only imagine how devastated and traumatized she must have been to see the One who had delivered her from evil executed in such a gruesome way.  Her world was surely turned upside down as she saw her Savior killed before her very eyes.
            But after resting on the Sabbath day, Mary Magdalene went very early on Sunday to anoint Christ’s body for burial.  That’s why she is called a myrrh-bearer.  And that’s when she was the first to see the empty tomb, the first to see the Risen Lord, and the first to proclaim the good news of the resurrection, which she did to the doubting apostles.  She has the title of Equal to the Apostles because she actually evangelized them and then continued spreading the gospel throughout her life. Despite her fear and pain, Mary Magdalene refused to abandon the Savior, even when He was dead.  And because of her steadfast faith, love, and courage in going to anoint His body, she was blessed with the greatest news of the universe.  She continued sharing that good news, traveling with the apostles as an evangelist and even proclaiming Christ’s resurrection to the Roman Emperor.  We celebrate her memory today, ask for her prayers, and strive to be like her.    
            But it’s hard to follow Mary Magdalene’s example because we are too much like the men whom Christ encountered in today’s gospel reading.  Two of them were blind and one of them was mute, which means that he could not speak.  In a world of senseless shootings, and ongoing wars and worries about terrorism, not to mention our own personal problems, we have become too well adjusted to the darkness that is all around us.  We may find it hard to see the light of the Kingdom in a world of death and decay.
            We also too easily lose the ability to speak a word of blessing, comfort, or hope in times of pain and loss. There seem to be perfectly good reasons in life to be fearful and worried and to think that that’s just the way things are.  So we build walls between ourselves and others and trust in nations or politicians or medication or own resourcefulness to help us make it through.  The problem is that moving around the deck furniture on the Titanic has never worked.   We need more than a better means of coping with the night.  We need our eyes opened to the light that is never overtaken by night, to the light of Christ, which shines even from an empty tomb.
            Now let’s be clear:  Our Savior did not try to hide the dark and painful dimensions of life in the world as we know it.  He died on a cross and told His disciples that they could expect the same.  He came not to bring peace, but a sword that would cut through our ties to the false gods of this world that we have come to love and serve.  Our calling as Christians is not to pretend that all is well, but instead to open the eyes of our souls to the brilliant light that Christ has brought to a world of crucifixions and wars and terrorist attacks and mass murders.  We won’t pretend that there is a secret explanation or answer as to why innocent people suffer.  But we know that in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, God has entered into our world of pain and death.  Our Savior suffered with us that we might rise with Him and share in the life of an eternal day that knows no night, no darkness at all. 
            Mary Magdalene did not behold the Risen Christ because she denied that He had died.  She went to the tomb to anoint a dead body; yes, she accepted the reality of the situation.  Despite her grief, fear, and bitter disappointment, she went to offer the one last act of love that she could to her Savior by preparing His body for a proper burial.  And that’s when, like those blind men, her eyes were opened to His glorious resurrection.  That’s when, like the mute man, her mouth was opened to proclaim the news that He is risen.  Christ delivered those men from their infirmities and he did the same for Mary Magdalene.  She was with Him in the misery of the crucifixion and He made her a participant in the joy of the Kingdom.
            Joy in this sense is not having all our problems go away, getting what we want, or going around like we are on some kind of spiritual painkiller.  Instead, it’s a foretaste of heavenly peace, a confident hope that God’s purposes will be fulfilled for us, that we will become more truly ourselves as we grow in the divine likeness.  We can’t stop tragic world events or even our own personal crises; there’s no telling what life in our fallen world will send our way.  But like Mary Magdalene, we may respond to those challenges in ways that bring us more fully into the peace that passes understanding, into the blessings of a Kingdom not of this world.  It’s not about denying harsh realities, but about how we react to them.
            Keep in mind here St. Paul’s advice to the Romans:  Bear with the weak and don’t please yourself.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good.  Be likeminded toward one another according to Jesus Christ.  Receive one another just as Christ also received us to the glory of God.  In other words, treat others as the Lord has treated you.  Become a living icon of His mercy, comfort, and patience in a world that falls so easily into hatred, despair, and fear.  That’s what the myrrh-bearer Mary Magdalene did when she went to anoint the body of the Lord.  And it’s what we must do in a world of scared, sick, lonely, and needy people.  Instead of wallowing in our own problems and being paralyzed by own fears, we can all follow her example of extending the love of Christ to someone else.  A visit, a phone call, a card,  help with a practical project, a simple expression of friendship—whatever it might be—can become an icon that God has not abandoned them and that there is at least a spark of light in the darkness.
            We know that darkness all too well and we can’t click our heels and make it go away.  But by God’s grace, we may open our lives to the One who transformed the blackest night into the glorious light of the Kingdom.  He went to the cross for us.  He understands our pain and fear. So following the example of Mary Magdalene and all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God.  At the end of the day, that’s how we respond as Christians to even the worst that our corrupt world has to offer.  We proclaim the good news of His resurrection and show His love to others.      


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