The First Apostle
In court, lawyers often have to call expert witnesses to offer opinions what certain evidence means.
Experts explain things that are unfamiliar to a jury.
Thins the jury can’t understand without an explanation from someone who is qualified to tell them.
But before the expert could offer an opinion, he or she must describe their qualifications.
What makes them an expert?
So they tell the jury about their experience and education and their knowledge of the facts of the case.
All this was to assure the testimony was sufficiently reliable that the jury could depend on it when deciding the case.
You are probably asking what this has to do with Easter.
Let’s take a look.
John 20: 1-18
20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Our Lenten sermon series presented the biographies of some of the12 disciples.
Peter, James, John, Matthew, Thomas and Judas specifically and on Palm Sunday the two unnamed disciples who went and got the colt Jesus used to demonstrate his messiahship.
But we also know that there were many followers of Jesus besides the 12 in his inner circle.
Were they also considered disciples?
Luke says they were and said there were at least 72 of them!
And according to Luke, some of them were women!
One of those women was Mary Magdalen.
According to Luke, Jesus cast out seven demons out from her and understandably, she became a follower.
So, Mary was a disciple of Jesus.
What else do we know about her?
When we see lists of women who followed Jesus, Mary Magdalene is typically first.
That means she was likely the leader of the women like Peter was the leader of the men.
She, along with the other women, also helped support Jesus financially.
But was she an apostle?
Is there a difference between a disciple and an apostle?
A disciple is a student.
An apostle is a disciple sent by his or her teacher to teach others.
But there appears to have been one very specific additional thing necessary to qualify someone as an apostle of Jesus.
According to Paul, an apostle was one called by the risen Lord to be his witness in the world.
So, to be an apostle, you had to have seen the resurrected Jesus!
That is what qualified a person to be Jesus’ emissary.
To pass on his wisdom.
You would start out by saying something like this:
“The resurrected Jesus came to me and told me to go and tell you this.”
To be sure, Peter would add that an apostle also had to be a disciple first.
Someone who was a follower of Jesus during his earthly life.
While Paul might take issue with this, here’s what’s interesting.
Mary Magdalene qualifies under either definition.
She was a follower and supporter of Jesus who had appeared to her after the resurrection and told her to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was alive again.
She was an apostle.
And according to our scripture reading today, she was the first one.
Why would Jesus appear to Mary Magdalene first?
Maybe because she was with him while he was on the cross at the end of his life.
Maybe because she was there when Jesus was buried.
Maybe because she was the first to come to the tomb.
Who can say why she was the first?
Scripture is silent.
Yet, all four Gospels say she was.
What else do we know about her?
Not much more than what I just said.
We might think we know stuff.
Many think she was a prostitute, an adulteress, a woman with a bad reputation.
But there is nothing in scripture that says she was any of those things.
Jesus did come across such women, but none are identified as Mary Magdalene, who in scripture, is always specifically named.
So, Mary Magdalene was just a woman who came from a place called Magdala, had been possessed by seven demons which had been cast out by Jesus, and understandably became a follower of Jesus.
There is a lot of apocryphal stuff about Mary Magdalene.
Some say she and Jesus were married!
Thank you, Dan Brown!
Others say that only Mary Magdalene really “understood” Jesus.
Some say that Peter was jealous of her close relationship with Jesus.
Some say she travelled to southern France where she died and was buried.
Not many people take any of these stories seriously.
But, the only thing everyone seems to agree on was that Mary Magdalene was the “apostle to the apostles”.
So, what does this mean to us on this Resurrection Day?
When we think of Mary Magdalene, we might see ourselves.
Ordinary folks trying to understand what this resurrection business is all about.
Did it happen?
What does it mean?
Mary was one of those.
She did not go to the tomb to see if Jesus was alive again.
She went to mourn.
Many years ago, my good friend Mitch died of cancer.
He was 23.
His mother went to his grave every day for a long time.
She would put fresh flowers on the grave.
She would sit and read.
She would talk.
She would cry.
She would pray.
She just wanted to be near Mitch.
That is what Mary Magdalene was up to.
Maybe she just wanted to be near where she thought Jesus was.
But when Mary gets there, the grave is open!
Think about that for a moment.
Can you imagine what she felt?
Not joy, I assure you.
Fear that the body of her beloved Jesus was stolen!
What other explanation could there be?
Mary certainly did not expect to see a living Jesus.
Mary sort of staggers backward, hand over her mouth, then turns and runs away.
Mary bursts in on Peter and John.
She screams, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb …’!
Who are “they”?
Maybe “they” were the one’s who opposed Jesus during his life and now wanted to rid the world of any trace of him.
Peter and John look at each other.
Then they rush out the door.
The scene is almost comical.
Can you imagine Peter and John bumping into each other at the door frame as they try to get through the door?
Once out, the race is on.
John, the younger is also the faster.
But when John gets to the grave he just paces outside.
Peter arrives a moment later and, true to form, heads straight into the tomb.
Just the grave clothes.
Peter slowly backs out.
He is speechless.
Now John crawls in.
The grave clothes are there but the body is not.
This makes no sense.
If people came and stole Jesus’ body, why waste time removing the grave clothes?
He tells Peter he believes something important has happened but can’t say what.
Certainly not a resurrection.
Then Peter and John just go home.
But Mary remains.
I like the way John describes it.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
While Peter and John have left, Mary Magdalene is still there.
Pacing outside the tomb.
Then, very tentatively, she peeks inside.
They ask her why she is weeping.
They seem truly puzzled.
Maybe they say to each other, “What did she expect to find?”
Jesus’ dead body, she tells them.
I want to think that the Angels looked at each other and one of them says, “She doesn’t know!”
Before the angels can say anything, she turns to run and bumps into Jesus.
But she does not recognize him.
Why would she?
A living Jesus is not what she was expecting.
“Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” he asks.
Maybe Mary says something like, “Are you the gardener? Where have they taken Jesus?”
Then the man then calls her by name.
Mary’s eyes get big.
Her hand covers her mouth!
I can see her weeping with delight.
“Teacher!” she cries.
She opens her arms and rushes to hug him.
She wants to grab Jesus and hold onto him.
Maybe she just wants to touch him to make sure he is real.
Maybe she is afraid he will dissappear.
She does not want him to leave again.
But Jesus tells her something important.Jesus backs away and tells her not to hold on to him but go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Why would he do this?
Maybe because now he is the “Resurrected Jesus”.
The one who died and is now the one alive again.
He is now the Christ.
But he is not done.
He is ascending to the Father.
His God and her God.
Gathering his divinity back as he goes.
Jesus tells Mary, “Don’t hold on to this physical body because I am not done with all I need to do.
I need to go back to the Father.
I must bring the incarnation to a close.
By returning to the Father, I am opening the doors to the Kingdom.
And I am taking you with me.”
Mary has been told something that changes everything for her.
Her world is different.
No need to look for Jesus among the dead anymore.
Jesus is alive.
He called her name.
And has given her a task.
Go and tell.
Go and tell the disciples that Jesus is going back to the Father and taking everyone with him.
Mary starts crying again, but now these are tears of joy.
She runs off to do what Jesus asked her to do.
She tells the disciples.
Who tell others.
Who tell us.
Jesus is rising.
He is rising indeed.
And he is taking us with him.
That is the message of the first apostle.
Happy Resurrection Day.