SERMON – Clothed in Love
I remember in my growing up years, my brother and I would receive new clothes three times a year. Once in the fall, we would have a day that my mother would call “school shopping.” We took really good care of those clothes because they would have to last us an entire school year so we’d come home from school every day and Mom would say: “Put on your play clothes” because school clothes were special.
The second time we would get new clothes would be Christmas – but those clothes were usually things to replace the clothes we had worn out or outgrown since the school shopping. At the very least, they would complement the special school shopping clothes, but still they were special.
But the time when the whole family would get new clothes, not just the children but the whole family – was Easter, and everybody would always get a new church outfit. And that outfit was the most special thing I would get all year – a new Easter dress. And every Easter Sunday morning, we’d all wake up and get to wear our special new clothes.
Why do we always get new clothes for Easter? Well, it may go back to the early Church when newly baptized Christians came up out of the water and were wrapped in a new white robe and anointed with fragrant oil to represent their special new lives. And the whole church celebrated the death to their old ways of living, and the whole church celebrated their new life in Jesus Christ. It was a whole new life! I have even read that they would wear their new white clothes all through that next week to symbolize that they had been cleansed from sin. Other Christians would dress in new clothes too, to show that they had also risen to a whole new life in Christ.
Now, this year may look a bit different to us. I certainly didn’t have an opportunity to shop for a new Easter outfit, and I’m not with my friends at church admiring their new Easter clothes… social distancing in the midst of a worldwide pandemic has created a season like nothing else in my lifetime.
The Divine Street family is not gathered in our beautiful worship space with our stained glass windows and our glorious singing with choir anthems and organ music. Trumpets are not announcing the Risen Savior. We are not robed in celebratory reverence. The cross is not processing down the center aisle. This looks and feels different than any other Easter we can remember. And we don’t have to like it. We aren’t expected to like it. It’s not what we want… and yet… this morning isn’t about what we want.
Even a global crisis like this one cannot cancel our morning to celebrate whole and new life in Christ. Look around you – around your yard and your neighborhood – the symbols of new life are everywhere! The flowers, the flowering of the cross out on the sidewalk at our church, the church bells sounding out so gloriously this morning, people staying safe distances from one another but out and walking and waving to neighbors, and of course the butterflies that are beginning to be all around us. All of it is to remind you of the Living Christ who has been resurrected from the dead! It’s a whole new life and we are clothed in Love!
Mary Magdalene is reminded of new life on that first Easter morning – but not at first. Not only will she not have a new outfit this morning, she also will not be living into the “whole new life” outlook.
Mary comes from Magdala – a town looked down on by the religious righteous so the Jews don’t think much of her. Strike one.
Also, she was a woman – in this setting, she is a second class citizen. Strike two.
And Jesus has healed her of her demons – people would have seen those demons as a sign of God’s disapproval. Strike three.
So even though she has experienced her very own miracle, even though she has followed Jesus and worshipped him as the Messiah, Mary of Magdala has three strikes against her – and she was at the foot of the cross, stood right beside John and Jesus’ mother, and she saw Jesus die. So to her thinking on this morning, there are no butterflies, no new shopping trips, no new outfits – and certainly no new life. Mary is up early on this morning to ache and be miserable.
As the women approach the tomb, they cling tightly to their spices. They’ve come to wrap Jesus’ dead body in the proper way. Things happened too quickly just a couple of days earlier. Jesus died and was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb, and these women need to mourn a bit and to care for his body – Mary of Magdala carries with her the spices needed to anoint the body of the dead.
They go early in the morning while it is still dark – a lot like we might typically gather this morning before the sun comes up. Now when we have a sunrise service, we gather in anticipation of the light. Mary, however, is possibly approaching in darkness because that may be a little bit safer. Everyone is still on edge, and those in charge have even placed guards at Jesus’ tomb.
And Mary carefully approaches the tomb probably gathering the words in her mind that she will use to persuade those soldiers to move that stone and let her in to care for Jesus’ lifeless body. I think a part of her own life has died in these past days.
But suddenly the earth begins to shake under their feet as God’s angel comes right up to them, and rolls back the stone and sits on it. Lightning is blazing; his garments are shining. The soldiers are so scared they can’t move. And the angel begins to reassure the women.
“Don’t be afraid. I know why you’re here. You’re looking for Jesus – the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised just like he told you. Come on in and look in here. He’s not here, and he is not dead. He has a whole new life! Go tell everybody!” And as she runs to tell the disciples, Mary runs right into Jesus himself.
Can you imagine this moment?! Think of it… Mary Magdalene is healed by Jesus and receives her own miracle, is completely dedicated to Jesus and worships and follows him, is there when he is crucified, is there when he dies standing right there by John, is there when he is buried, is the first to understand that Jesus has risen from the dead, is the first to realize that Jesus is alive, is the first to see him alive, and is the first to tell the others. No wonder Augustine called her “The Apostle to the Apostles.”
With all this floating around in her head, Mary understands that, even though she does not have new Easter clothes, she is dressed in the new garments of Jesus Christ, dressed for a whole new life – just as we are this morning! Not in new Easter outfits for our friends to see, but with hearts dressed as Resurrection People! It’s a whole new life!
Church, we are celebrating new life in Christ this morning! As the sun rises every day, we are able to look around and see the symbols of new life are everywhere! Yellow pollen is everywhere blowing off the pines. Annoying for our cars and our breathing – but it represents new life springing forth. The flowers are blooming all over town. Azaleas and dogwoods and Iris, oh my! Grass is looking green again; forsythia is blooming. And if you haven’t already, it won’t be long before you see butterflies everywhere. All of it reminds us of the Living Christ who has been resurrected from the dead!
God looked down on this world of ours, generation after generation of us messing things up, and God said “After all this time, over and over working to get these people back to the life I intended for them in the first place… they just aren’t getting it. I’m going to have to go down there. I love them that much.” And God did just that. God came to earth in human form… as Jesus.
You know, there are always consequences to actions. There are penalties that have to be paid. And the only way to clean up the mess we had made, was for God (in the human form of Jesus) to take all our mistakes, all our burdens, all our shortcomings – take all our wrongs off our own shoulders, place all that weight squarely on his own shoulders, and then die and carry all our sins to the grave – fully paying our penalties. It’s done. But that wasn’t the end of the story. It isn’t even the best part!
After being completely dead for three days, Jesus – having already conquered sin – rose up from being dead – conquered death. Jesus lives again, will live forever, rules over everything, invites us to live forever with him, and is coming back for us!
We are facing a whole new life, but don’t be afraid. We may not be able to physically meet Jesus like Mary did, but we can certainly meet him spiritually. We can get to know him in our hearts. We can find a whole new life through Jesus. We can overcome our demons, our anxieties, our fears, our troubles. We can lose our old selves, get rid of the past pain, and be dressed in the new garments of Jesus Christ – your new Easter outfit!
All we have to do is accept that Jesus has given us this gift because we are loved by God. Once that acceptance is in place, then we respond from our hearts, loving God back and loving one another. It’s a whole new life and you are clothed in Love!