Sermon “Who Is That Woman?”
Lord, grant us your grace on this day, that we may see ourselves as the pure and spotless bride of Christ whom you are gathering to yourself, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today is the day the Church has historically recognized Mary Magdalene, one of the women who followed Jesus in his earthly ministry, the woman from whom Jesus cast out evil spirits, the woman whom he chose as the first witness of the resurrection. When we remember Mary we actually get a good look at ourselves.
We meet up with Mary in today’s reading from John chapter 20. When we see her she’s in a terrible state of confusion. She doesn’t know what to do. Not only is Jesus, the one she looked to as the Messiah, the Son of God, the eternal savior, dead. He’s been buried and everyone is in disarray. Yet when Mary goes to the tomb, it has been opened and he isn’t there any more. When she gets the disciples they verify he is gone and after wondering for a while they go away. Mary stays. What should she do? Jesus is gone. Maybe someone took the body? Jesus then appears to her, making Mary, this Mary of Magdala, from a backwater town, this woman from whom he cast out demons, this woman who is not a prominent member of society in any way, this woman whose testimony wouldn’t be accepted in any court of law, yet he makes her the first eyewitness of the resurrection. He didn’t appear first to Peter and John, who were there looking into the tomb. He didn’t appear to the disciples where they were when Mary first went to find them. He appears to Mary. He sends her as a witness of his resurrection. She’s about the least likely candidate as a witness.
I have an illustration that might shed light on this. One of my friends years ago was working in a ministry setting in a small town which was resistant to the Gospel. He had worked for a couple of years to establish a foothold for Christianity and was having a Bible study. It grew to about five people, and then some of them decided the claims of Christ were too radical. They left the Bible study. Even his friend who had seemed loyal and dedicated expressed doubt whether he should continue in this Bible study. My friend John was very disappointed that even Juan Baptista was not seeming reliable. Then John considered the fact that Juan Baptista was not the real name of this man, who lived in an asylum and really thought he was, well, Juan Baptista. But when John the Baptist leaves the Bible study you have to wonder.
What kind of credible witness was the delusional John the Baptist? No more than Mary Magdalene, who had a background involving demons. Ultimately, neither of these people is a more credible witness than you or I. We didn’t see Jesus raised from the dead. We just read about it and heard about it. We heard the message from someone, and it was probably from someone who heard the message from someone else. Very few people go and investigate the archaeological and textual evidence before hearing the Gospel. They tend to do it after hearing and usually after believing. And you know the kind of people we believe when we first hear the Gospel. We believe people like you and me. We believe witnesses who aren’t all that much more credible personally than Mary Magdalene. We would even believe people like, well, you name it. We aren’t expert witnesses. We don’t receive special divine messengers, angels from heaven. Or do we? What kind of witness do we have?
The title of this sermon is “Who Is That Woman?” And that woman we point at isn’t, in fact, Mary Magdalene. It’s the woman from Proverbs 31. Now is the time that I end up walking on eggshells. I have to say, and I can say confidently, that the Proverbs 31 woman, the one who brings us the Gospel, the one who is the kind of witness we can all believe, the kind of witness our world can believe, is in this room today. She’s here right now. But here’s where I get ready for trouble. She isn’t my wife. Martha tries, but she isn’t the Proverbs 31 woman. And I dare say, men, she isn’t the wife of any of you either. They may try. They may be very fine women. But they aren’t the people we’re going to believe as witnesses of the resurrection. Who is that woman, then? She’s not my wife, she’s not your wife, and she never will be. She’s the perfect bride of Christ. She’s the Church, the one Jesus has chosen, the one Jesus has forgiven, cleansed, and renewed, the one Jesus has made to walk in his paths, the one Jesus has proclaimed his witness. Who is that witness? She’s the Church. That’s the one who cares for her family. That’s the one who makes sure the poor are fed and clothed. That’s the one who makes sure her husband, Jesus, is exalted in the community. That’s the one who is a faithful witness. That’s the one who is a credible witness to the perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, who came to die on our behalf and to give us his perfect holiness, to all who will believe on him. That Proverbs 31 woman is all of us, together, living the life Jesus has given us, living as his witnesses in this world.
Is the Church credible in the eyes of this world? Sometimes we aren’t any more acceptable as witnesses than Mary Magdalene was. We’ve done plenty of things to bring shame and disrepute upon ourselves. We’ve been full of trouble, full of strife, like Mary was full of demons we also have past. Like Mary was confused and wandering around in the graveyard, sometimes we are confused and wandering. We get off-message. We find ourselves majoring on minors. We find ourselves trusting in this world’s wisdom, the plans of man, setting our hopes on our own potential, our own goodness, our own ability. We make our plans and run with them regardless of what our Savior has given us. We confuse the message of the resurrection. We fail in our care for the poor, the hungry, the needy of all sorts. We welcome people into the Church as long as they are already respectable people, leaving everyone else out in the cold. We want people, maybe we even want ourselves, to get ourselves in order and then prove that we are worthy of Jesus. That’s the wrong message. That leaves us wandering around in the graveyard. That leaves us not seeing Jesus, who rose from the dead so that we, who were dead in sin and trespasses, could rise as well. That leaves us trying to save ourselves, something we confess we can never do. Yes, we, the Church, make ourselves into a witness who can’t be believed, who can’t be trusted.
May the Lord give us repentance! May he convict us of our sinful efforts and show us his perfect victory over death, hell, and the grave, applying it to us by his mercy and grace. May the Lord make us into faithful witnesses of him, as the resurrection and the life.
Where are you today? Are you wandering around? Maybe you have been thinking of the Church as an organization for social change. We’re more than that. Maybe you have thought of your role as someone who will improve yourself so that you can be a witness for Jesus. Maybe you’ve never thought of the fact that Jesus proclaims you his holy Bride, part of his chosen people who show his glory. Maybe you’ve tried to work out your salvation, to make yourself righteous before Jesus, but you’ve found that it doesn’t work because you just can’t make yourself good enough for him. Or maybe you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking by all your good works, all your prayers, all your dedication you are makign yourself worthy of his love. Maybe you’re glorying in yourself rather than in the Lord. That isn’t what the Bible gives us. That isn’t the woman who is the witness of the resurrection. That isn’t the Proverbs 31 woman. She cares for others and makes her Lord, Jesus Christ, receive the respect he deserves. That’s what the Church is all about.
As we look to our Lord and his provision in the rest of today’s divine service, may the Lord give us grace to trust in him and be witnesses of his resurrection. If you are finding that you aren’t part of that, if you have questions, if you don’t know that Jesus has given himself for you and for your salvation, there are plenty of godly leaders here, people who have been witnesses of the resurrection for many years, people who can look to the Word of God and help you see how Jesus gives you help and hope. Seek us out. We can look into the Scripture and pray. Jesus’ resurrection is for you too. He came to bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Join with us as we trust in him.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.