Tag Archives: Jesus Christ Superstar

Mary Magdalene at the The Cross/The Tree of Jesus

Easter Sunday sermon:  The scriptures are embedded in the text, but I would also like to share that I am sharing some of the music from Jesus Christ Superstar during the service, also.  Please listen to Mary Magdalene’s song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and the final song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” at its inclusion.  I was fortunate to see the Broadway production in 1972 with my high school classmates on our senior trip.  The fact that it is going to be a live performance this Easter Sunday on NBC will be a dramatic ending to this Easter Sunday.  

Let me introduce you to Mary of Magdala.  Her image is the final one in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  She is sitting on a stone, weeping and alone—at least the artist has her pictured this way in the window.

The trial and the crucifixion is over and the very same people who were standing along the road cheering as Jesus arrived on a donkey one week earlier are now in hiding.  Mary of Magdala is not.

Mary stayed beside Jesus as he hung on the cross and died. Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and places it in his personal tomb late Friday just before Sabbath began. The first opportunity Mary and a few other women have to complete the burial practice was Sunday morning:

It was customary to wash the body and anoint it with perfumes and spices, not ever for embalming but always to control the odors. . . . The hands and feet were wrapped with linen clothes (grave-bands), and the face and head were covered with a small cloth and bound.  It was loving friends and relatives, mostly women, who prepared the body.  The Jews did not use coffins and did not embalm. [Accessed on 3-29-18 at http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/burial.html.]

 

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary of Magdala is first introduced by Luke earlier in the story of Jesus’ ministry found in Luke 8:1-3:

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.

 

This introduction immediately follows the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet while at a dinner with the Pharisees.

But who is this Mary and why did she stay beside Jesus only to be the one who witnessed and recognized his resurrection first?

Research shares insight into the character Mary Magdalene, but the reality of this woman cannot be definitively identified with factual details.  The possibility of her relationship with Jesus being more than a disciple is the subject of movies.  The research cannot refute it, but the fact does not change the importance of Luke’s and John’s reporting of her presence at the resurrection.  And, if the possibility of the intimate relationship with Jesus is true, the morning of the Resurrection may actually be more believable.

The Gospel of John reports the morning’s events to the earliest Christians:

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

     Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

     11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

      14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary came from the city of Magdala, a trade center, and probably was a successful businesswoman in the textile industry. She was afflicted with seven demons according to the scripture.  The story does not explain, but you know the demons that can cause one to lose focus. Maybe she was mentally struggling with manic depression.  Maybe one demon was physical pain from something like endometriosis or rheumatoid arthritis. Maybe she had a strawberry birthmark that caused her embarrassment.

The demon does not matter, but what the story tells us is that Jesus loved her unconditionally and healed her from the demons. Such unconditional love is the message that Jesus delivered.  Mary chose to accept that unconditional love and responded in a manner that she became a disciple—maybe even one of Jesus’ inner circle, an apostle.

Put yourself in Mary’s place on that Sunday morning. Would you have been sitting on that rock weeping?  Or would you have been one who had gone into hiding?

Mary’s story continues as she arrives at the tomb early Sunday morning.  Her sorrow keeps her steps slow and heavy.  Her head remains downward.  She carries the supplies she needs to complete the burial ritual.  There is no joy in her heart, in her step, nor in her expression.  Her eyes are red from the tears shed over the past several days.  Her hair is a mess.  She has no reason to fix herself up.  She is raw.

And as she reaches the tomb, she looks up.  The stone is rolled away from the opening! The exhaustion she feels turns into agitated confusion.  Why is the tomb open?  Why is the tomb empty?  New tears begin flowing now from confusion and uncertainty and even fear.

Then she turns and sees a figure.  Out of context.  Out of a mind.

And the figure speaks to her. Only when he addresses her in that familiar tone she knows so well, “Mary”, does Mary of Magdala recognize Jesus.  In John, the story continues:

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Tears turn to joy!

Mary carried the news to the other disciples.  She knew where they were.  She knew the importance of reporting what she saw—who she spoke to. The story of Jesus’ ministry must continue and she who may have been the most emotionally connected to Jesus now had to take a new role—deliver the message of his resurrection.  He still had work to do and even though she wanted to hold him, she couldn’t.  Her faith caused her to move into action.

In a male-dominated culture, where Jesus treated the women equally, Mary Magdalene recognizes the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive and all the disciples now must carry the story forward.  They must live as Jesus taught them.  You, too, even 2,000 years later are to join in the task of telling the good news, living the Christian lifestyle, and loving one another as you want to be loved.

Why did Jesus speak to Mary that Sunday morning?

Because he lives.  [Conclude with the music, Because He Lives.]

Closing prayer

 

Dear ever-loving Lord,

May we experience the joy

Mary of Magdala did

As Jesus called out her name.

May we hear God call our names

As Mary Magdalene did

Knowing we, too, are with you

Now and forever.

Guide us to understanding.

Guide us to commitment.

Guide us to serve

One another in love,

Unconditional love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Prepare Ye!

given on Sunday, April 6, 2014

Prepare. What a packed word! There are so many different ways to talk about that one word and it seems to affect our lives—prepare. Prepare a meal, prepare for guests, prepare for the day’s work, prepare for a trip, prepare for retirement, even prepare for the end.

Prepare ye! Just one more word added on, but it changes the entire perspective. Why prepare ye, or in today’s vernacular, prepare yourself? Adding yourself to that verb creates a simple phrase with an entirely different perspective. Preparing yourself is much more than following a morning routine getting ready for the new day.

When Mark used Isaiah 40:3 to open his gospel, he invoked a reference familiar to the Jewish people yet he was talking to the new Christians of Rome. The reference provides a historical connection to the prophecies the Jewish people knew so well. Using such a key verse can preserve the link of modern humanity to historical humanity.

Prepare Ye the Way. The words woke me. They circle around and around in my head. It triggered memories, questions, and ideas. Why? Each extra word that adds to the phrase becomes more and more weighted. Prepare yourself the way. Now the verb, the personal connection is moving toward the Way.

What way? How does one prepare for the way when it is an unclear destination? Back to the Biblical verses:

 

Isaiah 40:3 [the NIRV]:

A messenger is calling out,
“In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord.
Make a straight road through it
for our God.

 

Mark 1:3 [the NIRV]:

“A messenger is calling out in the desert,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord.
Make straight paths for him.’”

 

The way is to the Lord. Prepare yourself for the way to the Lord. Isaiah the prophet told his people they needed to prepare the way for the Lord in roughly 681 BC while Mark was repeating the same words to the newest Christians about 750 years later around 60 AD. Here today, in 2014 AD, almost two full millenniums later, these words pop up and circle through my brain.

The common thread continues to weave the generations together; it continues to direct our thinking, our actions, and our purposes toward the Lord, our father, creator, protector, and comforter. The way to the Lord is not a simple path.

Growing up on the farm, preparation is part of the structure of daily life as well as the year’s growing cycle. The farmer follows the cycle God provided for waking up, for working, and for resting. It is a cycle for the day as much as it is for the entire year. Whether it is January or July, the farmer’s pattern is set by the very world God created. Separating God from that life risks the very source of life—God’s creation meant to meet the needs of all.

After the week when farmers tackled the fields to prepare them for the seeds, planted the seeds, and left them to God’s care in the soil to warm and to water for germination is a clear example of preparing the way for the Lord. Once the preparation is complete, farmers know they must place their faith in the Creator.

This same process is what the prophets in the Old Testament had to do with preparing the people for the way of the Lord. Isaiah is full of messages trying to prepare the Jewish people for the way of the Lord. The Bible we know is filled with Old Testament prophets who tried to prepare people. If the people had listened and followed the way of the Lord—loving each other and being good stewards of the earth, would the way to the Lord have included the stories of the New Testament?

In Mark, invoking the words of Isaiah set up the connection to John the Baptist. Rather than starting his gospel with the birth of Jesus, Mark chose to begin with the work of John the Baptist. He reports the preparation that John did to prepare the people for Jesus:

And so John came. He baptized people in the desert. He also preached that people should be baptized and turn away from their sins. Then God would forgive them. All the people from the countryside of Judea went out to him. All the people from Jerusalem went too. When they admitted they had sinned, John baptized them in the Jordan River.

 

John was preparing the way for the Lord. And the way was through the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s son sent to teach all, not just the Israelites, how to live so that all could have eternal life–the way to the Lord.

Prepare Ye the Way! Our millennium is over 2,000 years after Christ walked this earth. Are we listening? Have prophets been carrying the message to the generations since Jesus’ death and resurrection? Have we prepared each other for the coming of Jesus Christ?

During the late 1960’s the chaos that spread through our country seemed to spark a movement that destroyed all the preparation Jesus and the Apostles had done. A survey of history shows that Jesus’ message had been carried by disciples/priests from the cross on the hill to the European continent and across the oceans.

The way has not been easy. The conflicts between men created much of the evil that was witnessed by the Israelites and the earliest Christians. During the 1960s that chaos included the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights, the War on Poverty, and even the Equal Rights Movement. In the middle of this came modern prophecies:

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good

            His love endures forever

            Hallelujah, oh, my soul

            Praise God, all my life long I will praise God

            Singing songs to my God as long as I will live

 

            I will praise you, oh Lord, with all my heart

            Before the Gods I will sing Your praise

            I will bow down toward Your holy temple

            And will praise Your name for Your loge and Your faithfulness

 

            Prepare ye the way

            Prepare ye the way of the Lord. . .

            –from Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “Prepare Ye the Way” in the musical Godspell

 

Prepare.

            Prepare ye/yourself.

            Prepare ye for the way.

            Prepare ye for the way for the Lord.

 

In today’s society we do not talk about prophets instead the term used is futurists. Typically futurists do not focus on spiritual topics but trends in the lifestyles and/or business. They look at what may be next in how we conduct business. The think tanks do not spend time assessing how humans live as much as they look at what can be done to improve quality of earthly life. Yet, the prophets are there we just do not want to hear the messages.

Godspell prophesized we need to prepare ye the way for the Lord. Just like Mark, the musical goes directly to the prophet Isaiah’s words to prepare ye the way for the Lord. Undoubtedly the parallels are too uncomfortable to discuss, yet in the 1960’s the truth is in the words, not only in Godspellbut in another rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. In the theme song, Judas says:

Ev’ry time I look at you

            I don’t understand

            Why you let the things you did

            Get so out of hand

            You’d have managed better

            If you’d had it planned

            Now why’d you choose such a backward time

            And such a strange land?

 

            If you’d come today

            You could have reached a whole nation

            Isreal in 4 BC

            Had no mass communication . . .

           

            Don’t get me wrong, now . . .

            Only want to know . . .

            Jesus Christ

            Who are you? What have you sacrificed . . .

            Do you think you’re what they say you are? . . .

 

            Tell me what you think

            About your friends at the top

            Now who d’you think besides yourself

            Was the pick of the crop?

            Buddah was he where it’s at?

            Is he where you are?

            Could Mohomet move a mountain

            Or was that just PR?

            Did you mean to die like that?

            Was that a mistake or

            Did you know your messy death

            Would be a record breaker?

 

            Don’t get me wrong, now . . .

            Only want to know . . .

            Jesus Christ

            Who are you? What have you sacrificed . . .

            Do you think you’re what they say you are?

                  –from the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar

 

Judas set into motion the end of Jesus’ story. He betrayed Jesus, and Jesus knew he would betray him:

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “What I’m about to tell you is true. One of you who is eating with me will hand me over to my enemies.”

19 The disciples became sad. One by one they said to him, “It’s not I, is it?”

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” Jesus replied. “It is the one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But how terrible it will be for the one who hands over the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

 

Place yourself in Judas’ place. Did he prepare the way of the Lord or not? Had the prophets known that Jesus’ ministry would end in such a betrayal and gruesome manner? Was it part of the plan? During Jesus’ last supper with his family and friends, was he continuing to prepare the way for the Lord?

When we come to the Lord’s table, are we preparing our way to the Lord? Are we a Judas? Are we a Peter? Are we prepared to carry on Jesus’ work or not? Are we prepared?

Today as we share the bread and the cup, do we hear today’s prophets telling us to prepare the way for the Lord or do we just go through the motions with no understanding?

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread. He gave thanks and broke it. He handed it to his disciples and said, “Take it. This is my body.”

23 Then he took the cup. He gave thanks and handed it to them. All of them drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the new covenant,” he said to them. “It is poured out for many. 25 What I’m about to tell you is true. I won’t drink wine with you again until the day I drink it in God’s kingdom.”

 

Prepare. Get busy. Make sure you have done what God has asked you to do. Live the life given you by God. Share the stories of Jesus. Demonstrate God’s love to one and to all.

Prepare yourself. Do not slide on the very acts of piety needed to keep your Christian faith strong. Pray. Study the Bible. Worship—privately and corporately.

Prepare yourself for the way. The work never stops. Farmers know this all too well, but so do successful parents, businessmen, artists, and more. Preparation is not just an occasional process; it is a daily even lifelong process.

Prepare yourself for the way of the Lord. Buried in this phrase is a tiny little word that can make such a difference: of. Think about the implications of that one tiny word:

  • . . . the way of the Lord: OF seems to indicate that we are to follow the way of the Lord, not our way—but His way.
  • . . . the way to the Lord: TO indicates that through preparation, we will reach God’s side; a goal filled with hope.
  • . . . the way for the Lord: FOR the Lord implies that one needs to be open to the possibilities the Lord may have for one’s life; a promise.

 

What a challenge! What a thrill! What a reward! Prepare yourself for the way of the Lord. The prophets have spoken. Jesus has lived. We are the ones who are to prepare the way.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We hear you.

We know you.

We prepare for you.

Guide us as we prepare

not only ourselves

but others

for the way

of the Lord,

for the way

to the Lord

and to eternal life

by your side. –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion