‘Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.’ (LK 9:60)
Resurrection flies in the face of the sorrows we nurture and the Jesus we tend to conform to the image of our sorrows.
Jesus on the other hand broke the back of grief by assuming it at Calvary. If the Gospel accounts of His rising are true, He does not tolerate for long our weeping at His Cross and tomb. He simply has too much for us to do. He conquered death and wants us to join in the dance of new life, something strange and unsettling for us who are more acquainted with grief than glory. We who mope need the marvel of Easter.
Take Mary Magdalene. Her whole life was bound up in Jesus, in an intimate bond of love with the One who delivered her then died. Her grief over His departure kept her glued to the tomb; sadness slowed her down, and compelled her to wait there. Even then, she could not recognize Him when He, raised and radiant, appeared to her (JN 20: 10-18).
When she did recognize Him, her tendency may have been to grasp. We like Mary tend to make Jesus in our own image, according to the old vision and version of how things were. Mary wept for what used to be with Jesus; when He appeared to her post-crucifixion, everything had changed. That requires a deft hand and heart to all who welcome His resurrection. ‘Don’t hold onto Me, Mary!’ were Jesus’ comforting words (v.17).
We need to hear those words as well. Life is full of disappointments that can become big as tombs unless we fix our eyes on the One who lives and yet who is never quite within our grasp, always free to show us the Life waiting to emerge from our little deaths. That means letting go of the past, especially the past now made perfect in our deceptive memories as an antidote for today’s uncertainty. We need to let go of the past in order to hear Jesus now.
Our certainty is Christ Resurrected. He rents our veil of tears over and over until joy supersedes sorrow and enables us to face hardship with expectancy. Easter’s marvel? Jesus makes us more alive than before through every strange twist and turn. Death is not the end. The end is Life.
I spent Divine Mercy weekend in Ubon Thailand near the Laos border. Beneath a bamboo cross, an international team welcomed a diverse group of Thai men and women whose love for Jesus compelled them to offer Him their sexual brokenness. Ever faithful, He loosed a flood of mercy for persons raised in a Buddhist culture (only .4% claim Jesus as Lord) where sexual abuse and emotional neglect lay groundwork for many to become sexually compromised as adults.
As we ministered, I glimpsed the witness of Mary Magdalene, regarded by many as the Apostle of all Apostles. Culturally powerless, probably a prostitute, she was yet entrusted by Jesus with the message of the resurrection. Her exchange of false lovers and many demons for devotion to the One forged an intimate communion between Jesus and herself; He was all she had, an authority that could bear the most important message of all.
I witnessed men and women alike at our conference weeping at the foot of the cross over their sexual sins and those committed against them. I watched hope rise as Jesus encouraged them through our healing stories.
I observed a young Thai pastor crying out for purity from his depths, wanting nothing to sully his care for the women he serves. Another man, older and wizened by years of hard work in an outlying village, said very little but his face conveyed anguish as He listened to our histories of affliction and deliverance. His face shone as Jesus extended mercy to Him throughout our weekend together.
Most moving to me was a young woman—an ex-prostitute—who Jesus is making a deep well of mercy. She knows degradation better than most and the lure of big quick money. But she is committed to exchanging her lovers and demons for the only One who can love her without compromise. She knows she must stay near Him through the Living Waters community in order to live true. She weeps as much as she smiles; her eyes convey a heart united with Jesus for dear life.
Jesus is raising up all three (and many others) as witnesses of His life-transforming mercy. He died to put their sin and shame under His wounded feet; He lives to give them life. On Divine Mercy Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching on Mary Magdalene before my new friends in Ubon. We rejoiced together: ‘We have seen the Lord!’ (JN 20:18)
As I looked out at the Latinos who had come forward to ‘clean house’, I was struck by their radiance. Though time-worn, their faces looked new; defilement underfoot, they beamed like virgins. Pure gratitude shone from hearts washed afresh by the blood, water and Spirit. I marveled at this corporate witness of our faith’s most basic truth: Jesus makes all things new…
Such cleansing required good hard work from all who attended our Living Waters Training in the flowering hills just south of Mexico City. Natural beauty hid a slew of demons—lay leaders and clergy from around Latin America had resumes of sexual abuse, sexual addiction, adultery, and religious abuse, with generational sins empowering shame and lust. Young ones among us bore the mark of ‘gay’-affirming mandates from nations like Argentina, and Mexico which approved ‘gay marriage’ just days before the US Supreme Court did.
Our international leadership team entered into the battle being waged for souls, and had to contend with irrational forces seeking to weary and divide us. God sustained us through His Spirit; we responded through constant prayer. We offered ourselves at Jesus’ altar on behalf of all who had been sacrificed on the altar of lust—an altar constructed by a culture of honor that neatly hides the violence of sexual sin committed against the most vulnerable.
I thought of Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus expelled seven demons. In His delivering Spirit, I called all who already had confessed their sins to renounce the demons that had empowered those sins. Like Jesus, we were taking authority over our own temples and casting out robbers who had desecrated our ‘homes.’ The Spirit, the blood, the water— gifts that confirm what Jesus has already done on our behalf —converged to renew us in the almighty tenderness of our God.
When He draws close, the demons tremble and we must act decisively. He is holy. Intimacy with the holy God requires that we refuse the idols around which demons congregate. We did just that. God came in power and cleansed us powerfully so He could dwell with us. We are His; virginal sons and daughters.
Like Mary Magdalene, we embody His witness. Jesus makes all things new!
‘What counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule.’
(Gal. 6: 15b, 16a)
‘All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to say nothing.’
For a Pope quick to quip about any number of thorny issues, Frances was strangely silent about the 62% of Ireland who legalized ‘gay marriage’ last month.
OK, OK, a Vatican official did declare the redefinition a ‘defeat for humanity.’ But for a Pope who insists on a merciful tone when addressing ‘gay’ issues, his omission here is nothing short of cruel.
Papa, preach on the beauty of man for woman and woman for man, and the dead-end of trying to make same-gender friends sexual complements.
Papa, preach on why the Catholic Church upholds marriage as a sacrament—a wellspring of grace to all every person who encounters a man and woman committed to lifelong unity.
Preach on why ‘gay marriage’ messes with kids by omitting 50% of what they need to become whole men and women themselves.
Papa, preach for the ones who have no voice.
Papa, on behalf of Christian families being torn apart by ‘gay’-identified members, preach on the beauty of repentance to chastity, and the thousands of faithful ministers who will walk with repentant ones to wholeness. Highlight Courage and the huge strides this most courageous apostolate has made in extending mercy to all persons impacted by SSA.
Papa, preach against the lie that ‘gays’ are an oppressed minority. Papa, preach the truth that the Irish were hoodwinked by a billion dollar gay organization from America that poured millions into Ireland and fueled a campaign based not on truth but emotional myths like all who are against ‘gay marriage’ decry human rights, economic recovery, and most of all, ‘love.’
Papa, preach on Jesus’ real love, the love that cleansed Mary Magdalene of her 7 demons and persuaded the Samaritan woman that mercy was better than sexual disorder. Preach on the splendor of mercy to supplant pagan counterfeits.
Papa, preach now on real mercy, and real marriage. Your silence is deadly.
‘Jesus’ crucified flesh reveals the bond between truth and freedom, just as His resurrection exalts the fruitfulness of a freedom lived out in truth.’ St. John Paul ll
We live in a noisy, confusing world of sexual ‘freedom.’ From Hillary Clinton lamenting Indiana’s religious freedom bill on the grounds that it fetters ‘gay love’ to the Supreme Court insisting that feds cover a prisoner’s gender reassignment costs, we are now subject to a new vision of human freedom that excludes any hint of God. Might the Creator and Redeemer of our humanity know something about true freedom?
No stranger to sexual indignities, Mary Magdalene discovered freedom at the Source. Jesus gave Himself to a woman traditionally believed to be driven by disordered desires and demonized by a culture intent on exploiting such women. Unafraid of her impurity, Jesus offered Mary almighty mercy. He became her refuge and gave her a place alongside of Him. Jesus’ powerful Presence in her life delivered Mary from seven demons (LK 8: 2). ‘He did not hand her over to the enemy but set her feet in a spacious place’ (PS 31:8).
Divine love broke the low ceiling over Mary’s life and gave her inspired options. Love alone restored Mary’s human freedom. In love Jesus created her; in love He reclaimed her dignity. She was tempted otherwise, perhaps not unlike a woman today so wearied by broken men that she opens to the affections of another woman or eschews her womanhood altogether.
Jesus rescued her from any number of futile solutions. That’s what real love does: it shames the strong who currently champion any number of civil liberties as the best option for the sexually broken. Will Christians do better than legally securing others in a futile, disordered destiny? We need to impart a quality of love to disordered ones that corresponds to the real ache, the true aspirations of our ailing humanity.
Mary chose the dignity of love that Jesus alone offers. Love became her freedom. And she gave herself freely to His purposes. Do you marvel that Jesus chose her–a formerly demonized, scorned woman–from among all the disciples to deliver the message of resurrection? The freedom of her new life became the glorious vehicle through which all of humanity can say: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ (JN 20:18)