From Demons to Disciple
Texts: Luke 8:1-3, Luke 23:44-49, Luke 23:55-24:3
A Sermon Preached by Rev. Julie Emery
At The Larchmont Avenue Church
On March 14, 2010
Luke 8:1-3 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Luke 23:44-49 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Luke 23:55 – 24:3 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.
What’s in a name, really? I mean, a name is both truly ours – it is who we are – and yet not ours at all but given by another. Women in my day were given the name of their fathers…or their husbands. But with my father long dead and no husband to take me because of my afflictions, I was given the name of the town in which I was healed. Mary of Magdala. Each of us lives into it in some ways…and lives out of it in other ways. At least that’s what happened to me.
It’s strange to get confused with others who have the same name. Mary of Bethany looked entirely different than me and would have never been able to provide for the disciples for those years of traveling from place to place. She was the one who sat at his feet and seemed planted there for hours… or days. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t blame her…it’s just that it’s a bit of an insult to be confused with someone who wouldn’t even get up to help her sister cook.
And then there is the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment. You remember her: the one with the tears and hair and no shame, no modesty. The one who infuriated Judas and the other men. They were so focused on her wastefulness.
But the women, we blushed and turned away at this act, embarrassed, ashamed of the intimacy in a place so public… Even if we understood how this man and the power of his words could move each of us to do such excessive things, things we would never imagine doing before.
Have you ever had words strike you as if a bell, ringing again and again in your body? Have you ever met someone who seemed to dance with truth as if they heard the song of life? Have you ever encountered someone so filled with Spirit that the air around them seemed lighter, easier to breathe..? It makes you sing it makes you laugh, it makes you live a life until then you only dreamt of…
This is what it was like to follow Jesus.
And so, while it was not me who broke the alabastar jar and poured it over him, not me who took down my hair and wiped it over his feet. It was not me, but I understood.
That story wasn’t mine but became mine much later. Thanks to Pope Gregory’s speech in 591 – the three became one… (how very Trinitarian of him.) Mary of Bethany, the woman with the jar, and myself – no longer three distinct stories but instead one woman branded converted prostitute (although Luke never really said that either), forever marked as sinner made saint.
Throw in some beautiful works of art and a few pretty verses by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice and then a bestseller that hints at marriage and a lineage of Jesus and you have quite a compelling story. A story difficult to overcome…I should know…
The real story is both more ordinary and just as spectacular. It is one of demons and healing, one of feeding and following, one of death and life, one of spices and extravagant love.
I was one of many that Jesus healed along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, afflicted as I was with the demons of my day. Let’s be clear: demons are not the same thing as sins. When Luke names seven demons he means only to say there were many. What Luke called my seven demons your doctors and psychologists might call today epilepsy, depression, mania. Perhaps those doctors today would name them differently but still medicate me, label me, set me aside.
I was left mostly alone after the death of my parents. They left me with resources but not much else. As my afflictions worsened they forced me into isolation and fear.
But this man from Nazareth took pity on me, cast out my demons and made me whole. Made me free follow him; to fall into a life of excessive, embracing love.
Not my excessive love but God’s. A love that reunites communities and the outcast, a love that casts out fear along with demons, a love that welcomed brother and sister, stranger and friend to sit at table together.
I never imagined when that woman shamelessly interrupted that meal and covered his feet in ointment that just a short time later it would be me; that I would be a myrrh-bearer, walking to the tomb, to the broken body of my healer, my teacher, my friend, my Lord. Never imagined how much my life would change – again.
It has been many years since that morning when dawning light revealed empty tomb. Many breaths have passed since mine caught in my chest upon hearing my own name spoken by a man I had watched die on a cross.
My story you have heard but you may not believe. That he was risen. That he died and then lives. How could anyone believe such a story?
I only know what I felt and I can only say this: there was a man named Jesus, who cast out all my demons – and there were many. His words were life. His life was truth. There was a moment, a brief darkness of days when I thought that all was lost, that demons returned, that grief would consume.
And then there was light. hope. laughter.
He spoke gently, but firmly. “Go and tell them,” he said. To me, a woman! “Go and tell them,” he said, knowing they would not believe me.
“Go and tell them,” and so here I am – telling my story
You may never understand, you may never believe. But the truth is this: beyond the grave, life prevails; beyond your demons there is healing and peace; beyond your grief is laughter and even joy. The one who knows my story knows yours as well.
Go and tell them… and you will live.