Sermon about Mary Magdalen, the masacre in our town, and defiant alleluias

by Brother Robert Lentz

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look* into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,*‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. -John 20


NBW Sermon 7-22-2012<—–click here to listen (i sing, and cry…seriously)

As a woman preacher, I can’t help but love St Mary Magdalen.  She was the first witness to the resurrection.  When I first discerned my call to be a preacher I got a tattoo of her on my forearm – it’s from a rare depiction in ancient Christian art – of her proclaiming the resurrection to the apostles.  I felt that when I needed to I could borrow her strength. And since today, July 22nd is her feast day we decided weeks ago to ditch the normal Sunday readings and celebrate her as an important saint to us.

But then Friday happened.  I was still in New Orleans when I saw the news of the shooting.  After praying that you were all safe I soon thought “we can’t really hold a celebration of a saint today…it just wouldn’t make any sense”

I had gone to New Orleans with an idea for a sermon on Mary Magdalen – a sermon about who gets to speak in the Bible and who gets to be named and blah blah blah.

And just as I was about to ditch it all and go with the regularly assigned reading for today I went back and again read this story of Mary Magdalen at the tomb and realized, given the violence and terror thrust upon our community this week, that maybe Mary had more to say about it than I could.  I decided again to borrow strength and voice from her.  So were I a pastor who titled her sermons this one would be WWMMP – What Would Mary Magdalen Preach?

I think Mary would not shy away from naming the darkness and despair of an event like Friday’s massacre.  She was familiar with darkness after all– Luke tells us that it is from Mary Magdalen that Jesus cast out 7 demons.  Then having been freed from her demons she followed Jesus and as the text tells us, even supported the ministry from her own pocketbook. And at the end it was Mary Magdalen who did not deny Jesus nor betray Jesus nor high tale it out when things got rough but she with just a couple other faithful women stood at the cross.  And after Jesus died, it was Mary who came to his tomb, as we are told, while it was still dark.

My Bishop Allan Bjornberg once said that the Greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty although these are all beautiful in their own way.  The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.

And in some ways Mary Magdalen is like, the patron saint of just showing up.

Because showing up means being present to what is real, what is actually happening.  She didn’t necessarily know what to say or what to do or even what to think….but none of that is nearly as important as the fact that she just showed up.  She showed up at the cross where her teacher Jesus became a victim of our violence and terror.  She looked on as the man who had set her free from her own darkness bore the evil and violence of the whole world upon himself and yet still she showed up.

I think St Mary Magdalen, were she your preacher, would be braver that I.  She would not shy away from the dark reality of innocent people slaughtered while it was still night.  She would show up and name the events of 2 days ago exactly what they were: horrific, evil, senseless violence without a shred of anything redemptive about it.

And I think that were Mary Magdalen here she would have very little tolerance for the platitudes and vapid optimism of so much overly-churched Christianity.  Those are simply luxuries of people who’ve never had demons.  But equally would she abohor nihilism or the idea that there is no real meaning in life – ideas present in so much of post-modernity…that too, is a luxury but it is one of those who have never been freed from demons.

I think she would show up and tell us that despite it all despite the violence and fear that it’s still always worth it to love God and to love people and always, always it is worth it to sing alleluia.  For surely the devil hates the sound of it.

Speaking of which, I thought for a moment of cancelling Beer & Hymns on Friday night.  We have so much fun at that event and I though that perhaps it wasn’t the right thing to do that night. Thankfully that thought only lasted a moment.  Then I posted on Facebook that that night we would still gather to sing praises to God, for, as the funeral mass says even as we go to the grave still we make our song alleluia.

And then after Beer & Hymns we sat in a noisy Denver bar and sang Vespers together, we sang our prayer to God, and in our singing I heard a defiant tone.  The sound of a people who simply will not believe that violence wins, a people who know that the sound of the risen Christ speaking each of our names drowns out all other voices.

It drowns out the sound of the political posturing, the sound of cries for vengeance, the sound of our own fears and anxieties and the deafening uncertainty – because all of it is no match for the shimmering sound of the resurrected Christ calling our name. Because in baptism we are a people marked by the cross of Christ.  Upon our foreheads is the mark of violence and death but this violence and death has been overcome by the love of a God who in the 3 days between Good Friday and Easter reached into the very bowels of hell and said even here I will not be without you.  //This is the God to whom we sing.  A God who didn’t say we would never be afraid but that we would never be alone. A God who shows up.  In the violence of the cross, in the darkness of a garden before dawn, in the gardener, in a movie theater, in the basement of a bar.

In 2010, on that first evening after the earthquake in Haiti, news reports came in that said that when night fell on the streets of Port AU Prince people were singing hymns and psalms. Blessed be God, they sang.  People were singing praises to God amidst their entire world destroyed.

It’s important to note that to sing praises to God amongst destruction and violence is not the same thing as saying Hey God we think you’re awesome for allowing these horrible things to happen.  To sing praise to God amidst destruction and violence is to simply put evil in it’s place.  It’s to draw a line and say here and no further.  For the devil surely hates the sound of alleluia.

This is why here at House on the evening of Good Friday we took the purple tulips that we had laid at the cross during the liturgy and we drove to where a teenage boy had shot and killed another teenage boy the week before. We laid those holy flowers at the site of the murder and we sang Holy God Holy and Mighty Holy and Immortal have mercy upon us.

Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples like Mary Magdalen.

Because to be disciples like Mary Magdalen is to show up.  It is to be a people who stand – who stand at the cross and stand in the midst of evil and violence and even if we are uncertain we are still unafraid to be present to all of it.   We are unafraid to name the dark demons of evil and to call a thing what it is. And to be disciples like Mary Magdalen is also to be a people who weep. A people who show up to the tombs and weep.  Weep for ourselves and weep for each other and weep for our city and weep for dead 6 year old girls.  And to be disciples like Mary Magdalen is to be a people who listen and turn at the sound of our names.  Amongst the sounds of sirens and fear and isolation and uncertainty and loss we hear a sound that muffles all the rest: that still, small voice of Christ speaking our names.  And finally, the very reason we can do these things is not because we happen to be the people with the best set of skills for this work.  Trust me, we are not.  But the reason we can be disciples like Mary Magdalen – the reason we can stand and we can weep and we can listen is because finally we, like Mary are bearers of resurrection.  We know that on the 3rd day he rose again.  We do not need to be afraid. Because to sing to God amidst all of this is to defiantly proclaim like Mary Magdalen did to the apostles, that death is simply not the final word. To defiantly say that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness can not will not shall not overcome it.  And so, evil be damned, because even as we go to the grave, still we make our song Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.







About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at

  • Julie Burgess

    Thank you for the message and for the music and for the tears. Well said and from the heart. Alleluia.

  • Cody M.

    Defiant alleluia. Wow. Wonderful.

    • Michelle J.

      Thanks for a timely message…away from home, glad my loved ones are ok, but grieving with all those who aren’t and really appreciated the offer to join you in a defiant allelulia. I can do that.

  • Judith Richey

    The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.
    Profound to me.

  • Deborah Arca

    This town is blessed with some powerful preachers, and pray-ers … and singers. Alleluia indeed.

  • Lisa Hansen

    Thank you, Nadia, for this. You inspired me to use my son’s FB memorial page to thank all the Mary Magdalenes that have not run away from our grief after his suicide, but continue to “show up” there to bear our suffering and grief with us by reading our posts.

    In particular, I was finally able to thank Alex’s 14-year-old Mary Magdalenes who sat by the railroad tracks immediately after his death and sanctified that place of darkness with their presence, constructing crosses from items they found there to lay at the foot of the rails, proclaiming in their own way that darkness and death do not have the final word, that a light shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not and cannot overcome it, singing their own defiant Alleluias. At the time, I did not understand or appreciate as I do now the symbolism of their actions, but your sermon gave me a new perspective. God speaks very powerfully through you.

    • Nadia Bolz Weber

      thanks for honoring me by telling me this story. blessings to you.

  • Jim Kulma

    Thanks for showing up, for creating a beautiful telling, and for singing the proclamation! Simply beautiful!

  • Drew Downs

    Amazing! Amen!

  • Sonja Gerstenberger

    Thank you. Thank you for your presence. Thank you for your message. Thank you for being your authentic self, a light to Christ, an inspiration to us still searching to live out our calling.

  • ann hunt

    Thank You!

  • Sandra Orrick

    Amen. Words fail and still we sing Alleluia. Through tears and terror, for surely the devil hates the sound of it, Alleluia. Defiant Alleluias. Powerful. Thank you.

  • Steve Eulberg

    As one of the Levites, whose job it is to arrange and equip the singing, I offer a sevenfold Amen!

  • Thomas E. Boomershine

    Yes. Mary Magdalene showed up and was powerless to do anything but to tell the story to the disciples. But that was a big deal. For a woman to take the risk of telling the story was an action of courage that followed her Alleluia.
    So I ask what can we do? Tell the story, yes. And celebrate the resurrection of Christ, yes. But I missed any word about what we as American Christians can do in relation to our country’s senseless adoration of guns and our lack of control of access to guns for people like this demented young man. We could do something about this if the ELCA, the United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church etc. were to demand that Congress enact strong gun control laws as the rest of the democratic world from Germany to Australia has done with the result of exponentially lower rates of murder and gun violence (70% to 90% less). You named the event. I can’t just make theological affirmations in this situation we face. And at some level I don’t think Mary Magdalene would either. We need to take the risk Mary Magdalene took.

  • Lisa

    Nadia, I agree with everything you say here except:
    “Those are simply luxuries of people who’ve never had demons.”
    We all have demons in our own way, don’t we?

    • Mary

      On some level, because all of us sin and all of us live in a sinful world, you could say we all “have demons”, but I completely agree with Pr. Nadia. Those of us who are so quick to use “platitudes and vapid optimism” clearly do not have the same type of “demons” as others. Until you have lived through someone’s pain, you have no idea what it is like. I am guessing by your comment that you might be like me, and have very small “demons” in your life, compared to many others. There are clearly some people who have lived through intense pain, suffering, loss, hopelessness, despair, anguish, desperation, etc… and some of us, if we are honest, really have NO idea what that is like. Or maybe we just have a slight idea. I pray that I (and you) never have to know that depth of pain, and that anyone living in that pain now will soon be rescued from it.
      Thank you Pr. Nadia for your ministry and your message. It is so powerful – and so needed.

    • Nadia Bolz Weber

      if you listen to the sermon, i add “or don’t admit to them” please listen to my sermons – so much meaning comes form how they are spoken and what the spirit changes when I’m preaching them

  • Mark Hutton

    Amen! Amen! AND AMEN!

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  • Raymond S. Wells

    Over the most recent four years of my current retirement I have resumed earnest religious/theological studies to update my 1980s era B.A. in Religion. My journey through progressive, emergent and convergent Christianity has lead me through several books examining the stories and legends of Mary Magdalene. Coincidentally I learned that I was baptized in 1945, at St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church Schomberg, ON., Canada. I am convinced that the place of this woman in the pantheon of Christian notables has been actively diminished by “The Church” and only recently is she beginning to regain her place as the “Apostle to the Apostles”. I am not convinced that her name indicates that she was from the town of Magdala on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Clearly there is a town there where she might well have lived, and certainly there was a tower there as there were towers elsewhere that lent the word magdala to their names.
    Magdala (Aramaic מגדלא Magdala, meaning “elegant,” “great,” or “tower” (viz “great place”); Hebrew מגדל Migdal, meaning “tower”; Arabic قرية المجدل, Qaryat Al Majdal) is the name of at least two places in ancient Israel mentioned in the Jewish Talmud  (Wikipedia)

    Given the speculation about the at least, air brushing of Mary Magdalene out of the leadership of the early church. Perhaps the gospel writers found a way to keep her story in the record by naming her in such a way as to preserve her nobility. Perhaps she was a tall woman, a notable condition in that region, perhaps she was even elegant, a quality worth noting. Perhaps, because “She Got It”, and comprehended more quickly the resurrection of Jesus and in imparting this great news to the others that she was seen as a “Tower” of the faith, the writers shielded her importance in the name Mary of Magdala while at the same time proclaiming to those with ears to hear that she was elegant Mary, the Tower of the faith. And even today she is all that and also speaks to us as you illustrated in your recent sermon. Anyway Thank you!.

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  • Ann H

    Thanks, I needed that.

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  • http://www.georgiagirlwithanenglishheart Kay G.

    Too bad CNN won’t have this on TV.

  • Bob O’Rourke

    Thank You. A wonderful message.

  • Rebecca

    “… a people who know that the sound of the risen Christ speaking each of our names drowns out all other voices.”
    May God continue to give us ears to hear and may He give us the wisdom to recognize that His voice is not selective. Nadia, a beautiful sermon. Thank you. I listened to it as I ran this morning and I realized that I can run and cry at the same time.

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  • Norm Morford

    Thanks to a “Sarcastic Lutheran” from a biblically critical Episcopalian. Thanks, too, for connecting me to CC on the web. I have appreciated the paper copies for years and tried to interest many others in subscribing, seemingly without any support from the office staff in Chicago.

  • Karen

    Appreciating these musings … thanks for sharing …

  • Janet L. Bohren

    I am listening to your sermon on Thursday July 26, 4 days after hearing of the death of Sally Ride. And your sermon helps with understanding the senseless deaths to things like pancreatic cancer. Your sermon and the singing really moved me this afternoon. Thank you. Janet L. Bohren

  • Lizz King

    What a wonderful message of love and hope and a bit of in-your-face Devil! Praise be to God. Loved this – and hearing you preach to the kids in New Orleans. It was a message that touched many lives and will influence many more.

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  • Susan Schmalzbauer

    Thank you

  • Richard Debertin

    Thank you for your wonderful message. I always end up crying listening to your sermons and thats a good thing. Peace be with you.

  • Tom Schuessler

    Nadia: I found this thanks to Dean Greg Kandra who re-posted your message on his blog. As you say, we need to weep. I don’t see much of that in my “overly-churched” circles. Thank you for this beautiful reminder of one Christian who understood these things. Tom Schuessler Mayville, WI

  • Joseph Martin

    Thank you… Pr. Nadia.. I found this message enlightening.

  • Marjan Goudarzi

    (Response to an email which included this sermon….referencing a delegation to the Hyatt Hotel management)

    What an uplifting message for my day, for my week, and for my life. This sermon speaks so much to the events of yesterday. This idea of “showing up” is so powerful to me. So many times in my life have I been present….fully and completely present. I have been present to witness and take part in fights for justice whether it be to demand the right to affordable public education or stand for affirmative action in our universities or for political freedom in Iran or for justice for children behind bars. I have “showed up.”
    However, my presence, full and complete presence, has sometimes confused me. I have often times been unaware of my role and not sure of how to express the emotion and passion I had for a cause. This sermon has given me some insight into understanding that showing up and singing praise to God and condemning evil is my role. We use our physical being as a tool for fighting for justice. While both you and I took on a role yesterday to speak, most of us were there as present beings who were showing management and workers that we were SHOWING UP to stand with workers and stand up to management. Many of us said nothing during the delegation but we were there in numbers and we were singing in our hearts and tears were falling from our eyes and I believe that our mere presence has never been more important.

  • Dixie

    “Just show up!” The best answer to: “Is there anything I can do?”

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  • Kathy Baldock

    I am not much for sitting silently and praying, but I do lead a life of showing up. I know this must please my Father, He puts me in many of the right places at the right time.
    This was a lovely piece. And yes, I DEFIANTLY sing and yell “Alleluia” to the darkness and the evil. His love HAS won.

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