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Martin Luther's Easter Sermon 1533

As we continue to celebrate the 500th Anniversary year of the beginning of the Reformation, I would like to share with you a small portion of a sermon preached by Martin Luther on Easter Sunday of 1533. Here, Luther is focussing on Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17; “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father; but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.”

This is the first sermon our Lord delivered after His resurrection and, without doubt, also the most comforting; although in words very brief, but exceedingly kind and tender, and spoken first of all to his beloved Mary Magdalene, and through her also to His disciples after their deep woe, grief and sorrow, caused by His departure and death, that He might comfort and gladden them by His resurrection. And since this Mary is far more deeply and tenderly concerned about the Lord than the others, and is first at the grave to anoint the body of Christ with costly spices; and especially because, when she fails to find Him, she is frightened and bewildered, deeply troubled and in tears, supposing Him to have been taken away; therefore, He permits her to enjoy this evidence of His love, in that He appears first of all to her, comforting her in her fears, and preaching this beautiful sermon…

But He restrains her and says: “Touch Me not,” as though He meant to say: “I know indeed that you love Me, but you cannot yet rightly look upon nor touch me, the way you should look upon and touch Me.” For her joy is no higher or greater than the mere bodily, fleshly pleasure of having her Lord alive again as she had Him before..

He does not permit Himself to be touched in this manner now, however, because He wants her to stand still and listen, and learn what as yet she knows not; namely, that He refuses to be touched and anointed or to be served and waited upon, as she had done heretofore; but He says ‘I will tell you something different and new. I am not risen in order to walk and remain with you bodily and temporally, but that I may ascend to My Father; hence I do not need or desire such service and attention… For it is not here that I intend to dwell and abide… I go to the Father, where I will rule and reign with him eternally, and whither I will also bring you out of your death and sorrow. There you shall have Me visibly and tangibly with you indeed, and you shall rejoice forever in eternal communion with Me and the Father.’

Therefore, He wishes to say: ‘Refrain henceforth from all such bodily service and reverence, and go rather and become a messenger, and proclaim what I tell you to My dear brethren.”

As Luther reminded us, may we always remember that Jesus rose from the dead to win eternal life for us and ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. As Mary Magdalene met Jesus on Easter morning, so too will we meet Jesus one glorious day in His heavenly kingdom!

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