I joined the program while the actress playing Mary Magdalene was singing a song called “I don’t know how to love him,” him being Jesus.
The Bible doesn’t tell us very much about Mary Magdalene. But, as we heard in our readings from last week, Mary stood by Jesus at the foot of the cross, and she was the one to discover the empty tomb on that first Easter morning. During the pivotal weekend from Jesus’ crucifixion to his resurrection, Mary Magdalene was the single most faithful disciple of all.
That is a big deal, but Mary Magdalene looms still larger in the popular imagination. Accounts like “Jesus Christ Superstar” portray her as the person closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry. According to them, Mary loved Jesus, and Jesus loved Mary, with a special love. In “Jesus Christ Superstar,” their love is not sexual, but it is intimate and personal.
But in her big song in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” even Mary acknowledges that she does not know how to love Jesus, not really. She has known lots of men, and women too, but Jesus is different from the rest. Mary, the disciple who will prove so faithful at the time of Jesus’ death, needs help learning how to love Jesus properly.
Mary is not the only one who struggles with her relationship to Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Later Judas Iscariot repeats Mary’s song. Judas is the disciple who betrays Jesus to his death.
There are important lessons in this for us, particularly on a baptism day. First, none of us are born knowing Jesus. We have to learn to love Jesus. It takes time, and we need help.
In a few minutes, we are going to baptize a sweet and innocent child, a child that God already loves. But sweet and innocent as he is, Jaxon doesn’t love God back, not yet. Jaxon doesn’t know God. Jaxon doesn’t know Jesus Christ. That isn’t Jaxon’s fault. It’s just that loving Jesus is something we have to learn.
And it matters whether or not we learn to love Jesus. None of us can literally stand at the foot of the cross, as Mary did. None of us can literally betray Jesus to death, as Judas did. But in broad terms, we can follow the example of Mary or we can follow the example of Judas.
Somehow, over time, Mary learned how to love Jesus. Mary learned to live in the light of God’s grace and love, and she lived out of God’s grace and love. When times were tough, Mary proved brave and loyal and faithful and good. That is our aspiration. That is our hope and our prayer for Jaxon.
But Judas shows us that there is another way, a bad way. Judas never did learn how to love Jesus properly. Judas remained stuck in his inability to love. As a consequence, Judas experienced the guilt and the despair that comes from separation from God, and Judas betrayed his friend and his master, the best man he ever knew.
When we baptize Jaxon, I will ask his family and friends if, by their prayers and witness, they will help him grow into the full stature of Christ. Then I will ask everyone here if you, too, will do all in your power to support Jaxon in his life in Christ.
I am counting on you all to agree!! But that means you are committing yourselves to doing what you can to help Jaxon learn to know and love Jesus, to be like Mary rather than Judas, to experience the grace of God available to us through Jesus Christ and to live out of that grace and love.
Like all of us, Jaxon cannot do it on his own. Especially during his early years, Jaxon will learn to know and love Jesus from the people around him, or not at all.
And as he grows up, as he experiences the challenges that will inevitably come his way, Jaxon, like all of us, will come to forks in the road. He will make mistakes, of course. But we are all promising to do what we can to help him make the right choices, to move towards love, to follow the way of Mary Magdalene, not the way of Judas, to grow into the person God created him to be.
And, of course, we are all on that same journey. It would be great if one of us knew all the answers and could simply tell the rest of us! But it doesn’t work that way. None of us have become perfect in the love of God and neighbor. All of us have room to grow. All of us are still learning how to love Jesus.
We help each other, and we will best help Jaxon, when we journey together, when we learn from each other, when we support each other in our struggles, when we share triumphs, when we join forces in the lifelong process of learning to love Jesus, and to live out of that love.
Whenever we baptize a child and renew our own baptismal vows, we are committing ourselves to continuing in our own spiritual journeys as well as to supporting the newly baptized in his or her spiritual journey.
Without that support, all of us would falter and probably fail. But with that support, and with God’s grace, we can continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God and neighbor. Together, we can get better at loving Jesus.
But there is one more important point, which comes from our gospel reading. Like Mary and Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Thomas does not yet know how to love Jesus as the reading begins. The other disciples try to help Thomas. They describe their encounter with the risen Lord. They proclaim their faith. They urge Thomas to join with them in rejoicing at the good news of resurrection.
We often criticize Thomas for that. We call him Doubting Thomas. But I have always felt great sympathy for Thomas. Thomas refuses to accept a second-hand faith. Thomas needs to see for himself. Thomas insists on encountering Jesus for himself.
And Thomas is surely right about one thing, at least. In the end, his relationship with Jesus Christ cannot be based entirely on what others say. In the end, his relationship with Jesus Christ has to be based on his own encounter with the risen Lord. Others can help, but in the end Thomas needs to see Jesus for himself, touch the wounds of Christ, and fall on his knees before his Lord and his God. No one else can do that for him.
The same is true for Jaxon. The same is true for all of us.
We can help each other learn to love Jesus. We can point each other in the right direction. We can share our faith. We can worship and pray together. We can practice loving God and neighbor by helping people in need.
But in the final analysis, every relationship with Jesus has to be personal. No one can love Jesus for us.
And so, on this day, we commit to doing everything we can to help Jaxon learn to love Jesus. But in the end, we pray that Jaxon will come to know and love Jesus for himself. We pray the same thing for each other, as we celebrate the good news that Jesus Christ is alive.
In Christ’s name. Amen. Alleluia!