Here in the mournful darkness of this Saturday vigil, still in the shadows of Good Friday, we gather together with bated breath.
For Easter is coming! New life is being born! Resurrection morning is dawning! Something wonderful has been lost, but something magnificent is being gained.
However, I believe it is very important for us to realize on this Holy Saturday, that before we can experience new life, before we can celebrate resurrection, before we can sing alleluias, someone needed to pick up and carry a cross.
And the sad thing is that very few of Jesus’ disciples understand this. They don’t understand it today, and they didn’t understand it 2000 years ago.
Although Jesus continually taught that to gain life, we must be willing to lose our lives, that Easter would not happen without some self-denial, resurrection would not come without some self-expenditure, new life would not be born without some sacrifice, and the light of Sunday morning cannot dawn without the darkness of Good Friday, when the time came for the disciples to follow Jesus all the way to the foot of the cross, most all of them very selfishly fled to save their lives. One would even betray Jesus. Another would deny that he even knew Jesus. Nearly all would desert him. In spite of Jesus’ continual call to pick up a cross and follow him, most of the disciples turned their backs on him in his darkest hours.
However, there were a few disciples who got it. There were a few who were willing to carry a cross, to live and to love selflessly and sacrificially. There were a few who faithfully followed Jesus all the way to Golgotha.
Although the intrinsic sexism of this world’s history has caused the majority of people to overlook these faithful disciples, all four gospel writers did not.
In Luke 8 we read these words: Afterward [Jesus] journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women…Mary, called Magdalene… Joanna…Susanna, and many others…”
And on Good Friday, when none of the male disciples could be found, in Mark 15 we read: “There were also some women looking on…among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, Joses, and Salome.
In Matthew 27 we read: Gathered at the foot of the cross: “among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
In John 19:25 we read where all the male disciples fled, “But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
The problem with Christianity today is that there are too few Mary Magdalenes in the church who understand that authentic faith, true discipleship, involves a cross. There are too many Christians in our world who believe they can have Easter Sunday without Good Friday, who believe they can experience new life without death to self, who believe they can sing alleluias without sacrifice.
What this world needs, what this community needs, what the church needs more than anything are more disciples like Mary Magdalene and Mary Magdalene Feightner.
Like the Mary Magalene before her, Mary Magdalene Feightner understood that when Jesus called people to be his disciples, Jesus was always quite clear that there would be a cross involved, a cross that they would voluntarily need to pick up and carry.
I will never forget the last time I spoke with Mary. It was here, in this place, just this past Sunday. After the service was over and the congregation was dismissed, I was finishing a conversation with some people down front here who were asking about joining our church. I looked up and saw Mary walking down this aisle. I met her right here to greet her. I said, “It is so great to see you Mary.” And it was so good to see her. For each time I saw her she was always beautiful, stunning really, dressed to the nines, and always wearing a tremendous, welcoming smile.
Mary responded not in a manner people usually respond to such a greeting with “It is good to see you too!“ but rather “How is it going with that Air Force Class Central Christian Church adopted?”
I said, “It is going great! We had a good time trap shooting with them!”
And instead of replying, “Great, glad to hear it!” not allowing me to rest on any laurels, she replied: “Well, what’s the next event you have planned for them?”
Like Mary Magdalene, Mary Magdalene Feightner understood that to find true life is to lose one’s life, to truly live to truly deny one’s self, to always put the needs of others ahead of one’s own needs, to love and to welcome and to accept as Christ loves, welcomes and accepts.
It is no secret that Mary made it her mission for nearly the last thirty years of her life to give all that she had to welcome Air Force pilots and their families into our community.
It was obvious that Mary learned from her own personal experience, as she compassionately and empathetically understood from how difficult life could be for enlisted service men and women having to move and make a new home in a new community every few years. She knew the hardship on families: the time the kids get settled in school, make new friends, it’s time to move and start all over.
This is why Mary made Vance Air Force Base her base. They were here pilots, her families. She didn’t invite businesses or organizations or churches like ours to adopt these pilots or to do anything that she was not willing to do herself.
And she never did it for the recognition, for any reward, and certainly not to have the foyer of the auditorium named in her honor—the foyer, the first place pilots enter when they come to Vance, and the last place they leave after they earn their wings.
The night of the naming ceremony, her sons Ray and Mark will never forget having to tell Mary that they were going to the base, because Governor Mary Fallin was speaking, just so their mother would get dressed up and go.
Although Mary earned much recognition, Mary Magdalene Feightner did not volunteer her time for any award, any accolade, I believe she did it because she understood to find one’s life, one must first lose one’s life, as her work for the base was purely selfless, always tireless, and truly sacrificial.
It has been said by many who are associated with Vance: “Mary didn’t know she was 81 years old.” Because even during the most fragile part of her life, she selflessly gave all that she had. For example: staying out on the 103-degree tarmac for the Thunderbirds last summer until she passed out, sacrificing her personal well-being.
This was just Mary. No matter what Mary did, she gave her all and always put others first, whether as a banker in a man’s world working her way up from a teller to a loan officer to a Vice President, as a substitute teacher in the Enid public school system, as a Grace-Care Volunteer helping the elderly with basic needs, as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Northwest Oklahoma Banker Association, as a successful fund-raiser for the YMCA, the American Cancer Society, the March of Dimes, the United Way, or as Secret Shopper for Subway and Pizza Hut.
She did it because as a genuine disciple of Jesus, when it came to loving others, she didn’t mind that a cross might be involved. For Mary, people were worth the sacrifice. Thus, you could often find Mary in Enid wherever you find people. Whether she was picking up side gigs peddling Straight Talk phones at Wal-Mart or Kobalt tools at Lowes, she just wanted to where the people were, because she genuinely loved people!
She loved others, perhaps especially the Vance Air Force family with the same love that she had for her own family. By a living example she taught her sons a staunch work ethic, the importance of networking and social skills, and yet how to be a good listener. But, perhaps most importantly, she taught them how to accept, welcome, and love people.
Mark’s wife Diane will always cherish the way she used to welcome her and Mark into her home while they were in college. She said no matter what time of night it was when they arrived, she could always count on Mary being there to greet them at the front door.
Ray’s wife Kim and Diane testify, although somewhat reluctantly, of Mary’s unwavering devotion to her family, as according to Mary, Ray and Mark simply can do no wrong.
And each of her grandkids, Zachary and Kylie, Mason, Morgan and Madison can attest, at Gurnie’s house there were never any rules. Three scoops of ice cream? Who says you can’t have four?
I think it is interesting that Mary Magdalene is remembered and mentioned by name by the gospel writers more than any other apostle. And perhaps more than any other Partner in the Sky in Enid, Mary Magdalene Feightner will perhaps be most remembered by our community.
However, her great legacy is not why we are gathered here this afternoon in a Christian church. And her many contributions to this community is not why it is so appropriate that we have gathered here on this Holy Saturday, between the darkness of Good Friday and the light of Easter Sunday.
For tomorrow morning, Christians all over the world will gather and read or hear the following scriptures.
Some will hear the words Mark 15:47: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where Jesus was laid.”
Matthew 28:1 reads: “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.”
Mark 16:1 reads: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.”
John 20:1 reads: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”
Out of all of Jesus’ disciples it was Mary Magdalene who not only sacrificially followed Jesus all the way to the foot cross, but she followed him all the way to the grave.
I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Mary Magdalene Feightner was here in this place to worship Jesus last Sunday morning. I don’t believe it was happenstance that she walked down this aisle on her last Sunday on earth, with her mind and heart not on herself, but on others. Like the Mary Magdalene before her, Mary Magdalene Feightner followed Jesus to the very end.
Because tomorrow Christians all over the world will read and hear those wonderful words that we are all anticipating on this Holy Saturday. From Mark 16:9 we read: “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene…”
We are gathered here in this place, appropriately on this Saturday between Good Friday and Easter to celebrate someone who, because of her faithful discipleship, because she voluntarily carried a cross, because she sacrificed and poured herself out to this community, because she selflessly followed her Lord all the way to the end, Mary Magdalene Feightner has now experienced the good news of Easter in a way that we can only imagine.
And this Easter, out of all the disciples that have gathered here this day, “He, the risen Lord and Savior of the world, first appeared to Mary Magdalene Feightner.”
In John 20:18 with we these most hopeful words: Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
Yes, she most certainly has. Thanks be to God.