Friday, April 06, 2012

"While It Was Dark": 2012 Easter Message

"While It Was Still Dark": An Easter Message

Based on John 20:

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.”
2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to looka into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,b “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’ ” 18 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. "

So, in John’s account of the good news, there she is - Miriam of Magdala. Now she is near Jerusalem where she had followed Jesus from the shores of Galilee, followed him and with others helped him model that another kind of world was possible
and was here and now coming into being. They had been modelling a world where the liberating God of occupied Israel was more powerful than the Caesar of Rome. They had followed Jesus still as that other “possible world” came crashing down in his arrest, torture and death, as the “normal world” put out the light of that new world. She was at the
cross when he died.

And there she is, following him still, in the darkness, going toward the darkness of the tomb. Alone. A woman. A stranger. Going with nothing but her self, her grief, her dashed hopes. In this account, Jesus’ body has already been anointed. So she is
going to the tomb without a worldly purpose. She apparently knows it has been sealed by a stone. Did she plan on removing the stone herself, to go be by the corpse? Later it says she bent down to look into the tomb, so we aren’t looking at a big heavy stone in this account, so she could have entered the tomb if she had wanted to. Maybe she only wanted to be as near as she could be, still, the presence enough.

So in the darkness she goes, and finds the stone removed over the opening to the tomb. She goes no further. Then instinct kicks in. She flees to community, to tell Peter that “they” had taken the body, but she does not know for sure that the
body is gone, as she had not looked into the opening. How quickly that “normal world” kicks in, and our default model of how the world works, and who is in charge, returns. That omnipresent, omnipotent “They” of her reaction. Jesus,
whose new world had sought to do away with “us and them” reactions, had been killed by the great “They” and now “they” seemed to be in charge after all. The “we” that Jesus sought to enlarge, to empower, was now diminished.

In the darkness alone, she now represented all of the followers of Jesus, confused, crest-fallen, disillusioned. And seeing the stone rolled away from the tomb only made it worse. She assumed the worst. She got it wrong. On one level, that is. Some scholars believe that the community that composed this gospel account did so in order to put Miriam/Mary of Magdala in her place, and to elevate Peter, and especially the “beloved disciple” who is the one who gets to the tomb first, who it is said goes in after Peter does, sees the remnants of the shroud
and the emptiness of the tomb and “believes” (not apparently believing that the body has been taken by Roman powers, but believing that it has been taken, up by and into God; he comes to that conclusion not by having to encounter Jesus physically as Mary soon does, or as Thomas soon would, but he is blessed and favored because he is the first to believe without having to see).

And yet, I am drawn still to Mary in the darkness, more than I am to the others.
And yet, there she was, starting it all; none of the experience of resurrection would have occurred without her first venturing out alone in the darkness seeking Jesus even dead and buried. If the gospel writer meant to put her in her place, what has happened is that Mary of Magdala has been put in our place. We, I believe, are like her. We keep seeking to draw near, in our darkness and even when others don’t want us there. For many around us Jesus is still dead and buried, and yet we keep going to the tomb and staying there even when those believers” have left.

In the darkness of the world she ventured out alone. In the darkness of her own confusion and terror, she remained and wept and looked in then into the tomb.
Through her tears she was able to see angels. Even after she sees angels, she still clings to her default world where the powers of “They” are in charge defining her world. She even sees Jesus but mistakes him for the gardener who may have taken away the body from the tomb. She continues to grasp for explanations that make sense, but she keeps asking questions, continues to be present even though at this point she is not facing the gardener/Jesus, has her back to him in her grief and
fear and confusion, this stranger in a strange land. And through it all, Jesus does not leave her either, but this time finally calls her name, and she turns to face him, knows him, claims him. And in so doing her default model, her normal world, is replaced for good by the other possible world.

Mary’s discipleship grows and deepens bit by bit, her experience of the resurrection comes bit by bit, not all at once. So too does ours. A big part of our tradition even grows out of the history of those who said during the first Great Awakening that being a Christian was more than a spontaneous xperience, but requires attention and intention over time, growing a soul more than having a lost one suddenly found, which is why community is needed. To help us find the light.
And Jesus sends Mary back to the community, even that which sought to outcast her. To teach them what she had learned.

Together we continue the walk that Mary Magdalene started that early dark morning, with death all around, walking toward the tomb, and without knowing, toward the womb of life everlasting.

Such faithfulness, while in the dark, guides our walk here, together, with all those whose lives we touch and are touched by. Let Easter come again even in the struggles and confusion of all that has been happening in our community, in all that has been taken away these past months, in all the challenges and changes faced by those most vulnerable, and let us go share it, this faithfulness, with others.


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