7 Apr 2013
“But Mary [Magdalene] stayed outside the tomb weeping …” (John 20:11) In the name …
Last weekend Kristin’s friend spent the weekend at the house. This weekend it’s Sharon’s turn. Her friend Cathy, from back growing-up in Maryland, is here this weekend with her husband John. They now live in Colorado, but are here in Massachusetts because both of them have conferences to attend this week in Boston. This weekend also happened to be the same weekend that our living room furniture was hauled out of the house to be reupholstered after I don’t know how many years. Instead of telling Sharon’s friends this story, though, I just happened to tell them instead that our furniture was being repossessed. I figured that might get us a free dinner or something. But Cathy and John are always very generous and they constantly invite us to come out to Colorado to see them. But you have to know that Cathy and John are health enthusiasts. They love hiking and mountain-bike riding. And remember, there’s no oxygen in Colorado. It’s all that thin air up there in the Rockies. So when they invite us to come visit, the thought of all that walking and riding up and down dirt paths and with hardly any air to breathe in the mountains only brings to my mind CPR and ambulance rides. And that’s why I’ve politely avoided that discussion to the best of my abilities over all these years.
Which somehow brings us to the topic of this morning’s Gospel. The powers that be, which conveniently happen to be all men, jumped right over the story of Mary Magdalene’s Easter encounter with the resurrected Lord. They go directly from last Sunday’s story of the empty tomb and the Beloved Disciple’s “he saw and he believed” to the Easter-night appearance of Jesus to His disciples in the locked Upper Room where Jesus says to these men: “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (Jn 20:21) What makes the omission of the Mary Magdalene story, which is right in between these two accounts and which I have included, so surprising is that today’s intended Gospel of Jesus’ commission to His disciples is basically repeated once again on Pentecost Sunday, which is only six weeks from now. So just like I have been politely avoiding the invitations to Colorado, so it seems that the powers that be are trying to avoid the invitation to share Mary Magdalene’s Easter story with us. And now we should ask why.
As we read on Easter, Mary arrives at the tomb before dawn, as John says, “While it was still dark.” This is different than the other three Gospel stories of the resurrection, which place the visit at or after sunrise. This isn’t a mere historical discrepancy. It is an intentional change. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the light and His light overcomes the darkness of the world. Mary was at the cross. Unlike the other Gospels, there is no mention of darkness overhanging the crucifixion scene. Jesus freely and willingly surrenders His life in this Gospel and when His ministry, including the cross, is completed, He says rather regally, “‘It is finished’” (19:30) and He allows Himself to die. There is no darkness here. God is in control. Jesus is in control. Darkness doesn’t enter the story until Mary goes out to the tomb still expecting death. She is in darkness because the resurrection hasn’t dawned on her yet.
But then, after Peter and the Beloved Disciple have left the empty tomb, as we read last Sunday, Mary returns. She is weeping outside the entrance thinking that someone has stolen Jesus’ dead body. She then peers into the tomb for her first time, and it’s no longer empty. There are two angels, each sitting at one edge of the burial slab where Jesus’ body had once rested. This is John’s imagery of Solomon’s Temple where two angels adorned the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Between their wings was the chest that held the tablets of God’s Commandments. This was the place where heaven and earth touched, where God entered into the world. Now the Ark is replaced by the resurrected Jesus as the point where God and us come together.
And then, we finally have, the first and only appearance of the resurrected Jesus. He speaks to Mary, who does not recognize His now glorified appearance. But when Jesus speaks her name, the flood of recognition is immediate. The light dawns for her, the darkness passes, and she finally sees. She embraces Jesus and she doesn’t want to let go. Again, He is where God and us come together. But Mary cannot linger in this embrace. Jesus tells her to do something extremely special, to announce the resurrection to the other disciples. This woman becomes the very first Christian apostle, one who is sent-out by Jesus. She is the one who lets the other disciples know. And all of this is left out of our schedule of readings. Strange, it seems to me, unless the idea of a woman apostle, even an apostle to the apostles, is a bit troubling. Maybe when they made their choices about the readings the powers that be thought it better to just not accept the invitation to read this particular Easter story.
But to avoid this story sacrifices too much. It’s a beautiful account of faithfulness in times of darkness. Mary wanted to be near Jesus, in her mind, dead or alive. The others had fled. Mary remained. The message for us is to stick-it-out when life and faith seem their darkest. Jesus isn’t among the dead. The tomb is empty. He will speak our name. His light will overcome the world’s darkness, our darkness. We will be able to embrace Him. But we also have to make ourselves available. We have to look and listen for Him. John’s Gospel greatly honours Mary. She is the only witness of the resurrected Jesus. He ascends to the Father in heaven after this encounter. It is the ascended Jesus that appears to the disciples still hiding behind their locked doors. The resurrected Jesus only appears to Mary who had made herself available to Him. On this Sunday after Easter when we here have chosen to remain by the empty tomb, when we here have chosen to make ourselves available to our Saviour, may we like Mary trust in times of darkness, may we like Mary rejoice when we hear Christ call our names, and may we like Mary be privileged to share the glorious news of the resurrection with all those around us. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo