27 Apr 2014
“‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’” (Jn 20:15) +
On Easter Sunday afternoon I went down to Westfield and visited Fr. Sen. Soltysiak in the hospital. He had some sort of confidentiality notice on his admittance. The hospital couldn’t even tell you if he was a patient if you asked for him by name. But I had called Fr. Joe and asked what his room number was so I could pay him a quick visit. He told me something like 208. I went up to that room but it was an elderly woman. I knew Fr. Joe had been through a lot, but this definitely was not him. I had to then ask at the nurses’ station where he might be. They seemed to get a little bit nervous because they weren’t supposed to allow visitors in to see him if they had to ask where he was. Next thing I know a nurse goes off to the room adjacent to the station. I’m assuming it’s to let Fr. Joe know that I’m out on the floor. She then comes back out to bring me inside. We walk into the room and Fr. Joe is laying there, his head cocked back, his mouth open, his eyes closed and his tongue hanging out. I didn’t get nervous at all. I would have assumed no different a welcome from him. But his playing dead did seem to give the nurse a momentary startle. I don’t think she ever had too many patients who played dead on her before. And dead, if you don’t know by know, is a pretty serious condition.
That’s why Mary Magdalene’s story that we hear this morning is so realistic. Last week we heard that she visited the tomb and was the first one to see the stone rolled away. Now we hear the rest of her story. It’s still the morning of the resurrection. She’s crying because she believes that someone has stolen Jesus’ dead body. And we can’t blame her for this. Death is pretty hard to argue with. So Mary blurts out to the one she believes to be only a gardener: “‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’” No one expects the resurrection that first Easter morn and that’s why everyone is thinking about grave robbers. Death is an all too sad reality that we’re all familiar with in our lives. And yet for as real as death is, the resurrection is more real.
No man writing 2,000 years ago would have made-up the most important story in Christianity and let Peter leave the empty tomb without proclaiming a single word of Easter faith. No man would have let Jesus’ first resurrection appearance be to a woman. No man would have dared to say that this woman then proclaims to all the other disciples for the first time ever news of the resurrection. This is too embarrassing for the disciples and it heaps too much praise upon a woman. And since no man would ever have concocted such a story as this about the already implausible idea of death defeated, a story not revealed first to the legitimate followers of Jesus but to Mary, a story that wasn’t broken open by Jesus appearing to the Twelve and saying something pious and memorable like “Peace be with you,” but to a woman based only upon her loving relationship with Jesus that lets her see Him not with her eyes but with her heart when He calls out her name, because no man would have chosen to tell this all-important story this way, we can believe the unbelievable, that something happened that Sunday morning and Jesus was still alive and Mary Magdalene was the chosen one to be Easter’s first witness.
Because this story is real, Mary could not be erased. I am sure that other Easter stories would have been preferred and would have been far easier to tell, but because everyone in that first little community of believers knew firsthand that Mary Magdalene, a woman who just could not be categorized, was the first resurrection witness, it could not be denied. Easter would have been so much easier to tell if Peter was the one, but Mary could not be erased to let that easier story be told. Easter is a powerful and unpredictable event and it has to remain that way. Easter is God’s story, not ours. As soon as it becomes predictable and institutional, we need to remember Mary Magdalene. She is the unavoidable reminder, a sometimes unwanted reminder, that tradition and institution always have to be open to the unexpected and sometimes unpleasant outburst of the presence of God among us.
A religious demand for dogmatism and rigidity has no place in the Easter story. It is Mary, the indefinable Mary, not the disciples who first witnesses and proclaims the Easter mystery. The unplanned and untamed are part of Easter. To try and replace this with some sort of theological certainty can turn believers heartless and even cruel, or at least dull and unchallenging. It can close our minds to new possibilities and at the same time attacks those who are today’s Mary Magdalenes. Certainty and conformity can make believers complacent and pleased with themselves, and extremely judgmental of others.
To me this means that an Easter faith must be open to the different ways that Jesus will call out our names just as Jesus called out Mary’s name outside of the empty tomb. And since this call will be personal and unpredictable for every single one of us, then the church can’t, the pastor can’t, no one can, tell any of us how it will be heard or what will be said. But we also have to remember that Mary’s recognition of the resurrected Jesus was based on her relationship with Him. With her eyes she only saw a man she believed to be a gardener. Jesus didn’t “look” resurrected. It was His voice that spiritually awakened Mary. She had built a spiritual closeness with Jesus during His life that also drew her to what she believed to be His grave. Whether she was drawn to His grave as simply a place to mourn a loved one, or was urged to go there in the pre-dawn darkness by an indefinable hope or even a divine nudge, Mary made herself available for Jesus so that He could call to her. How He will call to any one of us, again, I cannot say, but I do believe we have to build a real relationship with Him and we have to make ourselves available to Him for Easter to remain powerful, meaningful and transformative.
The church needs for all of us to listen for that voice of the resurrected Saviour, and like Mary to come back and tell the others. This is how Easter lets God still burst into our world, our lives and our church. May such a living Easter faith be ours, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo