3 Apr 2016
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” (John 20:16) In the name …
Last week was Easter and we heard about the empty tomb, but no one had yet seen the resurrected Jesus. Today that all changes as we continue to read from John’s Gospel. John told us last Sunday that Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb, and he chooses to emphasize: “While it was still dark.” The other three Easter accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke all have the empty tomb discovered as dawn breaks, but John insists that Mary ventures out to the tomb in the darkness of night. This isn’t so much an historical detail as it is a theological one. Most every Sunday we conclude Mass with John chapter one, and most every Sunday we hear John say of Jesus: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” This imagery of light overcoming darkness continues throughout his Gospel, and it’s no accident that it appears again at the resurrection.
Mary goes out to the tomb in the actual darkness before dawn to grieve, but there is also the emotional and spiritual darkness in her soul. We hear twice today that Mary is crying. She peers into the tomb and the angels ask the almost silly question: “‘Why are you weeping?’” She turns around and sees a man whom she thought to be a gardener, and again we hear that same question, “‘Why are you weeping?’” Mary is on the brink of an emotional collapse because she was one of the few followers of Jesus who had actually witnessed His execution. She comes to the tomb in the darkness before dawn to grieve beside His dead body, and now she imagines that His enemies have even desecrated that. She thinks the body has been stolen. It’s no wonder that she is crying.
But dawn is about to break. Light is about to overcome the darkness just as had been promised in John chapter one. Mary had gone to the tomb in the darkness before dawn, but now the new day has begun. Light has reappeared. And in that new light, the resurrected, transformed Jesus, the Jesus unrecognized by sight, simply calls out her name. The familiarity of the voice crashes through all of Mary’s fears and reservations, and in a moment, an instant, she recognizes Jesus. The voice reaches out to Mary at the level of relationship. Jesus is not going to be found by seeing Him with our eyes. Jesus is going to be found because of our relationship with Him, and that will help us believe the almost unbelievable, and no matter what our own personal darkness may be, to assure us of His light when He call out our names.
The prophet Isaiah has a touching passage in which God calls out to His people: “I have called you by name and you are mine.” (43:1) Isaiah is beginning to sense the personal nature of God’s love and relationship with us. This is what we’re meant to hear again when Jesus calls out Mary’s name. Relationship is the key to Easter. It’s what allows us to recognize Jesus around us.
Let me backtrack for a moment. Mary has remained at the tomb after Peter and the Beloved Disciple have returned to Jerusalem. She peers inside and sees two angels seated at either end of the burial bench where Jesus’ body had been laid after the crucifixion. Again, this is a unique detail of John’s Gospel and its importance is not so much historical as it is theological. In the Jerusalem Temple not far from the grave of Jesus, inside the Holy of Holies, there stood a statue of two cherubim angels. The tips of their outstretched wings touched the walls, and the tips of their other wings converged over the spot where it was believed that God resided on earth, where the divine and the earthly touched. John is telling us that the presence of God in the world is no longer in the Temple building beneath statues of angels. God’s presence among us is now in the risen Christ whose body once lay between the two angels in the tomb. He is now where heaven and earth converge.
A lot of people remember the story of Jesus getting angry in the Temple courtyard and overturning the tables of the moneychangers and declaring, “‘Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (John 2:16) The other three Gospels place this event toward the end of Jesus’ life, but John alone has it take place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. At this point Jesus was challenged by the authorities and they demanded of Him to provide a sign that He acted according to God’s will. Jesus gave an answer at the beginning of the Gospel that wouldn’t be fulfilled until the end just as had happened with the theme of light. Jesus answers saying, “‘You destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’” (2:19) The temple has moved from a place built by human hands to Jesus who was raised on the third day. We approach this temple through relationship. We need to be able to recognize Jesus’ voice when He calls our name.
That things have changed this dramatically is made clear in John’s Gospel when the resurrected Jesus tells Mary: “‘Do not hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father.’” (20:17) Mary wants to return to the way things were, but everything has changed with the resurrection, everything that is except relationship. Mary couldn’t recognize Jesus with her eyes when she first saw Him, and she couldn’t hold on to Him once He called her name, but darkness was defeated. Light had triumphed. Relationship brought joy back into her life. The relationship wasn’t the same as it had been, but it was still relationship.
And then an amazing thing happens. Jesus sends Mary to tell the apostles about Easter. At that moment she becomes the apostle to the apostles. “‘I have seen the Lord,’” she proclaims to them. I wonder if this has anything to do with tomorrow being declared World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination. Everything has changed except relationship because of Easter. Maybe we should think more about what this change means, about letting go of the old forms and embracing the new, so that relationship is front and center.
Jesus is resurrected and He is all around us, but we have to build a relationship that is able to hear Him calling our name. May what we do here help in this sacred opportunity. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo