Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Finding the Easter Power

Scripture for Easter Day includes Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

There’s a lot of violence behind that story of Easter Day. Did you hear it?

Brave Mary Magdalene rose early, before the sun, to face an awful walk to the graveyard where her dearest friend’s body lay freshly buried after his horrifying death by crucifixion. A shocking violent death for a sweet man, Jesus, whom she loved. That violence claimed a part of her, in the way that trauma leaves its mark.

She trembled when she saw the enormous stone, not where it should be, covering his grave, but rolled away. To her, this meant that more violence had come—but from where? From those same brutal imperial soldiers who had beaten him, bullied him, done the unthinkable to fasten his body to the beams of a cross? Or was this new violence from the earth, an earthquake shifting that great stone?

Brave Mary Magdalene had not let the darkness before dawn keep her from his side, but now she ran to find Simon Peter and the other disciples, of whom she was one. By then she’s describing this new violence as human: they have taken the Lord—we don’t know where!

Quickly, before the sun’s rising could expose them to the iron fist of the emperor’s men whose only care was to snuff out every life that could disturb the emperor’s peace, quickly now Peter and John ran to that graveyard to be sure Mary had the right spot, to see for themselves if they must suffer the loss of what peace it gave them to know where he lay.

Their quick daring of danger showed them how right Mary was. Then they saw more than what she described: Jesus’s burial shroud lay discarded on the floor of the tomb, as if Jesus had shed those long bands of cloth just Friday wrapped around him, like a great luna moth erupting from its chrysalis.

As yet they did not understand. St. John the gospel writer tells us that: they had not yet shed their own tight grasp and recognized what God was doing (which was what God had long promised), not yet opened their minds and hearts to dare believe that death could not stop Jesus from being with them always.

These men were only so daring. Now, fast, they ran back into hiding before they could be scooped up as rebels to be crucified. But brave Mary Magdalene remained by his grave.

Weeping. Through those tears, she peered into the tomb, and where the men had seen discarded linen, she saw two angels in white. Were her tears distorting what she saw, or were those cleansing tears what it took to reveal the more the others missed? The angels ask her why she’s crying. Does she wonder whether angels aren’t as sharp as they’re thought to be, that they ask her this? Or is it that she can’t yet hear their message, “You don’t need to cry any more,” as if the ears of her heart need freeing, like the eyes of her mind.

Something makes her turn around. Something is reflected in the eyes of those angels. Or someone…

Standing there is Jesus, but she doesn’t yet know this, her eyes are still washed in her tears; but it’s her hearing that he engages as he asks the angels’ question again (Why are you weeping?) and adds his own, “Whom are you looking for?”

The best she can make of what she sees is that he must be the cemetery gardener, so, sensibly, she asks for his help in finding Jesus. Then, by one word, in one rush of breath as Word becomes flesh, Mary’s ears of the heart are freed as she hears him call her, “Mary!” In this story, that is Mary’s tipping point, opening all her senses to receive what is happening.

She does not move backward in time when she utters her one word, “Teacher!” By that word, she tells him that she recognizes him and trusts what is happening now. To make sure that she moves forward with him, Jesus teaches her the new footing of their love: Do not hold on to me in the old way— from now on I live within you, I live among the open-hearted community of believers, and I live in the world to love it into what it will become as God’s new creation, through you.

Brave Mary Magdalene, first disciple to follow Jesus beyond fear of death, into new life. In her tears, she encourages us to be honest with our feelings. In her staying close to Jesus, she teaches us patience and courage in asking the questions that will show us who he is. In the opening of her senses to recognize him, she shows us how conversion of life is our becoming open to the tender gracious forever-open heart of God, the source of a power so different from the sort that emperors and armies have-- lasting, creative, peace-making, and open to all who are willing to receive it.

There is a lot of violence in our world today. This world needs many more open hearts to move with Mary’s bravery to find the Easter power that is stronger than the iron fist.