She stood near at his death. She witnessed the horrors of his crucifixion.
She went to his tomb. Maybe she didn’t believe he was really gone?
How could someone who means so much to her have died?
When the earth quaked and an angel appeared, she didn’t need to pretend to be dead, like the guards did.
She listened and took the angel’s message to heart, “go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
She and her friend left the tomb quickly and RAN to see the disciples.
On their way they were rewarded beyond expectation. Jesus appears. To them.
The one she longed to see, the one who saw her in ways that no one else did, the one she thought she would never see again, was standing in front of her. She could only fall to the ground and take hold of his feet.
Why would Mary Magdalene do all that? Why would Mary Magdalene do all that?
For only one reason, love.
Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus was all about love. Her love for him and his love for her. As tradition holds it, Mary first approaches Jesus to anoint his feet, preparing him for his journey to death. In offering this act of kindness to Jesus, she is healed and the bond between the two is established. From that very first encounter Mary sees Jesus fully. From that point forward, she follows him, listens to him, and worships him – all out of love. Because of her great love she is able to do and see things that many others around him are not able to do and see.
Informed by her love for Jesus, Mary’s spiritual vision gives her courage to go beyond what was expected and allowed for a woman of her time. She pays attention and sees the whole picture of who Jesus is in ways that most of his disciples did not. By paying close attention to him in life and in death, God grants her to be the first to see Jesus beyond his death.
Most of us don’t want to be around or look at death – not Jesus’ death, not our family members or friends’ deaths. Nor do we want to look at patterns of death caused by our own habits, like the way we eat and work, or caused by the way our society is organized that results in crushing poverty, political corruption, and environmental degradation. It is so much easier and more comfortable not to pay attention to death. And yet, if we don’t pay attention to what is killing us and our planet how can we understand and take action to heal and nurture life?
Mary Magdalene points us in a life-giving direction. She knows the truth that only in being attentive to all that life has to offer, including death, can we be renewed. She is the first to see Jesus raised because she has stayed closest to him in death. She did not close her heart or turn away from Jesus’ pain. She gave herself over to it. And in so doing, her broken heart was open enough to perceive the truth of the empty tomb.
The Coronavirus Pandemic is exposing many of the destructive, death-dealing patterns in American life. This pandemic is not affecting all Americans in the same way. If you are poor and black or brown, you are far more likely to die than if you are white and privileged, like many of us. If you were economically fragile and under-insured before the pandemic, you are more fragile now. If you were struggling with loneliness and isolation or anxiety and depression before the pandemic, your struggles are likely worse now.
On the other hand, if you had a lifestyle where you were constantly stressed and on the go, you might be appreciating a slower, more life-giving pace. For our planet with air choked by pollution, seas clogged by plastics, and land destroyed by fracking and toxic wastes, this pause in certain human activities is bringing signs of renewed life: Like cleaner air in cities across the globe, a reduction in noise pollution, and wildlife returning to their natural habitats.
On this Easter Day, we are called to have the courage of Mary Magdalene to look with love at the whole picture of our lives, including the death-dealing ways of our lifestyles and culture. Like Mary Magdalene, we are called to pay close attention to those parts of our individual and collective lives that threaten and destroy us in body and spirit; that threaten and destroy the only place any of us will ever live, this earth.
With loving eyes and open hearts, we are called this Eastertide to sit at our own empty tombs: with those thoughts and feelings that arise within us from this experience of physical distancing. Sitting with our own emptiness, we are called to hear what messages may be coming to us from this pandemic, that may be coming to us from God.
The angel at the tomb points Mary forward, “See he is going ahead of you.” On Easter, we celebrate a God who breaks through death to show us a picture of the world that is bigger than what we usually perceive. Jesus shows us a world where death does not have the final say; a world where new life can come from death.
Ours is a God of surprise – of epiphany – of light – who specializes in creating new life out of improbable circumstances; who is forever leading us in the direction of life. A God who shows us each and every Spring what new life looks like. We can embrace the dynamism of Easter by being open to the ways that with God we can change and co-create healing and renewal for ourselves, our communities and our planet. The Spirit of Easter is the spirit of forward change and transformation.
Today Jesus shows us a world where death does not have the final say; a world where new life can come from death. If there is anything we can conclude from the last five weeks, it is that we are capable of changing how we live. We are acting in ways that only five weeks ago would have been unthinkable. If we can make these huge changes in the face of the threat that is coming from the Coronavirus, what kind of creative, forward thinking changes are we capable of partnering with God for the sake of love – love for ourselves, our families, our communities, the most vulnerable, and our planet? How can we harness the immense spiritual energy of Easter to co-create with God a future for all of us that is life-giving?
Look around. Rejoice! There are signs of new life to be found.
Look within. Rejoice! There are signs of new life to be found.
May we share, may we be the signs of new life our world needs. Amen.