Saturday, March 22, 2008

Collision Course: Mary Magdalene

Morning in the 'burbs...

Sometimes I look out my window and wonder why I live here. It's not like the compact little street of apartment buildings, small shops and businesses, tea houses, bakeries, the ceramic tile factory and the muffler shop in Yalova, Turkey where Jean and I first lived. I'm a farm kid by background and a city kid by the majority of life experience. The 'burbs are neither. I don't like lawns, but this patch of land that we are five mortgage payments from owning outright also gives us a garden space. My "farm". Seems like most of the area is on a collision course with what we are, though.

Several things were on a collision course in the gospel according to John as Jesus is crucified and laid to rest. But I realize that for most of my church-going history, almost no Easter preacher could ever say why Easter was so important except that it had somehow bought us resurrection--at some undefined time in the future, after we had died, whenver it was that Father God decided to send Jesus back to earth to at last usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God and take our glorified bodies to Heaven.

We had the details of what happened down pretty well. But what did it mean, for God's sake? No male preacher was ever able to say in ways that connected with me. I didn't feel any resurrection in my life.

I never thought about that much--indeed, couldn't see it--until I began to listen to John who told us the meaning of Jesus' resurrection through the eyes of two people in chapter 20: Mary Magdalene and Thomas, the twin. Ladies first. Thomas next week.

Mary of Magdala. We don't know much about her except that she seems to have lived on the s--t end of life until Jesus found her. Was she a prostitute? Had she been raped or sexually abused as a child? Was she homeless, divorced? Did she have a crooked nose, bad skin, ugly teeth? Did she have mental illness, the "seven demons" that were reported to have been cast out of her?

One thing is for sure, whatever she had come out of she found a fresh start among the followers of Jesus. I'm sure she had a servant's role in the group: cooking, shopping, serving, laundry, sewing, mending, whatever. I have no idea how the disciples regarded her or treated her. Roles were deeply cast back then, and expected. But for the first time perhaps in her whole life she must have felt love, acceptance and even the favor of God, protection from abuse, clucking tongues and preying males.

Imagine this fresh start in life being crushed, puverized at the foot of the cross. Look at the world through Mary's eyes and let that view soak awhile. It's one thing to have lived without much hope. It's another to have been given hope so briefly, only to have it ripped away by the public torture and execution of your hope giver.

One more thing. Handling a dead body, as the women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem did, would have made them ritually unclean, very unclean. Mary M. was used to that. She'd probably been considered unclean most of her life. For "good" people a huge stretch, for Mary a way of life.

After the crucifixion, the male disciples are anything but an inspired bunch. They sequester behind locked doors, scared to death. Mary goes to the graveyard (surely in the company of other women, but Mary M. is the one John shines his spotlight on) just as it is getting light on the first day of the week. She wants to finish the job of preparing Jesus' body for burial. By her own admission she goes expecting to find a body, nothing else.

It is gone! Nothing but an empty hole and cloth body wrappings...

She rushes back to town, alerts the disciples. Peter and John run out to the tomb, find it empty, see the folded shrouds and "believe". Believe what? That Jesus is gone? But what else? They don't really know yet, and John doesn't say, except that they have no biblical basis to hope for or expect anything but a dead end at Jesus' grave. The guys go back to Jerusalem. At least they have a "safe house" to go to.

Mary? Mary stays. She stands weeping outside the tomb. Why?

Did it ever occur to you that Mary had nothing to go back to? The one shred of remembrance of the new life she had been given was the body of Jesus. Now even that is gone.

Empty. Devastated. Crushed. Hopeless. Inconsolable. What else could she possibly have felt? A stranger asks why she weeps, whom she seeks? Then the stranger she doesn't recognize calls her by name, and she returns the recognition. Instantly she has her arms wrapped around him like a tree intending to never let go.

Jesus says she must let go of the old Jesus she knew in order to inherit the one who will never leave her and be present through water, Spirit, bread and wine, community, the kingdom of God.

Mary heads back to town, stumbling at first, I'll bet, in her overwhelmed state. Then I'll bet she begins to run. The meaning of the empty tomb finally begins to sink in!

Nothing ends here. This is where it begins! Mary has her life given back to her again. It might be fair to say that Mary has her life given to her for the very first time.

Why does Mary get to be the first person on the planet to see the risen Christ and proclaim, "I have seen the Lord!" My only answer: at that moment in time no person on the planet had such a desperate need to see.

From nothing to being filled. From death to life. Emptiness is where God begins. God always starts with nothing. At the beginning that's all there is. Same is true for God's new beginnings. Perhaps even in your own life. Pretty fantastic collision course!

There wasn't just one resurrection that day. There were effectively two. Or perhaps 10 billion, including yours.

Christ is risen, and so are you. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Roger

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