In nomine Jesu!
This was power against power. The forces of darkness versus the love of God. And Jesus was dead. The forces of darkness declared victory.
But on the morning of the third day, God announced the great reversal; raised Jesus from death and proclaimed that death is not the final word and that God's love is the ultimate force in the universe β even greater than death.
Such is the drama of the Gospel According to John. The horror of his execution terrorized all who loved Jesus. Their hope was gone. That was especially true for Mary Magdalene, who traveled with Jesus, serving and supporting him. Luke tells us that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her. After that, Mary made Jesus her life.
She kept vigil at the cross. True to the bitter end, she attended Jesus even in his death. She visited his tomb well before dawn and found that the stone had been removed from the entrance to the grave. She then ran to inform the disciples of this one final indignity.
We've all been there, all too deeply experiencing desolation, defeat, despair, and death.
It's seeing the surgeon returning from the operating room β mask off β with a somber countenance that speaks without words that it did not go well.
It's staring into space β grieving in unbelief the death of a loved one, of a friend, or the death of a friendship or the loss of a job that once was your dream.
It's packing up and moving to separate apartments β packing last the book of wedding pictures that won't be viewed again because they are too painful.
It is a feeling of weariness at least. More often it is a feeling of being crushed. Yes, we can indeed put ourselves into John's story of Mary bewildered and dismayed at the tomb.
Yes, we've been there.
In response to Mary's news that Jesus' body had been stolen, Peter and John ran to the tomb and were gone again by the time Mary returned to
the tomb. She is in such a state of mind that she seems not to notice two angelic visitors. She answers them numbly, mindlessly. Yes, we've been there too: numbly, mindlessly, blanking out.
As she stares into the tomb, she perceives another person near her. Through her tears she thinks it is the gardener. Like the pair on the road to Emmaus, like the fishing
disciples in the Sea of Galilee, Mary does not immediately recognize the risen Christ.
"Woman, why are you crying?" he says. "Oh please," she begs, "if you have carried him away, please tell me where you have put him and I'll take him away." Then one word restores her shattered world: "Mary." He speaks her name and, in a flash, she recognizes and names him. Jesus is alive! Mary experienced the miracle of Easter as the risen Christ spoke her name.
Mary's encounter with the risen Lord is a paradigm of those wonderful moments of recognition when suddenly, inexplicably; you know God is present with you. In such moments life has meaning and clarity beyond comprehension. You know... you just know in
your own heart that death and despair are not the final reality. God has broken into your despair and became the source of life and love again.
How do we explain those moments? How do we explain this Easter reality? We don't explain them; we proclaim them β- and we live them. That Easter moment when God breaks into our life is not a truth to be explained or grasped. Rather it is a truth that grasps us. We experience it and it changes us.
There's a strange twist to this story: Jesus asks Mary not to hold or even touch him. Why?
I suggest it is to tell us that the resurrected body Mary encountered was not Jesus' final revelation. It was not and is not the final form of the risen Christ. Henceforth, through the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of Jesus would take many forms. In fact even in the biblical accounts, the resurrection appearances of Jesus are wonderfully varied.
What is at issue in these events is that we discover and experience for ourselves God's ultimate power in our lives. Jesus' resurrection is
not the story of one person's victory over death. It is not the story of a resuscitated corpse. Lazarus was resuscitated. Christ is raised to usher in a new era, the era of God's Spirit living for and living in all.
All this prompts a question: What is the ultimate reality of our life? What is our deepest yearning? Where do we stand? On what do we ground our life? From what do we draw our strength?
For some the deepest reality is only the tangible, what can be touched or seen.
For some their deepest grounding is only possessions.
For some the ultimate reality is whom they can be against, and so they define themselves by who they are not!
Many today perceive themselves as victims; "holier-than-thous;" hate mongers; whose ultimate reality is their self-proclaimed superiority. Hatred is their strength and exclusion their song.
In the risen Christ, God invites to trust and to
live in the power of God's love: a love for all shown in Christ's cross; a love that suffers with all of us; a love displayed through Christ's resurrection that is God's last and best Word to all of us; a love which nourishes us at this table and makes all of us one with all who have ever β or will ever β live so that love and peace may be our strength and unity our song.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Saint John 20:1-18