Forty days ago, as the church counts, we began the season called “Lent.” We often speak of it as a journey, a Lenten Journey. In this season, we Journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. We follow Jesus as he teaches on grass-covered hillsides and down by a lakeshore. We watch Jesus as he lives out his teachings. We try to discern what drove him, what fired such deep passion, such conviction, what in the world caused him to do such radical acts and say such scandalous things? What pushed him forward into Jerusalem— when he knew that going there, would get him killed? All his doing and teaching and preaching stirred up the powerful and ignited fear in the establishment; he knew he would not go unchallenged.
This year as we listen to Jesus teach and watched his actions, we had a parallel discourse filling our ears as well. While Jesus was delivering a sermon on the mount this Lent, presidential candidates were delivering campaign promises on stages across the country. While we heard Jesus envision what God’s kingdom would look like here on earth, we also heard what Donald and Hilary, Ted, Marco, and Bernie and others promised their reign would look like here in America. We are left to choose whom we will follow. We are left to decide whose way will be our way.
We’ve heard talk on immigration. Jesus was a political refugee himself. If we read Matthew’s birth narrative, Jesus was one of those children whose parents fled their native land when their child was in danger. They sought sanctuary in Egypt when the governor imposed genocide. Thankfully, no one built a wall and kept them out. Jesus was Jewish, he knew his ancient scriptures. He knew often the Israelites record God calling them to care for the foreigners who reside among them—because they were once foreigners too living in a strange land. There are no fortified border walls, for the Way of Jesus welcomes all.
We’ve heard talk on gun control. We all know that Jesus didn’t carry a 9mm pistol or a Remington shotgun, or an AK-47, so he doesn’t have much to say about those. Except, he proclaimed a consistent message on nonviolence. He taught conflict resolution through resistance, non-violent resistance. When his life was in danger, and his disciple pulled out a weapon of defense and attacked the man who was going to kill Jesus, Jesus told his friend to put away his sword, for all who live by violence die by it as well. Violence breeds violence. Jesus wanted none of that. He didn’t know our Second Amendment right to carry guns; but he knew God’s Commandment to honor life. There’s no armed population, for the Way of Jesus is a path of peace.
We hear talk on the economy. I don’t know that the 99% and the 1% are that much different now than they were in the first century. The wealth was in the hands of the few then as now. Maybe that’s why Jesus taught about wealth more than most any other topic. Our relationship with our money tells us much about our relationship with all others. Jesus said if you love money— more than others, more than God— that’s trouble. He preached mostly to the commoners and didn’t go to many black tie affairs to raise funds for his Movement. They thought the rich were blessed and the poor were cursed; Jesus said blessed are the poor. Jesus said care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Jesus seemed more concerned about everyone having enough than about some having it all. There’s no special perks for the Way of Jesus is abundant life for all.
We hear talk on health care. There are tons of stories are told about Jesus healing people. Jesus healed the rich and the poor, the men and women, boys and girls. He healed friend and family, and he healed enemies of his people. The people he cured did not have to do anything to deserve the care they received. They were entitled to health and care and healing simply because they were human. There’s no one left out for the Way of Jesus is healing for all.
We hear talk on the death penalty. It comes before us for a vote this fall. Jesus died because the state executed an innocent man. That’s the story we followed this week. Jesus entered Jerusalem in a political parade of common people proclaiming him as their chosen leader. They waved palm branches and followed him with bare feet singing, “Hosanna, King of King, and Lord of Lord.” The other parade in town that day was full of Roman soldiers marching in cadence with sun glinting off their shields and swords. By Friday, Jesus of Nazareth, that commoner idealist with visions of God’s kingdom on earth was dead and buried. Innocent, but dead nonetheless.
The Powerful prevailed on Friday. The military might conquered on Friday. One of his companions sold him out; love of money was it? Maybe all that Jesus taught was just idealism, not really realistic. All that love and peace and nonviolence was nailed to a cross then put in a cold tomb. That’s how the story ended—on Friday night. The innocent was executed, and all their dreams died with him. The closed up tomb showed that his life was finite. His love was finite. His forgiveness was finite. His peaceful way got stomped on—proving it just doesn’t work. That’s the end of the story—if we are Friday people. If we are Friday people, we should choose us a Friday kind of leader so that we can be the best Empire and lead the world in violence, and shut out all those people who are poor and foreign and sick and diseased. If we are Friday people, that’s what we should do.
But if we aren’t Friday people…. If we can’t let the injustice of innocent executions have the last word; if ignoring the needs of the poor and the marginalized just doesn’t set right with our souls; if there is something more that calls to us; that calls us to go out on a darkened morning and keep on with the story then we join Mary; the one called Magdalene whose story didn’t end on Friday either.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary got up and went to the garden. That description might sound familiar to you. Several times over in the Jesus stories, we are told that Jesus got up while it was still dark, and he went outside to pray under the starlit canopy. He went to watch for dawn’s light to grace the horizon and to hear God’s voice call his name and speak to his heart and ignite that passion that kept him going on through the adversity. She was his disciple. Magdalena loved Jesus. Perhaps Magdalene had joined him on some of those early morning hours of solitude and prayer and communion with God. Perhaps she goes now for the first time, to imitate what he had done as a way to connect with his memory. Whichever the case, Magdalene goes to his tomb to mourn her loss and grieve. John says the grave is open. There is a crack in the finality of Friday.
Mary bends down to peer into the darkened alcove where Jesus’ body was carefully placed. Instead of the mounded burial cloths holding a deathly form, John says she sees two angels sitting on the spot they had placed Jesus’ dead body. Jesus’ body is gone.
John tells a supernatural story of a mystical experience of understanding dawning in Magdalene’s broken heart. When angels appear elsewhere in scripture, they almost always greet their human audience with the words, “be not afraid.” These angels do not calm a fearful human in this story. John gives no indication that Mary is in a state of panic at the sight of these messengers of God, but they do not bring Magdalene comfort. Jesus’ body is not there; that’s all that matters to Mary.
Turning away from the messengers from God, as she turns, she sees another man who asks of her the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She begs the man to give her the body of Jesus. She begs him to return her beloved to her—so that she can hold in her arms the man of the past—she longs for something of him that she can grasp in her hands. The man has no body to give her—no body to point her to—no body for her to hold on to. She turns her back on him. With emptiness overwhelming and tears flooding down her face, Mary walks away from him. Then her stride freezes. She hears him speak her name, “Mary.”
John has told his readers in an earlier story that those whose heart is open to follow know the sound of their name when spoken by their shepherd’s voice. Now, John shows it to be true. Mary has exchanged conversation with this man standing outside the tomb, but she turned her back on him when he was unable to help her. Only when he speaks her name does she recognize his voice. John, the masterful storyteller, brings Jesus’ teaching to life.
The angels might announce a birth of good news and great joy, but they did not announce, “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!” The gardener did not announce, “I have Risen, I have risen indeed!” Magdalene’s heart hears his voice speak her name. The announcement of Easter morning is her name spoken. He doesn’t tell her who he is, he calls forth who she is, ‘Mary.”
Hallelujah! The sun crests the horizon and understanding floods her soul. The violence of Friday is not the last word. The powerful and prestigious did not defeat the care and compassion Jesus lived. Death does not separate her from his love. The grave is not finite. His love and forgiveness and presence was not finite. Magdalene is yet known and still loved.
The power to have life in the midst of heartbreak, to have hope in the darkness of overwhelming sorrow, to bring new life into an unjust world and to realize that the way of Jesus, the way of love over hatred, of compassion over indifference, of peace over violence, that His Way is The Way in union with God and all others. This is the Easter dawning for us all.
That is the miracle of Easter that does not leave us as Friday people but calls us to be Easter people. Easter means eyes being open to see the Christ (not a corpse or zombie), but hearts open to see that which is before us and beyond us and with us always. Eyes open to see the poor, the diseased, the strangers, the victims of violence—and knowing that God’s way is a way of mercy and grace.
Easter is learning to see and learning to listen with our hearts to the simple sound of our name spoken in the dawning. That is our Easter journey; that is our life journey.
Hallelujah, Christ is alive.