Tag Archives: Mary Magdalene

Called by our name

Reading
John 20.1–18

Though fully “present” to [Mary Magdalene] in his transfigured corporeality, the risen Christ appears in the mode of “absence,” in a way that at once communicates his identity and person while overwhelming her wildest expectations and capacities for comprehension. — Robinette, Brian D.. Grammars of Resurrection: A Christian Theology of Presence and Absence (Herder & Herder Books) (p. 4). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

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When Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb, she wasn’t expecting what happened. She found the tomb empty; the body missing. It sounds like the beginning of an Agatha Christie mystery, but there’s a plot twist that even Agatha would not have written.

The body was missing because Jesus had been raised from the grave.

Mary wasn’t expecting that to happen, but we shouldn’t criticise her for that. When my father died over 27 years ago, I wanted to spend some quiet time at his grave the day after the funeral. On my way there, I wondered what I’d think if his grave was empty. I’d react just as Mary did, I’d think someone had taken the body. I wouldn’t think my dad had risen from the dead; I’d have called the police.

Back to Mary. Later, she is weeping outside the tomb. Mary has not only lost Jesus her teacher, but now she cannot make sure he is laid to rest. People need that; we need to have a body to reverently lay to rest. Those who lose someone and can’t find the body experience a double loss. This was Mary’s sad reality, but it was about to change.

Things are starting to happen; now, there are two angels in the tomb. Then Mary realises there is someone else, you know how you sometimes just know someone is looking at you? She turns, and sees … the gardener. After all, they’re in a garden.

We know it’s Jesus; she doesn’t. What keeps him from Mary’s eyes? We don’t know, but we can guess. We can guess that the risen One is more than he was before, much more. Mary cannot take it in, she is overwhelmed by a resurrected Person standing in front of her. Mary doesn’t quite grasp who he is. But you know, neither do we, today.

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Christ did not ‘come back from the dead’

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 28.1–10

 

This time last year, some of us had just concluded a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On our last day in Jerusalem, we were at the Garden Tomb, one of the possible sites of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. On the door of the tomb itself, there is this sign:

He is not here

 

‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

The Christian faith is squarely built on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Soon after his horrible execution on the cross, when his disciples were at their lowest, he appeared among them, and they were transformed.

‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

These of course are the words Matthew includes in his story of the resurrection, words spoken by the angel to Mary Magdalene. In the NRSV of our pew bibles it is

He is not here; for he has been raised …

He is not here. Not here where?

In Matthew’s Gospel, the two Marys go to see the tomb. They are expecting to see a closed tomb which contains the corpse of Jesus. That’s where a dead person belongs. Safely tucked away.

The two Marys are expecting to see that the dead is among the dead.

That’s the way it is, isn’t it? I visited my dad’s grave the day after his funeral. I didn’t expect to see that he had risen. And he hadn’t.

But Jesus is risen. And that turns everything upside down.

Now Jesus is risen, death is defeated. The risen Lord Jesus Christ brings life and healing to all people. In him is eternal life.

This life is for all. Jesus died as one of the rejected and excluded of the world so that the rejected ones might be included in the new humanity that he has brought to birth. That’s what Peter found out when he saw that vision of the unclean animals. No one is left out, everyone is included in the offer of eternal life.

We’re curious about death and what’s beyond the grave. So it’s not surprising that recently there have been a couple of dramas on TV which have been about people returning from the dead. We might confuse the Resurrection of Jesus with these other stories of people coming back from the dead. And that just won’t do, because stories of people returning from the grave can be quite disturbing.

Let me tell you about these TV shows.

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Bright Sadness (A Holy Week sermon)

Readings
Isaiah 50.4–9a
Philippians 2.5–11
Matthew 27.27–61

 

This time last year, some of us were in Israel, walking streets that Jesus walked and gaining new inspiration for our journeys of faith.

I found one of the greatest places to be was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s a sprawling place, with surprises around every corner. It’s one of the sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps it really is where he was put to death, and buried; perhaps not.

It was pretty crowded, and it was frustrating to navigate; so I think my report of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre might strike a note of disappointment if it wasn’t for one wall, a wall of mosaics. It is a more contemporary mosaic, which was placed by the Greek Orthodox Church.

I took a few photos …

This scene depicts ‘The Deposition from the Cross’. We have Mary the mother of the Lord and Joseph of Arimathea supporting Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John kissing his hands, and Nicodemus removing the nails while the other women stand, weeping.

Mosaic 1

 

In the next part of the mosaic, Jesus’ body is laid out on the burial cloth ready to be shrouded.

Mosaic 2

In the third and final scene, Jesus is being laid in the tomb.

Mosaic 3

This is a stunningly beautiful mosaic. I stood before it in speechless wonder for a long time.

Let me point out two things. The first is the sorrow. Just look at the faces.

Closeup 1

 

Closeup 2

 

Closeup 3

 

Even the angels weep!

Angels

 

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound. The loss is absolute, and it is felt even by the powers of heaven.

Jesus had healed the sick and brought sight to those who could not see.
But they crucified him.

He was the promised Messiah.
But they crucified him between two thieves.

He was going to bring in the kingdom of God.
But they crucified him on Golgotha, the Place of a Skull.

Now everything was gone. It had seemed so wonderful at the beginning of the week, but now it seemed a strange dream. What were all the palms for, all the cheers and the crowds and the shouts of ‘Hosanna, Save us Lord!’?

Save us? He couldn’t save himself.

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound, and we shouldn’t try to downplay it.

Remember I said I had two things to point out about this mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? The deep sorrow is the first.

The second is this: the vibrant colours. This mosaic is a complete riot of colour. There are reds, blues, greens, oranges, purples. Oh, and lots and lots of gold.

Don’t you think it really should be more subdued?

I mean, come on, this is a scene of unrelenting sorrow, of cosmic sorrow. But it’s ablaze with colour!

What’s that about?

It’s about Easter. We can imagine that as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, John and the others took Jesus’s lifeless corpse from the cross and laid it in the tomb that there was no light for them. Everything was grey. Perhaps Mary wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

Yet the dawn of Easter Day was just a few short hours away, it was just over the horizon.

What we see in this mosaic is no created light. It is Easter light, the light of the resurrected One. We see utter and inconsolable sadness, while the light of Easter shines upon the people without their being aware of it.

Some people speak of Lent as a time of ‘Bright Sadness’. Bright sadness.

It’s a time of sadness, which we should not try to diminish or avoid. Christ went to the cross to save his people. He died to being us back to God. He died on our behalf.

How can we minimise the death of God’s very Son? Well, we can try, by ignoring it, by commercialising Easter, by only going to Easter services if we feel like it. But we shouldn’t try to do that. And really, nothing we do or fail to do will ever truly minimise the horror of this week.

But Lent, and above all Holy Week, is a bright time too. Over it the light of Easter shines. Salvation is ours. Our sadness is illuminated by the joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Bright sadness is not optimism. It’s not about being a ‘glass half full’ kind of person. It’s not ‘looking on the bright side of life’, or ‘walking on the sunny side of the street’. Bright sadness is faith that the light of Easter shines in all situations. Bright sadness is faith that even death itself is not a full stop, but only a comma.

Bright sadness doesn’t avoid the sadness! It means that at this time of year above all others, we recognise the great price our Saviour paid, we acknowledge our shortcomings and sins, and we lift our voices in grateful praise. And this time of year reminds us to live to God at every time of the year.

This wall mural speaks to us of bright sadness. Can we embrace this bright sadness? We surely can, and we must. It is God’s gift to us, for the sake of Jesus our Lord and for the world that needs his peace, his justice and his reign as servant-Lord of all.

 

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