April 5, 2015

“Outsiders Know”
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18

For a few minutes, I ask you to suspend your familiarity with the account of what happened ‘early in the morning on the first day of the week.’ For a little while, let your heart rest in that place that so many were on that day, confused, discouraged, perhaps ready to go back to ‘normal’ life, whatever that is.

But someone, not of our close knit group, a person who had to follow along on the edges, makes her way to the tomb. Her name was Mary. She has been called Mary Magdalene. She has been the subject of wild speculation like so many prominent figures are. Some have said she was a harlot. Others, quite creatively, have suggested that she was Jesus’ partner. Some have even imagined that she bore his child. Early in the church’s tradition, she is is often identified not only with the anonymous harlot with the perfume in Luke’s gospel, but also with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus; this interpretation is often called the “composite Magdalene” in modern scholarship. The seven devils removed from her by Jesus “morphed into the seven capital sins, and Mary Magdalene began to be condemned not only for lust but for pride and covetousness as well.” (Morrow, Carol Ann, “St. Mary Magdalene: Redeeming Her Gospel Reputation.” Liguori Publications. Catholic Update Newsletter. Nov. 30, 1999.)

What we do know is that according to Luke, seven demons were cast out of her. I do not confess to know what that really means except that she had a complex condition that Jesus miraculously relieved her from. We do know that she appeared to be the leader of this group of women who also followed Jesus. Being a woman, and living in a society where they were seen as little more than property and a means for procreation, she was never the less depicted as a brave and resolute person who stayed nearby Jesus throughout his suffering and crucifixion.

The insiders, you might note, have scattered. The end of the Jesus story, as they had conjured up in their minds, did not turn out as planned. Fearing for their lives, or soundly dejected, they have made their presence scarce in the final days. Who can blame them.

Then, maybe because she and the other women were doing the woman’s work of anointing the body, or perhaps it was because of her unwavering dedication, early in the morning on the first day of the week, she leads a small group to the tomb.

I do not know precisely what was going on. But I have stood at the edge of freshly dug graves enough to have a sense of the mood. There is a scripture I use there, perhaps one of the earliest writings of the christian era, from another outsider named Paul to some folks in Thessolonica: “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” But on this day no one knew this, so no one could say it.

It is easy to not know this. I see it outside my office window from time to time. Someone goes out to the cemetery, amidst the stones. There are family names, sometimes they put the words: ‘Father, mother, or, husband, wife.’ Sometimes they are bringing some fresh flowers, sometimes they are taking away a dried and decrept arrangement from a prior season. There lingers there a certain kind of pain that is renewed, even though the smell of freshly dug soil has long been blown away by the wind and grass now grows.

When I watch them I believe that there are many who visit whose name is also chiseled into that stone, their loved one’s dates complete and theirs uncertain. But in some continual act of devotion they come to tidy things up and remember.

I imagine that this is the work Mary was about that day. So it was a normal day, the usual for those who were grieving. But the removal of the stone and the empty tomb disrupt what she was about. Her mind moves to the logical conclusion that someone has taken Jesus’ body. What other conclusion could there be? In a closed an ridged structure of ‘that’s the way things are’ only the old and familiar occur. Find the body, and get things back to normal.

To this outsider, this one who was not welcomed at the table, but had to tag along at the margins, Mary’s closed world (and ours) is broken open when Jesus calls her name. The one who was certified as dead greets her. The established rules as to what should happen, what can happen, how things can happen, are overthrown. And because of who she was, the old structures of who is an ‘appropriate’ disciple of Jesus Christ is left in shambles. It is a new day.

But even Mary is stuck in the old way. She asks the gardner, “tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.” Even she wants only to do what is acceptable and proper. But his calling of her name, that familiar voice, shatters her customary world, as comfortable as it may be. It is Mary Magdalene, who begins the proclamation of Easter.resurrection-tomb

Now, remember with me that we do know the entirety of the story, so that with Mary we can experience, and with Peter, we can proclaim, the reality that ‘God shows no partiality.’ With Saint Paul we can affirm that now and forever ‘by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.’ That apparently it is true, that ‘whoever you are, and wherever you are on life’s journey, Jesus welcomes you…Today we know this. Today we are certain that Jesus came to redeem the whole world, even you and I, as imperfect as we are. ”so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” This is the good news.