In today’s gospel, Mary Magdalene is grieving deeply. She came to know and believe and follow and love Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. She had a personal relationship with him. According to the Gospel of John, Mary was so close to Jesus that she stayed with him at the foot of the cross. She watched Jesus die. How overwhelming her grief must have been! But, her grief reached a new depth when, after three days time, Mary came early in the morning to find the tomb empty and Jesus gone. Today’s gospel passage begins after Peter and the beloved disciple confirm that the tomb is empty and the head covering is rolled up in a place separate from the remaining burial cloths.
Have you ever been so overwhelmed with grief or depression that you did not notice new life standing before you? This happens to Mary Magdalene and I think it often happens to us. In Mary’s grief, she cannot recognize new life, the resurrected Christ, who stands before her. (Biblical scholars tell us too that Mary does not recognize Jesus partially because the resurrected Christ is somehow different than before his resurrection, giving us all a glimpse into how we too will be the same and yet not the same when we are resurrected on the last day.) Mary is too full of grief and thoughts of Jesus as she used to know him and is simply unable to recognize new life standing before her. But, Jesus wants her to see him and know he is alive! Jesus wants her to believe. So he reaches out to her in love by calling her name. How beautiful – we move from grief and death to joy and new life when we hear our name spoken in love!
Upon hearing her name, Mary’s grief indeed turns to joy. But, she still does not fully comprehend what has happened and who stands before her. Her Messiah is not a temporal king and he is not simply her beloved friend awake and alive and ready to join her for a meal. Things are not going to be like they used to be. So, Jesus invites her to stop holding onto him, to stop holding onto her grief, to stop holding onto her old image of the ways things used to be. These things have passed away. They have ended and will be no more. In its place, something even better begins, for Mary and for us. With his death and resurrection, Jesus destroyed death and gives everlasting life. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. Jesus is God.
We’ve just finished six weeks of repentance, six weeks of fasting, praying, giving alms and asking for God’s help to turn us away from our own sinfulness. Now, like Mary, we are invited to let this go and celebrate new life. New life? Maybe you too feel like Mary Magdalene and find it difficult to comprehend what is happening. Maybe you too, still full of the heaviness of Lent, of your own growing awareness of your human weakness, still full of sorrow at the passion and death of Jesus solemnly recognized just a few short days ago.
Luckily for us, Jesus Christ too calls us by name. Jesus is alive today and he calls me by name. He calls you by name. Jesus invites us to recognize today that we have new life in him. He invites us to not hold onto the things of our past, not even our own sinfulness. Sin and death no longer hold power over us. Christ invites us to join him in knowing that death has been destroyed for good and we shall always live in him.
Like Mary Magdalene, it is okay if we need some time for this to sink in. That is one reason why we have 40 days of Easter before we celebrate Pentecost. If we need time in Lent to turn from our sins, we are given time now to more fully move into new life with the resurrected Christ. And, like Peter in our first reading, there will be a time too, when full of the Holy Spirit, we are able to proclaim to all those around us, “God has made him both Lord and Christ!”
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