Saturday, April 8, 2023

Easter, 2023-A: Set free to proclaim

Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

In John’s gospel account of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene goes alone to the tomb to finish the burial preparations interrupted by the Passover and sees that the tomb is already open. Keeping to the custom of her culture, Mary does not enter the tomb, but runs back to fetch Peter and John, who is the disciple Jesus loved. Mary, whose spiritual eyes had not yet been opened to the truth of the resurrection, informs the men that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb, supposing out loud that someone must have stolen it.

In our Bible study this week, we were pondering what Mary Magdalene might have been thinking in that moment – the great stone had been rolled away and someone had obviously been in the tomb… but they must not have been in a hurry because the burial linens were carefully placed here and there… anyway, who unwraps a dead body before stealing it? Suddenly, my watch Siri interrupted us saying, “I’m not sure I understand.” We broke up saying, neither do we, Siri. Neither do we.

When John arrives at the tomb, he looks inside, but he too waits until Peter, who held the top rung in the hierarchical ladder, catches up. When the two men entered the tomb and stood in its emptiness, they believed what Mary Magdalene had told them: Jesus was missing.

That’s a pretty radical statement for our Gospel writer to make considering that for them the testimony of women was considered unreliable. But Jesus made Mary’s testimony reliable.

Seeing the empty tomb, the disciples could only guess at what was going on “for as yet they didn’t understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead.” The author tells us that Peter and John simply went home. Unable to leave the emptiness she didn’t quite understand, Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.

Unable to overcome the cultural barrier that kept her as an outsider, Mary still doesn’t go inside the tomb. Instead, she bends over to look inside it. When she does, she sees two angels in white who ask her a simple question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

It’s helpful for us to remember that in those days men didn’t speak to women who weren't family. So, either the angels looked like women, or yet another barrier that impeded Mary’s call to be a witness to the Good News was brought down.

Then Mary turns around and sees a man standing near her. Motivated by her deep grief, and still unable to “see” the truth of the resurrection, Mary speaks to the man and another culture barrier comes tumbling down - the one that forbids women to speak to men.

"Sir," Mary says, if you have taken my Lord, please tell me where he is and “I’ll take him away.” Jesus replies by simply saying her name, “Mary,” and suddenly, her spiritual eyes are opened.

As promised, those who belong to the Good Shepherd know his voice. Mary spins back around to “look” again and sees – truly sees - her risen Lord. The very breath of life in Mary sighs his name using a term of endearment in their native tongue: “Rabbouni!”

In that moment, Mary’s understanding, along with her once broken heart, were made whole.

Jesus, her beloved Rabbi, is now Jesus, the risen Lord. She sees with her eyes. She understands with her spirit… and she believes with her whole self! Now she is ready to be a witness to the truth, and Jesus tells Mary to go and tell the others.

Our Easter experience today is spiritually the same as Mary Magdalene’s was that first Easter Day. We, like Mary, are called to go to the place where we will hear the Lord call our name, which opens our spiritual eyes. Then, we go when he sends us to tell everyone of the transforming Good News we know.

When my now 17-year-old mini-dachshund wore a younger girl’s clothes, she had a litter of puppies. I remember watching as my tiny dog’s belly swelled with the hidden life forming inside her.

My youngest child and I participated in the birth of those four new and precious lives. Then we watched as the puppies grew and formed into a community, a family, under the ever-vigilant and protective gaze of their mama-dog.

Soon, the puppies opened their eyes. They couldn’t see well at first, but little by little, experience and biology worked together, and their vision improved. And the better they could see, the more they began to explore, motivated by an endless curiosity, grounded in their sense of safety.

One of the puppies was braver than the rest. Following some interior call, he would venture out farther and farther from the birthing-box, and the others would follow him.

If one puppy got scared, he would stop where he was and let out a few cries. Either the Mama dog or another puppy would respond immediately by going up close, offering themselves as comfort to the one who was crying.

It was truly inspiring for me to watch the puppies grow in the newness of life that happened for them once their eyes were opened. The connection to our Easter story is easy to see.

After Mary Magdalene’s spiritual eyes were opened, Jesus cautions her to remember that her spiritual vision is young and still a little clouded. Don’t cling to me, he says to her. It isn’t about my returning to you, but about my returning you to God. So go and tell the others that “I am ascending to my father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

By sending Mary with this message, Jesus commissions her as the first resurrection apostle - an apostle is one who is sent on a mission. In doing so, Jesus finishes in his resurrection, what he started in his ministry: removing all of the barriers that oppress and hinder his chosen ones in their work as witnesses of the Good News. We too have been commissioned as resurrection apostles by our Baptism. And it is in Jesus that we are made to be reliable witnesses.

We too, have been set free from all that hinders us because Christ, who has been raised from the dead has brought us with him into resurrection life.

But what does that mean? When we leave here today, what does it mean to live in resurrection life? It means living in community where we gather to hear Jesus call our name, opening ourselves to spiritual awakening over and over again, remembering that once God opens our spiritual eyes, we need some time to mature before our vision becomes clear, and we do that as a family of faith.

As we learn and grow in our faith, we need our community around us. Not just for when we get scared, although that is important, but because with our friends nearby, we have the courage to explore beyond our comfortable boundaries to seek, find, and do the ministries God is calling us to do in this moment of our communal life. We learn together, confident that God is watching us vigilantly and protectively, ready to respond whenever we cry out.

So let us be like Mary Magdalene, bold witnesses to the Good News we know, trusting that Jesus will bring down all cultural barriers in our way. I mean… here I stand.

Let us proclaim to our trans and gay siblings the good news Peter first proclaimed that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

And let us preach “peace by Jesus Christ [who] is Lord of all…” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told us to put down our weapons or we would die by them. He was right, of course, and it’s a daily torment for us as our culture clings to its clouded understanding of this.

Finally, let us get about our work of “doing good and healing all who [are] oppressed,” as Jesus showed us how to do on Maundy Thursday, commanding us to serve humbly, as servant-leaders of our faith.

It is our turn - right now - to “testify that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

For Episcopalians, being “saved” isn’t about keeping the right rules, or belonging to the right church, or having a culturally approved life-partner or gender identity. Being saved, as Jesus said so often, is about believing… believing in him. We don’t have to understand to believe. Understanding comes with time and experience and is always limited to our tiny human capacity. God is so much more than any of us can imagine or understand.

Here’s what matters: Jesus’ reconciliation of the world to God brings down all barriers that hinder our call to proclaim the Good News so that everyone can share the Easter reality, which we proclaim now together: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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