By Diana Culbertson, OP
July 22, 2011
Sisters and Brothers:
We are the bearers of a great tradition. The word that we have just heard is ours to pass on — to proclaim. On this night we have heard an astounding story — one that we must tell over and over again, to the next generation and the one after that. This word is particularly precious because it came to us so late in the tradition. And because the real Mary Magdalene was mysteriously dissolved into a sinful woman — unnamed in the Lucan text — or into Mary of Bethany in an earlier part of the Gospel. Now that we can all read the texts, which was not possible in earlier ages, and retrace the biblical traditions, we can re-discover this remarkable person.
When the event of Resurrection was related, it came to the first generation of Christians in multiple versions. St. Paul was told that "Cephas" was the first to see the Risen Christ. Mark wrote that a group of women were the first to see the Risen Christ, but they were afraid and not believed. As Luke writes, "this story of theirs seemed like nonsense" — all that business about a vision of angels. As a biblical scholar has recently pointed out, the writer does not say that the women were not believable, simply that they were not believed. (Why are we not surprised?). Luke mentioned that the Lord had appeared to "Simon." But we don't know how that happened. It was third hand evidence — or, as we might argue in a court — hearsay. Then, at the end of the first century, decades after the death of Paul, the Community of the Beloved Disciple told their story. The writer — or the scribe unknown to us — offered to the Christian community their understanding of the Lord in whom they believed, their understanding of the meaning of discipleship, and especially the meaning of love — the love of the Lord for us, our love for one another. It is this love that impels us to attend to the story of Easter morning. Let us look again.
It was still dark. She peered into the darkness, experiencing grief so profound that she didn't realize that angels were speaking to her or that the one she was looking for was, in fact, present. Then she heard her name. The words of Jesus, however, must have been deeply disturbing. Is this what she wanted to hear? Is this what we want to hear?
Jesus said to her: "Stop clinging to me" ("Let go!"). Could any word have been more disturbing. "Let go."
And then, "Go."
We can reflect on her awareness of what was happening. Everything she had thought about for three days — and for years before that, and now in the darkness — was dissolved and re-arranged. From this moment on nothing would ever be the same. "Let go," said Jesus to her. And so must we all — "let go." Let go of the Jesus we think we understand, the Jesus we think we know so well. Can the church – the community of believers — ever know completely, ever really know, the Jesus we proclaim with such confidence? What does he say to those who have found him, to those whom he calls by name?
"Go." (This is not always what we want to do.)
"Go to my brothers and sisters (Adelphoi can mean brothers, can mean sisters — and here Jesus is referring to the Christian community.) "Go to my brothers and sisters" (not apostles in this text, my brothers and sisters).
"Go to the community and tell them 'My Father is your Father. My God is your God.'" He does not say, "Go to Peter and the Apostles and tell them to take over, there is work to be done."
And Mary of Magdala delivered the message: the technical apostolic proclamation: "I have seen the Lord." The Lord. This is the message of every Christian witness: "I have seen the Lord."
"I have seen who Jesus is for us. I have seen him alive and present to us. I have seen the Lord."
And who is permitted to utter this proclamation? All who have sought the Lord, all who have found him alive in their midst, all who have heard his voice. All who have been sent.
"Go to my brothers and sisters." Let go of the Jesus who is constricted by your preconceptions, let go of the Jesus whom you thought you understood. Leave the tomb. The world is not as dark as it seems. Listen again to the words of angels: "He is not lifeless. He is not among the dead. He is alive and near you. He has sent you to his brothers and sisters — all of them, wherever they gather – formally and informally, sometimes in fear, sometimes within their own darkness, sometimes convinced that they already know all about him and that there is nothing more to learn.
Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of those who have to abandon preconceptions, abandon old ideas, let go of fear, let go of despair, and forget the idea that nothing will change. When Mary of Magdala saw the Lord, everything in the world changed . . . and is still changing. Nothing will ever be the same. Jesus is alive and still with us.
And he is unpredictable. He sends us where we may not want to go. He sends us an unpredictable protector and advocate, a source of wisdom and strength who surprises us with unpredictable gifts of courage and hope.
No one can still the voices of those who have been sent — those who have seen the Lord. No one can stop us from telling the world. His Father is our Father. His Mother is our Mother. His God is our God. We are his brothers and sisters. He is with us — now and forever. He will never leave us. We know, we know . . . because we also have seen the Lord.
Mary of Magdala, lover, disciple, friend, apostle, preacher, guide to the Order of Preachers, pray for us.