Mary Magdalene went to the tomb as soon as she could. Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark. Before the morning twilight hours. She knew the tomb well. As well as she knew Jesus. And the events of the preceding days. She was there at the foot of the cross. With the Beloved Disciple. And with the other Marys. Mary, the Theotokos. The mother of God. And her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas.
They were all with Jesus as the shadow of the cross gave way to the shadow of death. They gasped when he said â€śit is finished.â€ť Clung to one another when he bowed his head. Wept as he gave up his spirit. That night â€” the night death had its way â€” that night was dark and grim. No more dark and grim than these early morning hours. When Mary came to the tomb. On the first day of the week, while it was still dark.
The church celebrates Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrection. But not easily.
Some parts of the church hold that such a celebration is too honorable for a woman. So sheâ€™s branded a prostitute. Or considered faithless until Jesus says to her, â€śMary.â€ť And she turns to him and says in Hebrew, â€śRabbouni!â€ť
Even if she were a prostitute, Jesus is clear what he thinks of prostitutes, any person, really: God loves us all utterly unconditionally and much more than the church has yet to fully grasp. And while it is true that Jesus says he will call his own by name. And they will know him â€” that is the means by which God gives the gift of faith â€” to make Jesusâ€™ exchange with Mary at the tomb the exclusive litmus of her faith, of anyoneâ€™s faith is to put too much emphasis on a good thing.
For Maryâ€™s constant vigil is filled with a tremendous amount of faith and devotion. Unlike the disciples, she did not flee, but was there when Jesus said â€śit is finished.â€ť She looked death squarely in the eye. Kept on looking at it until that day of resurrection. Her confusion at the tomb something we all experience when we face horrific trauma, when we endure great suffering, when distress sets in. Oh, there is faith in her way.
And comfort. Comfort when Jesus calls to her, â€śMary.â€ť Confirmation by her Lord and God that her tears are faithful. Her vigil, holy. Her witness to the church â€” at the cross and at the empty tomb â€” a gift to the whole world. For God is not absent in pain and sorrow. God does not regard grief unfaithful. God does not consider our best efforts to comfort others anything other than righteous and just. In celebrating Mary Magdalene, God proclaims to us that faith does not emerge simply out of the glory of resurrection. But emerges also out of the dark and grim shadow of the cross, the valley of the shadow of death. Where God is present to call her, to call all of us, all sheep by name.
This past Fridayâ€™s early morning hours were dark and grim. Evilâ€™s presence in the world and its way of death painfully palpable. Twelve dead. Scores injured. Reverberations of fear in Aurora and throughout the world. No answers answer the hard questions raised by death such as this. No consolation consoling. No tears tearful enough to shed grief.
Though we want them too. Because it is far from comfortable to stand between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. The three-day chasm between death and resurrection is hard to endure. Like an open wound.
Our society, the church, none of us is naturally inclined to live with such woundedness. Weâ€™re all walking wounded but rarely admit it. Rarely acknowledge it. Because woundedness doesnâ€™t fit into our world. Grief struggles to find a place in the workplace. Mourning is more and more secluded, privatized. Expressed around a few funeral home prayers. And sterilized gravesides.
Mary Magdaleneâ€™s presence at the foot of the cross and at the precipice of the empty tomb is a witness to what God accomplishes in the face of evil, in the face of death, in the face of any tribulation. God stands with us in sorrow. Is the first to cry. Hallows our tears. Stands with us wounded. In that three-day gap. And all the uncertainties it brings.
Mary wounded at the tomb, fixated on the presence of Jesus body held secure behind the stone over the door. Kneels there. Weeps there. God stands there, too.
A few short verses later, we read that the disciples, wounded and overcome with fear, lock themselves in an upper room. Their own tomb. Wondering what theyâ€™d do in the absence of Jesusâ€™ presence. God stands there, too.
And we stand here. Here in this room in which all are welcome. Here where we might kneel or stand in all our brokenness. Where oil for Christâ€™s anointing is as myrrh for us. Here at this table. Christâ€™s empty tomb.
In all of it, at all of it, Christ is present. Offering gifts of bread and wine. His very own broken body and blood. His wounded hands, feet and side touching our own woundedness.
Pierced, but healing hands. And healing meal. Healing hearts.
Early on the first day of the week, it is still dark. For many in Aurora. For many of us. For many around the world.
Christ meets us there and with simple things, broken things, made holy. Calls us each by name. Continually. Repeatedly. To bring comfort in dark hours. Until twilight comes. And resurrection dawn shines brightly as the rising sun.