Reflection for Easter Sunday by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy
In the Lectionary for Easter Sunday, we are given the choice of which Gospel to use, John or Matthew. While Matthew’s Gospel has certain advantages, the repeated message of, “Do not be afraid” and the clarity about the news of “He is risen,” I cannot help to be more attracted to the Gospel of John. For one thing, we have been steeped in John for most of Lent. As Jacqueline says, “In the surprising, startling, long, complicated stories… of God's abundant, overflowing, profligate grace.” And for the other, we have Mary. Mary Magdalene whom John tells us went out to the tomb while it was still dark. Mary Magdalene who has been confused and merged with the other Marys of the Gospels. Mary who has been maligned through the ages as prostitute and sinner. Mary who may have gone to France as a disciple. Mary, who since da Vinci Code fame has been speculated about as the possible mother of Jesus’ children, Mary of the many narratives, is the one on this Easter morning who brings us the story, the one who is the bearer of the news. Ultimately not only the good news of that Easter morning that Jesus was not in the tomb, but the ultimate Good News that the love of God is stronger than death and the grave is not the end. Mary who was in relationship with Jesus and knew him again when he called her by name.
But what we first know of her here, on this dark morning is that she stands weeping, confused and confounded by something she does not expect to see. She has come to grieve, to mourn and she finds that the tomb is open, the body gone. She is horrified and upset. What does this mean? Has the grave been robbed? Has someone taken the body? Clearly resurrection is not the first thing on her mind. She runs to her friends for help, for solace, for some explanation. But they are of course no use to her. They see what is before them, an empty tomb, and all they can “believe” is that it is empty, Peter and this other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. Despite all Jesus has tried to tell them about the power of God, the power of life over death, they see only evidence of death in this grave, evidence of absence. They too assume that the grave has been robbed and the body is simply gone, and they have nothing to say to Mary, to comfort her in her obvious distress, and they leave her and return home.
I wonder if John just had to set it up this way for us. If the narrative had to continue in this way, so there could be just one more chance, one more story, just one more rich opportunity for Jesus to show himself at his best being Jesus self….revealing himself as the light whom the darkness could not comprehend and being the one who gives her that beautiful moment of “aha” as he calls her by her name and she knows him for who he is, the relational one, the one who knew and loved her. Like the sheep who know the voice of the shepherd. I wonder if it had to be set up this way so that she too could be converted again, so that she could know that there was yet another task of evangelism required of her, this time the task of letting go of the earthly Jesus she loved so much, of letting him be bigger than even she could understand him to be. ”Do not hold on to me” he tells her, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God.” And there is something in what he says to her that that reveals Him to her as more than a beloved rabbi, more than whatever he has been to her in this life, and she gives her testimony, “I have seen the Lord.”
In her reflection for Lent 5, Janine Goodwin talks about how we continue to struggle with making our God too small. It is hard for us and our human minds to grasp the enormity of a God so great and so loving that God would incarnate Godself in the form of us, and then choose to be our atonement in the crucifixion. Apparently this struggle to understand has been going on for a long, long time. Nicodemus could not at first understand the kind of rebirth Jesus was talking about; the woman at the well struggled to understand living water. Having sight given to a blind man with spit and mud, and seeing a dead man called out from the grave all required just a little bigger God than could be grasped. Until that moment when she encountered Jesus in all his reality as the Lord, really heard her name being spoken by the risen Christ, and knew without a doubt who it was that was standing before her. She knew that in rising he was bigger than death and bigger than anything she could hold back…or should.