All it took for Mary Magdalene to recognize (the somehow transformed) Jesus outside the tomb was the sound of her name coming from his lips. “Mary,” he said, and then she knew. May we each hear – deep in our hearts or in the call of those who need us today – the name by which the Beloved calls us and may we know at that moment how greatly we are loved. Then may our response be a wholehearted “Yes!” (JN 20: 1-2, 11-18)
During this Easter season the lectionary readings are worthy of some serious pondering. That’s no surprise, given the events of the past week recounted in Scripture. Today (JN 20:11-18) we read a good example in two ways of how the passage through death has changed not only Jesus himself but also his relationship with his beloved disciple.
First, on the day of Christ’s Resurrection, Mary Magdalene, the faithful and well-loved companion of Jesus, encounters him near the tomb and thinks he is the gardener! How could she not recognize him??? I’m always reminded with this story of the day I didn’t recognize a priest who used to come often and help me with high school retreats. He had been on a year’s sabbatical during which he had studied spirituality for a semester, done a 30-day Ignatian retreat, lost some weight, shaved the mustache without which I had never seen him, and in addition sported a new “buzz cut” on his head. As he processed down the church aisle at a celebration for one of our Sisters, I wondered who he was. It was not until he began to speak that I knew him. I heard his voice and was shocked immediately into recognition. And he was also different inside – a softer, more humble and gracious “self” that could be felt to those who really saw the result of his “renewal.”
Secondly today, when Mary moves toward Jesus because he speaks her name with a tenderness that only love can express, he stops her (“Do not cling to me…”) and gives her a missionary task (“Go to my brothers and tell them…”). Evidently Christ’s”resurrection body” is somehow different; his journey through death changed him in some significant way both physically and spiritually. Surrendering everything he was then ready to manifest his divinity to the one who loved him faithfully. The relationship was deeper than a physical connection.When Mary realized her new role of messenger/missionary to her companions and to the world, she understood that her surrender was just beginning. Living from the heart had become her mission.
We would do well to contemplate these passages, these calls to unconditional and universal love presented to us today. What inner change must accompany such a shift in our life?
Last night I went to bed worrying that the torrents of rain would surely mean our rivers overflowing their banks by morning. I went to sleep – surprisingly – to a roll of thunder (did I dream that?) and the cacophony of wind and water against glass and roof shingles. I thought the uneasiness would keep me awake, watchful – maybe like Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus. But no, I could not claim that kind of fidelity. I went to sleep.
This morning is a bit of a surprise. I have not solicited information about water damage in our village or beyond but the rainstorm has worn itself out, having cleansed everything sooner than expected. One could say that all earth’s tears have been shed and now we have only to wait in hope for resurrection. I am sitting in the same stillness as the tree across the yard, waiting…feeling spent and not ready to move forward with the day. Jesus remains in the tomb.
What will it take for me to recognize the transformation that is resurrection? Can it be done in me by nightfall? What will I know tomorrow (“the great feast of Easter”) that will be testament to this process of Holy Week? Will I be clearer of purpose? More dedicated to mission? A slight breeze ripples through my bedroom curtain and is mirrored by the tree outside. Can I take that as a sign, a conviction that tonight’s ritual will let me know that Christ is risen once again in my heart and in the world?
I recognize that now it is up to me to answer my own questions, to be the catalyst of my own truth and trust. Each of us must know that and come to stand ready for what is to come in the light of Christ’s return.
I’m always happy in the Easter season to hear the Sunday gospel readings repeated in the daily lectionary; it can help us to go deeper and maybe allow us to pick up nuances that have previously escaped our notice. Take for example this morning’s text from John 20:11-18 – my favorite of all.
Mary Magdalene has finally achieved her rightful place in the story of Jesus, especially in the events surrounding what we have come to call the Paschal Mystery – the events of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Her fidelity is clear as she is mentioned in all four gospels, not only as the one who appears at all these events – from the foot of the cross, through the burial, to the garden of the resurrection. And she is the one who announces to the other followers of Jesus that he has risen from the dead. We know all these things.
What catches my attention this morning (as it often does) is Mary’s state of heart in that garden. I try to put myself in her place: half crazy with grief at the horrible death of the one who has not only loved her but has virtually saved her life – turned it around and given her new meaning. That’s a lot to be thankful for, of course, but there is also the mutual deepening of their relationship over the time since they first met. So when she comes to anoint his body one more time and finds the whole scene disrupted, her mind cannot hold the possibility of grave snatchers or worse so she doesn’t recognize that the “guards” at the tomb are angels. (How did that happen? Where did the human guards go?) To compound her grief, no one will give her information about where he is; they all just keep asking why she’s weeping. Even Jesus, who must have been changed in a way that made her mistake him for the gardener, asks her the same question. (How could she not recognize him? How different might a resurrection body appear?)
The most wonderful and telling moment in the whole drama is when Jesus simply says her name. When we are called by name, be it by a relative, a special friend or the person most closely related to us in love, it sounds different from any other time we hear it. Mary recognized Jesus at the sound of her own name. How thrilling that moment must have been! But that moment also had it’s price; the relationship has changed. The moment of restoration also becomes the moment of relinquishment. In order to experience the fullness of their connection, she must not cling to him. In the same manner that Jesus emptied himself to become human, he now resumes his place in the divinity of God and it is Mary who is called to reconcile the meaning of kenosis in her life now. Therein lies the fullness of the mystery of Easter, I think.
Just as Mary had to “let go” of Jesus in order to become the apostolic presence needed in her world, so we also must come to the maturity of faith that recognizes the depth of commitment called for by the Christian path in our day. It couldn’t have been easy for Mary to relinquish the Jesus that had brought her so far in order to gain the Christ whose divine fire was capturing her heart in a new way. Perhaps it is the repetition of the question, Why are you weeping? that is a clue to this “difficult grace” being offered to Mary and to us. If Mary were not ready for this jump in consciousness, she would, most likely, have dissolved in tears and missed the moment. We grieve our losses – some more tearfully than others – but are we willing to dry our tears so that we can see with new eyes what might be right in front of us? Can we identify our name as it is being called toward a new way of being? Can we let go of what might be holding us back (even if what has been in our lives has been good and meaningful) in order to take the next step toward the fullness of the Christ life?
Let us pray for the grace to see in new ways and then to let go into the heart of God.
Ask and you shall receive, forgiveness, Genesis, homecoming, hope, journey, lift up, Luke, Mary Magdalene, optimistic for the future, perseverance, prayer, Sisters of St. Joseph, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, wisdom
Today ends what the Sisters in my local community have taken to calling my “triathalon” which denotes the three legs of my journey from Windsor, NY to Orlando, Florida for a national convention, then to Japan (through Los Angeles and Honolulu) for a retreat with our Japanese Sisters, and back to Albany for a “Wisdom Circle” experience called Mary Magdalene and Conscious Love. It has only been sixteen days since I left home but it seems so much longer because of the fullness of each of the experiences.
The theme running through all of my days of travel has been the hope that lives in the hearts of the Sisters and others I have met. Regardless of the dire situations in our country and the world, we are optimistic for the future and grounded in a life of prayer because of our trust in the benevolence of the Divine Being who will not leave us to our own devices. All of us are held in relationship with God and one another in a bond that I experienced as a felt sense of joy and confidence in each place that I touched down.
I was reminded of this sense of optimism and the need to work toward the good by today’s lectionary readings about perseverance in prayer. We are called by Abraham’s courage in his famous plea to the God who was prepared to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of the wickedness abiding in those cities. Beginning with the question: “If there were 50 innocent inhabitants there, would you relent?” (GEN 18:20-32) Abraham continued to ask toward a greater favor asking: “What if there were 45…40…30…20…10???” God’s willingness to answer with alacrity that those cities would not be destroyed for the sake of the few innocent people tells me that, ultimately, God desires to forgive, not to punish or destroy. God is on our side.
Jesus knew that God and encouraged his followers to ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you. ( LK 11:1-13) All of my experiences during these days have convinced me of the need for us to pray – alone and together – for changes in ourselves and all around us that will bring us back to balance. This prayer cannot be a “sometimes” thing. We need to be serious and consistent to actually “be the change we wish to see in the world.” Thus our prayer will become our way of living and lift up the quality of life for everyone. We will “come home” to our deepest selves and meet each other at each step of our journeys. In this way wherever we find ourselves in the world will be recognized as home and we will be welcome there.
I spent the 24 hours from Friday evening at 7:00 to yesterday at 7:00pm with four lovely women delving into the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. I was going to say we took time out to sleep Friday night into Saturday, but I think in situations like that even our sleep is engaged in the reflection. One of the most beautiful moments in those Scriptures takes place in the garden where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene who does not recognize him; she thinks, rather, that he is the gardener and pours out her distress that someone must have stolen the body of Jesus and she doesn’t know where they have taken him. We spent lots of time with the lines in the stories that we considered which note the lack of recognition of Jesus on the part of those to whom he appears and how they came to finally know him. This encounter with Mary is the most touching, I think, because most of us can relate to it from personal experience. When Mary begs to know where Jesus is, he simply replies by saying her name: “Mary” with, I imagine, all the feeling and tenderness of a beloved companion.
Our conversation about this text was spent in consideration of the way our name sounds from the mouth of one who loves us. Just the sound reveals the relationship. On hearing her name, Mary knew immediately that, however changed he was, it was certainly Jesus who was speaking to her. This morning I was reminded of this conversation and of the names we use to call on God by the appearance of Psalm 100 in the lectionary. I share the translation and commentary that I read as a synchronistic chance to reflect not only on the names of God but also of our human relationships and calling one another by name.
O, lands of earth, fill up with joy, and overflow in service to your God. Come before the holy presence, singing. Know this: I AM alone is God, and all that is and we ourselves are creatures made. Like sheep we enter through the gates of life to feed upon the living pastures unafraid. Our praise becomes the doorway to that realm where we can know and speak the sacred name and taste the everlasting good of God from age to age.
COMMENTARY: Verse 3 introduces the use of the sacred name, which has already been mentioned in verse 2 (as I AM). To know God is to know and be able to use or speak the name of God much in the same way we get to know someone and are able then to speak their name. Think about this imagery and the knowledge we have of the name of someone. If you do not know someone’s name, what is your relationship like? When you both know the name and the person behind the name in a personal way, how does that relationship change? Pause and reflect on your own knowledge of the name of God. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 252)
I was just watching the steam rise and dance around the rim of my coffee cup. That means my coffee is hot and my bedroom is cold. A bird just flew past outside my window with nothing to hold it up but the air and reminds me of the marvel of airplane travel. This morning’s gospel (JN 6:16-21) has the disciples in a boat – a familiar theme – and says that “the sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.” Occasionally it seems that those fishermen who could probably read the weather well in most cases were surprised by sudden winds – not unlike the tornadoes that have devastated whole towns in our country recently. All of these meandering thoughts remind me that there’s more to life than meets the eye and sometimes we’re called to believe in what we are unable to see or understand.
Next weekend I’m leading a 24-hour retreat based on four of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus so I’m wondering what it must’ve been like for Mary Magdalene in the garden, the disciples in the Upper Room, the two travelers on the road to Emmaus and Peter and friends on the beach where Jesus fixed them breakfast. Jesus appears in substantial ways (“in the flesh”) but walks through walls or disappears when recognized, so he is obviously different while seeming the same. (Thomas could certainly attest to this fact.) What are we to make of these stories? Is the point to reassure those he visits that all is well? If so, his messages to Mary Magdalene (“Don’t cling to me!”) and Peter (“When you’re old, you’ll be led down ways you would rather not go…”) were certainly lacking in encouragement. It does seem rather that Christ is trying to tell those left behind that now the ministry is theirs. He has done what he came to do and now they must carry on. They have everything they need – all that he taught them and the example that he gave. The work will be to remember the lessons and to look for him in places outside of the norm – the “thin places,” the Celts would say. Listening for him in the wind and catching his look in the faces of those to whom we serve breakfast in a homeless shelter, hearing his voice in the garden we are weeding or on our morning walk…these are the moments of encounter that cannot be predicted.
So today is a new beginning. The steam is gone as I take the last gulp of my coffee but I remember the way it swirled around the rim calling me to consciousness and possibility in this day. Being alive and trusting that Christ lives in me as my deepest self is enough for me. What about you?
One of the most severe cases of mistaken identity of all time belongs to Mary Magdalene whose feast day we celebrate today. After almost 20 centuries of notoriety, scriptural scholarship has finally recognized that there is no basis for her reputation as “a harlot” or a great sinner. On the contrary, we now recognize her as “Apostle to the Apostles” who first announced the Resurrection of Jesus to the disciples. She is the only person who is noted in all four gospels as having been present at the crucifixion and who remained at the tomb of Jesus. This day always reminds me of the danger of gossip and of the lure of sensationalism in stories told of famous people. We have only to look in the grocery store checkout lines to see lurid photos (often cobbled together and “photo-shopped”) that match rumored headlines about movie stars and are frequently untrue.
More than a reminder of right thinking, however, this feast is about relationship and the fidelity that springs from great love. Jesus defied convention in his day by having women in his company of disciples. Closest in relationship to him, as we now intuit especially from the stories of his death and resurrection, was Mary. Today’s gospel is my favorite of those scenes as John places Mary in a garden by the tomb, mistaking Jesus for the gardener. (JN 20:11-18) It is when he says her name that she recognizes him, an indication both that he is somehow changed and also that his tone implies deep love between them. Her second recognition is of the change in him, manifested in what is often called his “resurrection body” – the enlightened state that signifies a shift in relationship for them as well. This new expansiveness reminds me of the Annunciation where Mary hears that she is to be the mother of Jesus. She had always been, we believe, faithful to God in her young life but now God asks more of her. At the moment in the garden when Jesus says to Magdalene, “Do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended,” this Mary accedes to her new role (not an easy one!) of announcing to the “brothers” what she has been told.
It is often the case that we are asked in the course of our lives to go beyond what we thought our lives were about to become more in service to God. Although sometimes a small thing, it may instead be a dramatic event that calls us to respond to what we could not have imagined that will change our lives forever. Both Marys provide examples of the need to practice willingness in order to be ready to respond with great love and surrender when the moment calls us forward. May it be so for all of us.
crucifix, Cynthia Bourgeault, desert, Easter Vigil, entombment service, fidelity to Jesus, Good Friday, live in the present moment, Mark, Mary Magdalene, The Passion of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection of Christ, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, waiting
Today feels like “the day the earth stood still” (which I believe was a movie many years ago that I have no memory of except the title). I sensed that as I awoke to rain and darkness this morning, still holding the events of yesterday and last evening in my heart. I am on retreat and our Good Friday “Entombment Service” was a stark example of the kind of experience I was describing here yesterday. The reading of the Passion from Mark’s gospel in sections of the day (6AM-9AM, 9AM-Noon, etc.), the mournful chanting and the wrapping of the crucifix in the linen cloths as it lay on a table in the middle of the room brought the experience of Jesus’ death present in a most vivid way. It was clear in the slow, personal moments of each one of us moving to venerate the cross that we were grieving. And we will hold that attitude as we move through this last day together.
The mood will change in tonight’s first celebration of The Great Feast of Easter, the Vigil service recounting the movement from death to life. The first psalm of the service cries out: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth! What follows is the narration of our salvation history during which the sense of the light grows and hope returns until the bells ring out and we know Resurrection! Alleluia!
Living in the present moment is especially hard today. It would be much easier to focus on the future as we often do in the times when we would rather be there than in the moment where we find ourselves. But today gives us an opportunity to join ourselves to those people who are waiting for a good outcome of suffering, those who have no assurance that “all will be well” – nothing except their faith to keep them from despair. Here we will explore today the experience of “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” whom the gospel tells us stayed at the tomb, without hope or reason to do so – just holding the space in reverence and fidelity to Jesus – as love calls us to do in times of great sorrow. We will wait in that “desert” with them, a time that will make all the more joyful our experience of the Resurrection of Christ and perhaps our own rising to fuller life as well.
May it be so with you!
PS: I leave early tomorrow morning for a week-long Wisdom School experience with Cynthia Bourgeault in the mountains of North Carolina. I can’t be sure of internet service there but will connect as I am able, definitely back by Monday 4/13.
This morning is the second in a pair of days when the readings lead us to reflection on the suffering surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus – but today the focus is on his mother, Mary of Nazareth. This feast of “Our Lady of Sorrows” reminds us that the incarnation did not simply affect the lives of those who became followers of Jesus. Jesus was part of a human family whose parents had to deal with a great deal of mystery in their lives, much of which we can only conjecture since the Scriptures tell us very little. If memory serves me, there are only 13 texts in the gospels that even mention Mary – many of them very brief. Sometimes I like to think of different moments in her life and how she must’ve dealt with what was unfolding as her son’s mission – which was also in a real sense hers. We can intuit her acceptance of God’s choice of her as we read the early chapters of Luke’s gospel. From the time she learned that she was pregnant to the visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, she had grown from a small-town teenager to a woman who had come to realize that her life would not be simple or of her own choosing. This morning we read that “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (JN 19:25).This was, of course, the most tragic moment of her life, watching her innocent son tortured to death.
Mothers throughout history have suffered for their children in many situations and places. This morning my mind goes immediately to three mothers – two American and one British – whose innocent sons have recently been murdered in the worst type of violence imaginable. These mothers – and other, similarly grief-stricken women – will be the focus of my sorrow and my prayer today that such violence may soon be overcome and that the world’s nations will come to value peace over power and love over domination.