I Have Seen the Lord!
John 20:10-18 (NIV)
"Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white,
seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and
the other at the foot.
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing
there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
"Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you
have put him, and I will get him."
'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my
God and your God.'"
And she told them that he had said these things to
The really powerful experiences are the ones hardest to put into words, the moments of deep bliss or deep pain.
I think Mary Magdalene knew something about experiences that don’t go into words. In this reading we focus on Mary Magdalene not when she is at the foot of the cross, enduring the anguish that comes from witnessing torture of someone you love. In this reading we see her three days later, when her grief is not a shocking anomaly anymore. Instead, the reality of grief has set in, the absence that is so present it is almost palpable. Now she believes that the death is real. And a part of her is now dead too.
There are some times when grief treats us gently, especially if we have expected it. But it seems that Mary Magdalene’s experience is the kind best described by the old-fashioned phrase “grief-stricken”; the kind of grief that strikes you, sends you reeling.
There are times when you crave anything that might take your mind off your own pain. Sometimes it is a huge relief to pay attention to something else, other times the things that used to interest you scurry away like cockroaches frightened of the light. There are times when conversation seems like chatter that is so inane and irrelevant it is almost unendurable, and activity seems devoid of purpose or pleasure, and the only thing that seems real is your own pain. Your mind tries to give your heart sensible lectures about this being the way life is, or about keeping things in perspective, and your heart tries to listen obediently, but then curls up and sobs like a small child. Your attention is drawn to your pain the way your tongue is drawn to a sore spot in your mouth, poking at it over and over. You want to peer into the darkness inside the grim reaper’s hood.
I imagine this is what Mary Magdalene is feeling the third day after the crucifixion, while it is still dark. I imagine she is drawn to the tomb because it is the one place that seems genuine, when nothing else in the world seems to matter anymore. She has lost someone she loved, someone she loved so much that she was willing to leave behind everything she had ever known, everything that gave her safety, in order to follow him. She was excited about it. She believed all his unbelievable claims that he was God. But then everything fell apart. And it was not just that the rug was pulled out from under her; the ground was pulled out from under her. Her faith could no longer support her, and she was falling into the abyss. She could not possibly spend her morning making polite conversation with the townspeople, or getting breakfast ready. The only place she could be was the tomb. The only thing that was real was that corpse.
And then the final insult: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Even the grave has been desecrated, and her only comfort, the bitter comfort of being near the corpse, has been taken away. Peter and the other disciple come running, look in, believe, but without saying a word to Mary, go home. Mary remains at the tomb alone, weeping. She looks into the tomb, and she is asked, “why are you weeping?” She responds with the tip of the iceberg: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She had lost her hope, her messiah, her friend, her Lord, and now even his body has been taken away. She is in the depths of grief.
And then she turns around.
Why? It may be that she just doesn’t want to look at that gaping emptiness anymore, but I think it is more than that. I think it is a quiet moment of grace. It is like being alone in a dark prison cell, and hearing, in the words of C. S. Lewis, a chuckle in the darkness. It is like the subtle feeling that there is someone standing behind you hoping for your attention. And so Mary turns around.
Thinking the man behind her is the gardener, Mary makes a logical request. She asks for the dead body. The body of a great moral teacher, maybe. The body of a prophet, a reformer, a spirit-person, a martyr even. Something she can see, something she can grasp, something she can know. She asks for a dead body, but instead she gets a miracle. She gets the risen Christ.
The risen Christ does not give her an explanation. He does not give her a systematic theology. He does not even give her a body to hold on to. He merely says to her, “Mary!” The one word that brings to mind the whole relationship, hearing someone who loves you say your name. The text tells us that she turns when she says to him, with unutterable joy, “Rabboni!” She turns away from her search for comfort in a dead body so she can respond to the relationship, which is what she has longed for all along, and more than she could have imagined.
A dead body fits into our ideas of The Way Things Work. But Mary has encountered the God who does not fit into our ideas of The Way Things Work.
And isn’t that the way it is with us? We don’t know how to explain it. And yet in the middle of our skepticism or our doubts, we have a sense that God is calling us by name, waiting patiently for us to turn, waiting for us to recognize the miracle.
Like Mary, we cannot hold on to the risen Christ. But what matters is not what we can grasp; what matters is what transforms us. As soon as she sees the resurrection, Jesus tells her, “Go.” “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father, to my God and your God.” Mary’s weeping turns into joy, her grief turns into hope, her fear turns into courage, and she goes to tell the disciples the simple statement that changes everything: “I have seen the Lord.” We are here today on April 12, 2009 in Heathsville Virginia celebrating the Resurrection because a woman two thousand years ago was transformed and told everyone who would listen, and even people who would not listen: “I have seen the Lord.” Today, Mary Magdalene is telling each of us, “I have seen the Lord.”
There are many people who do not believe her, as there have always been. It is, after all, an amazing thing to think that the almighty and infinite God, creator of the universe, would take on a human body, live within all its pain and limitations, accept rejection and execution from the creatures he had made. And yet God knows that we humans need more than words. And so God is willing to demonstrate to human beings what it looks like when God loves us to the end. To demonstrate that, God gives us the life and death of Jesus. And God is willing to demonstrate to human beings the unutterable mystery that God’s love triumphs over everything, even death itself. To demonstrate that, God gives us the resurrection of Jesus.
Many of us keep looking for an explanation that is easier for us to accept, more like what we are used to in the world that we call “reality.” I have looked for easier explanations myself. And yet every single account we have of Jesus insists that Jesus does not fit into any of the old categories that we are used to. Every single account we have of Jesus insists that in Jesus, God is revealing something new about who God is. The resurrection is difficult to put into words because the resurrection is different from anything else we have ever experienced.
And yet Mary Magdalene and the other people who have witnessed the resurrection feel compelled to tell us what they have seen. “I have seen the Lord.” It is obvious that this experience has transformed their lives. And when they tell us about it, if we insist that they explain it to us, it feels like we are saying, “Sure, it works in practice. What I want to know is, does it work in theory?”
God takes the risk of entrusting divine mysteries to human beings. Even to women. Here is something most people don’t know: in all of the scriptures, there is absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that Mary Magdalene had ever been a prostitute. It is not as if the scriptures are shy about mentioning prostitution. The scriptures tell us clearly that Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. But the idea that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute does not exist until the 7th century. Perhaps it is that humanity is used to thinking of a woman as a member of the oldest profession. And humanity is not used to thinking of a woman as a leader called by God. But in the scriptures, Mary Magdalene is the first person to preach the resurrection. In choosing to entrust this task to a woman, God is doing something very different from what we are used to. The early Church recognized this woman’s leadership and referred to Mary Magdalene as “apostola apostolorum,” the apostle of the apostles. Mary Magdalene knows that there are people who will not believe her because she is a woman. Mary Magdalene knows that there are people who will not believe her because what she has to say is so different from what they are used to. Mary Magdalene knows that there are people who will not believe her because what she has experienced is so amazing. And yet, the risen Christ has called her by name. The risen Christ has appeared to her. The risen Christ has told her, “Go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” So Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The really powerful experiences are the ones hardest to put into words, the moments of deep bliss or deep pain. Mary Magdalene does the best she can with human language. The writers of the gospels do the best they can with human language. God calls me, and you, to do the best we can with human language. But the celebration of Easter reminds us of what we know in the deepest part of our souls: that when we get to the deepest bliss, the deepest love, the deepest joy, we say simply, “Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia!”
Easter Sunday 4/12/09
Note: If you are still confused about how a gay Christian can feel they are 'right' with God I encourage you to read the section of the web site entitled "Gay and Christian? YES!"