The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Psalm 118: 1-2,14-24
April 4, 2021
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.
At last, on the third day after Jesus’s death and burial, on the first day of the week, Mary had to wait no longer to do what her heart so ached to do; she hurriedly set out in the last watch of the night, sometime between 3 and 6 AM, and arrived to the tomb of her beloved Lord in the shadowy grays of dawn. It was hard to see in its dim half-light, but she glimpsed what looked like an open tomb, and that the stone has been rolled away. How could this be? Her eyes wide, and heart beating hard, she ran to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, to tell them what she had seen, and not seen.
Shadowiness and darkness, half-light, glimpses, and true vision, and how and what we see is at the heart of this most beautiful and provocative Easter gospel from John. Though you may not have noticed, the words resurrection” or “risen” are not in it. But what we do hear about is “seeing”: what Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the other disciple saw or didn’t see that particular morning so long ago.
In our gospel passage, in the Greek, three words meaning “to see” are used (theōreō, blepō, and horaō) and their difference is telling. When Mary first sees that the tomb had been opened, when Peter and other disciples see that it is empty, when Mary sees the 2 angels and who she thinks is the gardener, the word used implies that they all looked with physical eyes and from a distance, as a spectator or onlooker. But when the disciple whom Jesus loved sees and believes, and when Mary Magdalene announced I have seen the Lord, our gospel writer uses a new word that means to keenly perceive and discern. Seeing becomes insight, and is participatory and relational in recognizing the depth and dimension of that which is beheld.
As people born in the Easter dark and delivered with Christ from the tomb, we are called to this kind of penetrating awareness, and to learn to see in the dark. Perhaps the only thing that we can know for certain about the Resurrection is that this deepest of holy mysteries transpired in total darkness, in the black of the tomb. No natural light would have illuminated what happened—no one saw it—and if there was a sound—no one heard it. Try as we might, and we have over the centuries, to explain the Resurrection—was it physical, literal, a miracle, a metaphor, a symbol, or a story?—its all-of-the-above-reality was born in the deep of the night when God worked out in secret how to swallow up death forever, the tomb becoming the womb of new life and the risen Christ.
St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote: God will repair what has been shattered, but not by mending it with something else. Rather, out of the old and very same material of its origin, God will impart to it an appearance of beauty pleasing to Himself.
New life rises from the old and its decay, new light from our sunless sins and clouded judgment, new hope from suffering bodies and leaden spirits, the tangle of our histories, and broken web of relationships, the tragedies we have endured; from our dulled senses and our forgotten memories new life, beauty, is yet born (adapted from Suzanne Guthrie, priest/author).
Often, however, it is only in retrospect that we can look back at the gravesides of our lives and see there the rising up of new life. Priest and poet RS Thomas writes of this, in his poem titled Answer:
There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
grave clothes of love’s risen body.
I would imagine that most everyone, if you’ve lived enough life, has had this experience of looking back and seeing what we thought was over, forever lost, or even unredeemable was somehow made anew and resurrected. I have one such love story of my own that I’d like to share, though it happened not in the dark of earliest morning or on the first day of the week but in the mid-afternoon of a mid-week day.
I was living in Ireland at the time, having taken a huge leap of faith across the pond towards the new life to which God had called me. But what had begun as holy, good, and inspired had completely unraveled. Business permission had been denied not once but twice. My health had failed. I had put all my eggs in one basket, and they were all broken. There was nothing to return to in America. I was alone. Where was my beloved Lord Jesus?
And so I vividly remember the day because I was fervently praying aloud to him: is it over? It must be, because there is nothing left. Is it over? It must be, because I can’t see the way ahead. Is it over? It must be, because though it’s Eastertide it still feels like Good Friday. I continued to pray my three-word prayer over and over, only I wasn’t at home but in the car. Suddenly, the heavy traffic parted like the Red Sea, and directly in front of me was a small red truck with a message spanning its tailgate—not a bumper sticker—but painted on the truck itself in large black all caps letters:
IT’S NEVER OVER WITH JESUS
Stunned, I blinked my eyes to clear what could only be the cloud of my vision—surely I didn’t see that right—surely the stone hadn’t been rolled away—yet there it was in plain and holy sight: no Kathleen, it is not over, because it’s never over with Jesus, with Me. Eyes wide and heart beating hard, I gulped. Holding on tight to the steering wheel, I watched the Holy Spirit truck disappear into the congestion of the Dublin motorways, swallowed up by a busy noisy world. The inexplicable message of “resurrection” faded out of my physical sight, yet is ever beheld in recognition of the risen One, who says: Go and tell my brothers sisters this great good news.
But two thousand years ago, for three long agonizing days after the crucifixion, I would bet that Mary and the other disciples didn’t ask: is it over? because plainly it was. Jesus was dead, no bones about it. Even after Peter saw the empty tomb, even after the disciple “believed,” they simply went home. Because over is over.
Yet Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, her body weighed down with grief. Yielding to its heaviness, she wept in the dark of the morning and her sorrow. But this was the moment—in the frail and bleak light of “it’s over”— when Jesus calls out to her: Mary! as if to say, open your eyes! See, I am here. Behold, I am alive! No longer blind to the risen Jesus before her, Mary’s heart leaps straight out of her mouth as she exclaims with astonished joy: Rabonni!
Mary! Rabonni! Such a simple exchange of just two words; yet such a profound communion of love and of the recognition that redeems.
After what has been such a heart-breaking and harrowing year for all of humanity in more ways than one, this Easter has been especially long-awaited and much longed for. Though we are still in the dark the light has begun to dawn. I pray that we are able to see Jesus in the half-lit, hard, and wounded places of our lives and world. May we trust in our weeping and heaviness, and be patient at the graveside until Jesus calls our names. May we look so closely and deeply into the tomb that there we see the garden . . .
where everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light
. . . these words from Symeon the New Theologian.
Jesus who rose from death, Christ the Morning Star who gives light to all creation (BCP p. 287) ever leads us into the salvation of new hope and new life. Let us be stunned awake by the revelation of God in Christ; for this is the Lord for whom we have cried and waited (Isaiah) Let us sing with our psalmist: I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation. As we prayed last night at the Easter Vigil: Let the whole whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new (BCP p. 291).On this very day the Lord has acted, so let us rejoice and be glad (Isaiah, Psalm)—for it’s never ever over with Jesus.
In joyous praise, let us proclaim: Alleluia! Christ is Risen; the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!