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Easter Sunday, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 8, 2012

John 20:1-18

Love and determination’

A stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. An empty tomb. Linen wrappings. A head cloth rolled up neatly. Two angels in dazzling robes, one at the head and the other at the foot of the place where Jesus’ body had lain. Jesus in the guise of a gardener. So many symbols of Easter. Mary of Magdala is confronted by these symbols and yet they speak to her only of death and loss. She is weeping. She sees all these symbols of transformed existence through tears of frustration and grief. She so misses Jesus that she misses the references to the raising of Lazarus, to the angels in white whose posture suggests the ark of the covenant (at each end of which golden cherubim faced each other, their outstretched wings covering the mercy seat), to the Gardener in paradise. Mary weeps and misunderstands. God be with you

This is how John tells the story of the first Easter morning. It’s worth noting at this stage that resurrection has to do with Jesus and with the life of believers. Every story in the gospels that tells of the appearance of the risen Christ is a unique story – each is different (this in contrast to accounts of the crucifixion), and each has to do with particular persons (Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter, Thomas, Saul/Paul, the Beloved Disciple, the disciples on their way to Emmaus) and with the transformation of hopelessness, fear, guilt and death into faith, new faith: peace, trust, confidence in God. Each is an intensely personal story.

Mary weeps and misunderstands. “Yet, despite misunderstanding, Mary at no point abandons her search to leave for home. Behind her tears are love and determination as well as misunderstanding” (Dorothy Lee).

The good news is that determined love is the way to Easter faith.

Nobody can make you believe in the resurrection. We can’t prove to one another that “God’s future has already burst in upon the world, overcoming evil and vindicating goodness” – though that might sound a very faithful statement. What we can do is love with determination. We can vow never to abandon the One in whom we know what it is to love, we can vow never to abandon each other, and we can laud all efforts toward resisting the abandonment of any one of us to the darkness or to death.

We may need to let another go. That’s something else – learning to release, to forgive, learning to set free. Yet, never to abandon. We can live lives committed to learning the difference between letting go and abandoning … to the Wisdom of that.

The good news is that a determined love may, at any moment, by the grace of God, be transformed into an Easter faith.

What happens for Mary is that she hears her own name, she hears the One she assumed to be silent forever speak her name. She discovers herself, her true self, in relation to the Christ whom she loves – in relationship with the One she learns to love without idolising (“Do not go on touching me,” Christ says), in relationship with the One she discerns as present in the fleshly life of community (among “sisters and brothers”).

She discovers herself in relationship with Christ who calls her to bear an authority, a religious authority, a truth of non-violence in a violent and, of course, patriarchal culture.

[There is a story, familiar to Eastern Orthodox Christians, of Mary preaching the truth of Christ crucified and risen. She preaches before Tiberius Caesar. Caesar scoffs and says that he no more believes in a crucified criminal rising to life than the egg in Mary’s hand turning red. At which point, the egg in Mary’s hand turns red. Such a story speaks of Mary’s boldness and effectiveness as a preacher. Hence, we have our own red (blue and yellow) eggs to share today.]

Mary discovers herself in relationship with a risen Christ who calls her to bear an authority, a religious-political authority, a truth of non-violence in a violent and, of course, patriarchal culture.

I’m condensing a lot of narrative material here in an effort to sharpen focus. I see Mary as the lover in the Song of Solomon who loses, seeks, and recovers her beloved (3:1-4). I see Mary as a new Eve at peace in the Garden. I see Mary as Apostle to the apostles (Hippolytus), and as the Bride of Christ – that is, as you and me – drawn into our own encounters with symbols of Easter faith today.

Is there not something of Mary in Dorothy Day, for whom the love of vulnerable others was a site of encounter with Christ. “They are my meeting place with God,” Dorothy says, in a climactic scene from the Entertaining Angels feature we watched together on Friday night.

Is there not something of Mary in our new friend Rachel Pitt, a visitor to Redfern-Waterloo from Tenterfield, who, on learning the Hebrew meaning of her name (precious ewe, pure sheep), said, “Well, I am a member of the flock, aren’t I?”

Is there not something of Mary in Ali Blogg, who overcame more than we will ever know, including the judgement and rejection of her Church, in determination to love and to discern her true self, her own name. How beautiful that her last days were brightened by true love, and in the most gentle and most pure light of the Church …

When it comes to Easter faith, perhaps we mostly misunderstand. And yet, there are those moments when our determination to love in spite of deep frustration and grief, our determination to love Christ, is rewarded, is confirmed in peace, trust and new confidence in God. We say, then, in gratitude, that our determination to love was the Spirit’s own loving in us, the Spirit of love determined to draw us close to Christ – to his life, death and resurrection.

To discern that pattern, however vaguely, and to see ourselves part of it, is to understand at least something – it is to understand that love is good, that we are not abandoned, and that the love of God in Christ is a non-violent power that overcomes all kinds of hopelessness, fear, guilt and death.

At such a time it is indeed fitting to say: This is the day Our God has made – let us celebrate with joy! Amen.