I have the honor of speaking today at the Mass honoring the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene at Christ the King parish in Pleasant Hill, CA. Here are my remarks:
Well, here we are – emerging on the other side. Or perhaps just proceeding through a very challenging chapter in history.
The theme of today’s celebration is Today’s Resurrection, picking up the pieces. So let’s start there. When we consider resurrection, we must first pay close attention to crucifixion so as to know which pieces we are picking up. And indeed which pieces God is knitting back together to make something new. To consider this question today, we look to our role model of the day, the woman we honor with a feast as a faithful friend to Jesus and an indispensable, powerful Christian leader, Saint Mary of Magdala.
So, crucifixion. What is now revealed to be broken? Who has been crucified in our times – specifically in this last year? It might be too easy to see while living through a profound era of unveiling – an apocalypse – as we are now doing. We often see a field of dry bones.
We have witnessed the divides – between those who ordered groceries from home and those who delivered them. Those who were able to afford their mortgage payments and those who now face a mountain of back-rent coming due soon. Those who have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated and communities and entire countries who haven’t had a single shot. If we look, we can see the systems that are set up to protect some folks while leaving many people vulnerable.
We feel and breathe the reality of climate destruction, even witnessing the scorching temperatures in the Pacfic northwest some weeks ago, destroying precious crops for desperate farmers and farm workers, the floods in Germany more recently – the examples keep coming.
And we witness and experience the brutality of violence, both personal and systemic, based on all types of identifiers from skin color to eye shape to gender presentation… indeed, the body of Christ is brutalized and bleeding.
But one of the things I love about our Christian tradition is that we do not shy away from brokenness. Indeed, we worship a man who was brutally killed by the government for his religious and political actions. We do not look away. We have tools to lament, to cry out and to seek justice.
It’s easy to become discouraged, paralyzed, numb… much like Ezekiel while looking out at the field of dead bones… seriously, God, how? Look at all of these dead bones. They are dry. There is no life left in them at. all.
Or Mary Magdalene, blearily dragging herself to the tomb on Sunday morning. She knows the drill with the dead. All women did – spices, oils, wrappings. But this – this morning hurt far more than most. This was her beloved friend and great teacher. This was her connection to the Divine. She has not forgotten the bleeding wounds, the exposed sinews, the ways in which the powerful had tortured her friend and terrorized her community. And so Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb looking for a brutalized, dead body.
But God had different plans for that day.
Rather than a dusty, dry tomb, Mary Magdalene encounters a lush garden. Rather than a collection of dry bones and wounded flesh, she encounters a living being. Christ is risen. And it’s not what she expected. It’s different. And strange. But it’s him. As Paul writes to the Corinthians – a new creation. Resurrection is certainly not putting the pieces back the exact same way. Resurrection makes a new thing.
So what about us? What is the new creation the Holy Spirit is making today? We might feel like broken down, dusty bones. We certainly might feel like our world is just that. We might feel like we are in the tomb. Brutalized, bloody, and dead. It’s okay. All the great ones have stopped at this point on the journey. But they don’t stay there. Everything in our faith tradition tells us: Dusty and dead is not the end of the story.
But here’s the thing – neither is the end of the story completely up to us to concoct. It’s not our job to be Pollyanna and simply sing a song of hope and joy for a vision that we imagine. Our human vision is too limited.
Rather, we are co-creators with our un-limited God who re-grows muscle and blood vessels back on dead bones. Our God who breathes a new creation onto the Earth in a garden as the resurrected Christ. It’s not what we can imagine, but what can God imagine with us?
This is where we have so much to learn from our Saint Mary Magdalene. She is a woman – perhaps in this resurrection scene about age 20 – who had spent the last few years learning at the feet of her teacher. She was an unusual woman for her time – not identified by the name of a husband, but rather by the name of her seaside village, Magdala. And we all know how “coastal” people can be. Indeed, she had encountered many different folks arriving to trade their goods, share their foods, and speak their languages in her town. By many accounts, she was a wealthy woman who helped support the ministry of Jesus.
I picture Mary and Jesus imagining together regularly during their teaching sessions. I can see it: Mary pointing out ways the disordered social structure could be reordered. As a woman, she was privy to injustices Jesus would not know about. Jesus sharing his notions of a God who couldn’t be controlled or commodified, who not only emitted love but *was* love itself. I see them sharing the fruits of their prayer and of their witness in the community. I think they imagined together regularly.
And after the whole trauma of the trial and public execution, Jesus chooses to appear to her. First.
I don’t know about you, but if I were Jesus, I would choose to appear first to the one I trusted most, the one who was there with me until the end, the one who maybe seemed to ‘get it’ more than the others. Or maybe I’d just choose my favorite. Whatever the reason, we know Jesus chose her. And I think we’re right to believe that means she is somehow special, different, worthy of our close attention.
She arrives at the tomb blinded by grief. Overwhelmed by trauma. Christ asks, “Woman, who is it you are looking for?” Her answer gives it away – she’s looking for a dead body. The natural result of the violence she had witnessed the day before.
But she had cultivated such an intimate relationship with her friend and teacher Jesus that she heard and recognized his voice when he spoke her name. “Mary.” That voice woke her to the new reality in front of her face. That voice tore open the illusion of her expectations. No dead body here. No foul smells, no rotting flesh, no darkness. Not today. Today – a garden. Fresh air, light, vibrant life. A risen Christ. A promise fulfilled, but in a completely new way.
Back to us as our celebration of Today’s Resurrection: Picking up the Pieces. We have two roles in this, as I see it, One – we watch. Carefully. Always inviting God to be with us in our watching. Two: we participate as we are invited by the Holy Spirit, each according to our gifts, with the bold fearlessness of Mary Magdalene, telling the men back home everything she had seen.