May you have a joyous and wonderful Easter season!
This humble peasant woman from the town of Magdela hears her name, and just like that, she knows – she knows who is standing in front of her.
She had come here to the garden in the dark to anoint his body.
She had seen him killed by the Romans on a cross. Others fled, but not her, not Mary Magdalene.
In the darkest hour, Mary finds his tomb empty, and she runs to tell the others. John the Beloved disciple arrives ahead of the others, and declares that Jesus has risen from the dead just like the Scripture foretold.
But Mary isn’t buying it, not yet. All she can think of is that grave robbers have taken his body, and her grief is all the worse. She sees someone standing in front of her, and she thinks it the gardener.
Then he says her name.
In this one instant, everything – everything – in Mary’s life snaps into focus.
Everything makes perfect sense because he knows her name.
From that moment, the story of Jesus of Nazareth would continue, written on the heart of Mary Magdalene, and on the hearts of everyone else who would follow.
Mary and these first followers of Jesus, the Risen Christ, give us this precious gift of Easter so that we may believe that there is more to life than what we see here now, that the Christ who is risen is with us still.
Centuries follow. The Church tries to make sense of this story with complicated dogmas and doctrines, philosophy and theology.
But on this first Easter morning, there is no “begotten not made,” no creeds, no catechisms, no abstractions.
There are no candlesticks, no prayer books, no cathedrals, no bishops.
No, on this first Easter morning, there is a garden, and Mary who hears her name, and she knows in her deepest heart who is calling her – the One she calls Rabbi, the One who had died: that same Jesus of Nazareth who she has followed.
And Mary Magdalene’s life – and our life – is about to change in ways that neither she, nor we, can scarcely imagine.
Last August, Lori and I traveled to Jerusalem with a group of 29 pilgrims from the United States, Canada and Australia. We became very close.
One morning before dawn, in the cool breezy darkness, we gathered at the place where Pontius Pilate’s palace once stood.
We walked through the narrow streets where tradition holds that Jesus walked on his way to the Cross.
We paused at those places that tradition claims that Jesus stopped, the places where it is said that Jesus stumbled, where Simeon of Cyrene picked up his cross, where women like Mary Magdalene watched and weeped.
The sun rose above the rooftops; we could soon feel the heat. The Old City of Jerusalem began to wake up. People hustled past us on their way to work, some pushing clattering carts stacked with vegetables to the street markets.
The ground was wet, hosed down in the early morning hours. The smell of rotting garbage filled our nostrils. There are no sweet smells on the Way of the Cross.
Finally we reached the stony hill where Jesus was crucified – Golgotha – the place of the Skull: The place of death.
In the time of Jesus, Golgotha was an abandoned rock quarry just outside the city gates. It was a perfect location for the Romans to hang criminals and rebels – and advertise their vicious power.
The Place of the Skull is now covered by a huge basilica, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The basilica has been built and rebuilt many times since the Fourth Century. The quarry is buried beneath centuries of Christian tradition and conflict, and the Place of the Skull has not seen daylight in 1,600 years.
|Church of the Holy Sepulcher,|
An African Coptic monk, clad entirely in a black robe from the top of his head to his toes, swept the courtyard as we quietly chanted a psalm.
It was here where Mary Magdalene came that first Easter morning before dawn to find the tomb empty; it was here where Peter and John came when they heard the news that his body was gone.
And it was here, in this place of suffering and pain, where Jesus called Mary by name:
“Mary” he said. Jesus knew here name, just as Jesus knows your name – every single one of us.
On this beautiful Easter morning you’ve been given the most precious gift you will ever receive:
The promise of the Risen Christ, who knows your name, who promises to be with you no matter what, in your joys and sorrows, in your faith, and in your doubts.
This precious gift is yours, free of charge, and it is yours forever.
Take this gift, this story of Easter – it is your story. Hold it close. Live this precious story to the fullest every day of your life – this story of new life, of grace, of forgiveness, of healing.
Easter is yours forever, marked on your heart by the One who knows your name, the One who is with you on whatever path you walk, and to the end of time.
As I stood in the courtyard of the great basilica of Jerusalem, the holiest shrine in all Christianity, I looked up at the sun glistening on the dome, the sun shining brightly on the faces of everyone standing near me, and all I could think of was this:
“He is not here! He is Risen! He is everywhere!”
Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!
Icon of Mary Magdalene by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux