Monday, July 22, 2019

Mary Magdalene - Blessed Turning!

Allow me to begin with a short excerpt from a poem entitled, Turning Points.
Taking us
Where we would not choose to go.
Suddenly we pass a point
We will never pass again.
Turning points interrupt us . . .

On this feast of St. Mary Magdalene, this Gospel is a turning point in the post Resurrection stories of Jesus.  As a result of this moment of Mystery, the disciples will no longer hide in upper rooms, for one day soon their NEW WAY will change the course of  history  –  life will be turned upside down and inside out – all because Mary Magdalene has seen the Lord . . . and proclaims to all, Jesus is alive!

In this version of an “empty tomb” story that under girds Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, it is difficult to miss the special importance John assigns to Mary Magdalene.  Only John reports that Mary Magdalene came alone, unaccompanied by other women.  From a cultural perspective, this is very unusual behavior, for in the culture of Jesus, a woman alone outdoors in an anomaly.  Theologians believe that this is John’s way of highlighting Mary’s special importance. 
Mary came to the tomb in great distress.  The huge stone had been moved away and the tomb itself is empty.  This caused Mary to think that Jesus’ body had been stolen.
 In her great love for Jesus, she lingered outside the tomb.  However, our Gospel continues to tell us that Mary looks in the tomb a second time and is greeted by two angels.  She seems to not notice the angels speaking to her for she is totally absorbed in one thing, and that was missing.

Now another turning point occurs. 
After her interchange with the angels, Mary turns and encounters the Risen Jesus, but she does not “know” him.   She mistakes him for the gardener, and asks him where he has placed Jesus’ body so that she can take it away.  The scene and interchange at this point are full of irony.  Here she is, “care-fronted” by Jesus, the focus of her longing, but she does not recognize him, precisely because she is looking for the corpse of the Jesus whom she knew.  Such is the paradox of longing; while it fuels our searching and focuses our attention, it also can limit what we see and so we can miss what we long for most deeply.

Then Jesus simply calls her name, “Mary!”  Jesus spoke her name. Only he could say her name in that way.  Now she turns again and instantly, with the whole of her being, she recognized him and in that moment knew that he had risen from the dead.

This second turning is the fulcrum of this Gospel story.  For in turning and recognizing Jesus when he calls her by name, Mary also turns or comes to herself.   In the instant of call and response Mary’s longing is transformed and fulfilled and she and her world are irrevocably changed.  In this poignant moment, Mary feels at once fully known and fully loved.  She also is fully seen and she knows that the eyes that see her are the eyes of forgiveness, mercy, love, and unconditional acceptance.

In the Scriptures, to be called by name has a special significance.  To call someone or something by name is to identify who or what it is.   Adam, in the garden, named each beast and flower according to its essence. God often changed the names of prophets to fit their roles.  By calling her by name, Jesus manifests his knowledge of everything in her life and his total acceptance of all that she is.  This is the moment in which Mary realizes Jesus loved her with unconditional love. 

When Mary listens to the voice of the risen Jesus, her perspective on the events in the garden changes.  She no longer understands the empty tomb as a manifestation of death, but a testimony to the power and possibilities of life. 

Mary may have attempted to embrace Jesus after she recognized him – (like any of us would do after having lost a dear friend to death) – But Jesus says to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not ascended to the Father.”  When he speaks these words, he teaches Mary that he cannot be controlled or held captive to preconceived standards and expectations of who he should be – The teaching he speaks to Mary is one that says – “Do not hold on to me, but let me be free so that I can give you the fullness of what I have to offer.”

And then a final turning point is presented in the Scripture.  Jesus instructs her to turn once again and he commissions her to go to the disciples, still hidden in fear, and to let them know that he is alive - he is risen from the dead.

This encounter with Jesus is made real for us, too.  We experience turning points of faith as we are called into the transformative process of discipleship. 
We sometimes fail to recognize the gentle hand of God in our unfolding story of walking in faith.  God often calls us by name in the depths of our sacred selves – where we are truly known in our essence and loved in our brokenness. 
God gazes upon us eternally with unconditional love – here, like Mary, we are fully seen, fully known, fully accepted, and fully loved.

Turning points interrupt us . . .
 Looking back we see them for what they are:
 Bittersweet raw reality
 Breakthrough to beatitude
 Bedrock that gives us courage
 to give ourselves away.
For the less we struggle with turning points
The greater the strength
To return
And turn again.

(Author Unknown)

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