The Rev. Melanie McCarley
It is still dark when Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb. As dawn approaches she sees that the stone has been rolled away. This woman, Mary, she is no fool. Her first thought isn’t “Alleluia, Christ is risen”—that proclamation is no where on her horizon. Instead, she is thinking that something fishy is going on. And she proceeds to do what most of us would do if we arrived at the grave of a loved one and found the stone toppled and dirt upended. She high tails it out of there and runs for help. Why? Because Mary knows what all of us understand—that as a general rule, dead folks don’t do a lot for themselves. They can only have something done to them. She assumes (and wouldn’t we all, had we been in her shoes) that someone had taken the body of her Lord. And so she says to Peter and John: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Peter and John arrive, see the empty tomb and return home. Mary isn’t yet ready to leave. She lingers, standing outside the tomb and weeping. And now she turns to look inside. Her physical placement is fascinating. On one side of her, John tells us, is the tomb—a repository for the dead, on the other side is a garden, a place teeming with life. Mary stands in between—a liminal place at the boundary of life and death.
And now, we are told, Mary bends down to look into the tomb and sees two angels. She’s looking into the place of the dead—the tomb. The angels aren’t particularly helpful. They respond: “Woman, why are you weeping?” and so she turns, and in her turning she sees Jesus—though she doesn’t recognize him at first. Peter Adams, the artist who painted the picture on the front of today’s program envisions Mary as partially blinded by the sun’s morning glare. And Jesus speaks her name; “Mary.”
Perspective matters. What you see so often depends upon where you happen to be looking. This Easter of 2021, I suspect a good many of us are still peering into the tomb. Let’s face it, there has been so much grieving and weeping over the past many months over innumerable losses. The pandemic brutally took our loved ones as well as countless important life-events ranging from graduations, birthdays and funerals to weddings and family reunions.
And though we’ve all heard the oft-repeated phrase “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” So often we’ve also heard (or have felt it ourselves) that “I can’t bear any more.” We’re tired. We’re done! We’re more than ready for this time to be over—the thought of the numbers of infected people rising or the possibility of yet another lockdown is unbearable.
John, the author of the Gospel, understands this. In his Gospel the word “tomb” and the verb “die” appear more frequently than in any other Gospel. If I had to guess, I would say that John knows full well the unbearable loss presented by death. Which is precisely why his version of the resurrection is so powerful. Mary turns—her perspective shifts, and she beholds life and hope where before there was only loss and death. Like Mary, we need to allow ourselves to be surprised by God’s presence in unexpected places. We need to allow ourselves to recognize the promise of Easter in a Good Friday world.
Take the example of Matrida Taleshiwe as a contemporary case in point. Taleshiwe is the Music Director at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Diego, California. She has unusual credentials for the position she holds. She used to lead a large choir in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. In fact, she grew up there herself: her extended family fled from violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then spent almost twenty-five years in a refugee camp in Tanzania before resettling in San Diego in 2016. The Rev. Laurel Mathewson, Co-Vicar at St. Luke’s, met Matrida when she arrived, along with her two young children bringing with her a voice that moves worshipers to tears whether or not they understand Swahili or Kibembe.
Matrida also leads a band, which not so long ago held a Congolese gospel concert at St. Luke’s on a Saturday night. The day following the concert, a white congregant in his seventies said he couldn’t stop wondering about the concert: He said: “What kind of faith gets you through twenty five years in a refugee camp singing God’s praises? What kind of faith is this?”
This, I suggest to you, is resurrection faith—it’s an Easter faith that refuses to confine itself to peering into the tomb. It is a faith that lives into the words of the psalmist who proclaims: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
Imagine, spending the preponderance of your life in a place that you cannot leave—far from a home you barely remember, for which it unsafe for you to return, most of your family lost to war, disease and famine—and finding—not simply loss, death and anguish—but life, hope and promise instead. A life and hope that allows you to sing, dance, lead a Gospel choir and compose music in praise of your God. For twenty-five years. A quarter century. This is resurrection faith. It is the kind of faith which refuses to allow its perspective to be confined to what we have been taught to expect—but allows the hope and promise of God to permeate even the darkest and most hopeless reaches of the heart.
To celebrate Easter is to turn from the tomb and see Jesus. It is an act of shifting our perspective from the place of the dead towards the promise of God. It is a monumental movement. It entails not simply the turning of the head, but a shifting of the heart. It is a willingness to see Jesus, to hear him call your name, and to respond in trust and hope. It is a pivotal movement—making Mary take to her feet once again and run towards the disciples—this time, not with fear, but with joy—bearing the Good News for all (for each one of us) to hear. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.