In the darkness – a dark from which creation had been brought forth; a dark which cradled her grief; a dark which cloaked the resurrection, though she did not know of it yet – in that darkness, a woman came to the tomb. And then there was morning: it was the first day of the week.
Mary came wanting, desperately, to see Jesus’ body, in the tomb where she and others had laid it just days before. She came in order to prepare it and anoint it lovingly for the burial that it had already received in haste after a death caused by hatred; and this was her last gift and the final devotion to her Lord.
And out of darkness, as she saw faintly the tomb, she perceived only absence there: The stone that had sealed the tomb rolled back, as if by grave robbers. She saw her last hope, that she might be in the presence of the dead body of Jesus once again, had been rolled away along with that heavy, hewn door.
When Mary returned to the tomb again, exhausted by sorrow and by her journey to fetch Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, I think we have to imagine that she could hardly see what was not there for tiredness, and for weeping.
She was so unseeing because of her tears that the light of 2 angels in dazzling white did not shine through to pierce her senses.
She was so unseeing because of her tears that a man wandering nearby who called out to her ‘My girl, why are you crying?’ couldn’t be seen either – truly seen, that is.
But then hearing her name: being called by name: that was the moment of her redemption from the tunnel-vision of this overwhelming grief.
And with that call, everything changed for Mary, in her grief; for grief itself; and for us now. For all creation; for all humanity; for Mary, was seen then and called then as renewed in the clear sight of the Teacher.
Understandably, Mary must have thrown herself toward Jesus in an embrace the moment he called her and she perceived him to be alive again. And the famous painting of this moment by Titian depicts her reaching forward desperately, one arm stretched out to him, and the other on the ground, pushing her upward and just about stopping her from collapsing in shocked instability.
But then Jesus asked her not to cling to him. This is the phrase (in Latin) that gives many paintings of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb their title. And it is a phrase that seems to jar, when we – who all know the strain of restricting physical and social contact with loved ones over the last 2 years – hear it: ‘do not cling to me’. And it is a phrase that therefore leaves a clear image of Mary as frozen, with her arms held out in an embrace that will never be returned, whenever we see one of those famous paintings of this moment.
However, this is also the moment when, holding on to that very personal image of Mary’s grief, Jesus’ call to her by name snaps everything into a far wider perspective: a third, even clearer, brighter way of seeing – that is a kind of universal vision.
For Jesus asks Mary not to cling to him, and therefore not to stay here, frozen as in a painting; frozen in her release from the exhaustion of personal grief and sorrow; and desperate in the desire for a single embrace between her and Jesus.
He asks her to not cling to the new light that has broken through her tears. For a light is not kindled to be clutched close to one person’s chest (indeed, then it burns us up) but to shine so that many may see by it.
Jesus sends Mary to proclaim to the many – to his brothers – to the disciples – how she has been called by name and has seen the Lord. And because of this, Mary Magdalene is sometimes known as the apostle to the apostles, but today I’d like to be attentive to and see her relationship to us all using another word: that she is sent in order to announce this to them.
She announces that she has seen the Lord. She announces that out of the disorder of death, God has brought life again, and given a sign of a new order in creation. She announces that, early on the first day, God has brought light out of darkness, and named humanity as the witnesses of this.
The word ‘announces’ is related to the word ‘angel’, who are God’s messengers of his greatness to all creation. Messengers from the realms of glory, of those things that in the tradition of the Hebrew Bible humans cannot see, or even know of; of mysteries of a reality beyond and beneath our own perceptions. Which we do now see.
This is the reality that the risen Lord’s message to Mary reveals. And in the message he asks her to announce, full awareness of God’s greatness speaks in human flesh – the risen Jesus – to human flesh – to Mary.
In the message he asks her to announce God’s power restores the clear image of creation for all, and entrusts that heavenly point of view to all: to Christ’s brothers, the disciples; to his sisters, the women at the foot of the cross; and also to us who are all sisters and brothers of this vision of God’s power and glory.
This is what Mary’s sees, after her tears, on the morning of the resurrection. This is the perspective we can all share in, as she has been asked to announce it.
Mary Magdalene, the third angel in our gospel today, shows to many this bright vision. She shares the perspective of the first moments of good creation, and its renewal, with us all; and this transforms what we may see on earth, as through the sight of heaven. It was the first day of the week. The first day humans saw clearly, on earth as if in heaven …
Alleluia. Mary has seen the Lord. She has seen the Lord indeed, Alleluia.