So many emotions these days of Eastertide! They run the gamut from the despair and desolation of Good Friday to the profound joy on early Easter morning in the recognition of Jesus, the One whom all of those closest to him thought they had lost forever.
These days are a journey from fear and loss to the fulfillment of hopes not dared to be dreamed or voiced, and all in a short span of time — especially for Mary of Magdala. Of course, in hindsight, some 2,000 years later, we might think, “But the Scriptures and Jesus himself predicted this would happen!”
Whether that was actually the case, or whether those predictions were post-Easter insertions into the gospels, the reality is that experiencing profound loss and grief in the present moment clouds any other thoughts; our emotions take over. The more profound the love, the more encompassing the grief. Jesus had become the joy of Mary’s life- her raison d’etre. She believed in his ministry. She believed in HIM. His words and his actions rang true — they portrayed a God of LOVE.
Then the reality of her experience that Passover week demolished her expectations that Jesus would always be part of her life. What would she do now without him?
In this passage from the Gospel of John, we find Mary of Magdala looking for the Living One in a cemetery — as a popular song says, “Looking for love in all the wrong places…” And yet, it is the RIGHT place, for Jesus comes to her where she is, that he might lift her up, and give her the strength and the Spirit to leave that place and move into the new life and direction he had in mind for her.
Jesus does not let Mary linger in the joy of being with him again. He gives her a job to do, immediately bringing HER to life. Immediately, she is sent to Peter and the other brothers. It is Mary of Magdala who first announces the Good News that Jesus is alive. She is to be known forever as “the Apostle to the Apostles.”
And, so she goes to them. “Come out of your grief, your despair, brothers,” she says. “Peter, get hold of yourself. We don’t have time for this! Release the blame you are putting on yourself. You can’t stay here locked away in a room and wallow in self-pity forever for your betrayal. Jesus has forgiven you; forgive yourself. Now, he has a mission, a ministry for you, for us. Yes, together, women and men, we are called to spread the Gospel of the good news of Jesus’ life. He is commissioning us to make sure his message of love, compassion, forgiveness, and healing lives on; we are the ones chosen to do it. He will send his Spirit to help us.”
And what about us? Each of us has had to experience the death of someone very close to us. And all of us have experienced ‘death’ in some form: in the loss of important relationships, ministries, etc. We feel like half our Spirit has died with them. We don’t feel whole anymore. Our hearts are torn apart. Like Mary, we wonder how we will go on.
I think of my own mother’s death — like Jesus, she died on Good Friday after an agonizing bout with cancer which included 20 surgeries. My Dad had died 8 years earlier after they’d had 65 years together.
They were each other’s whole life. Mom’s ever present hope from the day he died was for the day she would be with him again. During that last week before Dad passed on, they would send my sister and me out on some pretense of shopping for something they really didn’t need.
They used these last moments of time with and for each other. Somehow, although Dad seemed to be getting better, they had a sense that time was short and that he would never leave the hospital.
They talked about his last wish- that she not move back to NY to be near my sister and me, for her weak lungs would never survive the harsh winters. But they hoped that soon, in a few years, they would be together again. It was that hope that gave her the spirit to live again, to continue to share her wisdom, her humor, her thoughtful care of others, with her children, her grandchildren, her friends.
And what about you? What is your experience of the Paschal Mystery? How have you experienced life, death and resurrection in your own lives?
Feel again the pain of an experience you have had. The experience of the loss of someone close to you — perhaps a sudden unexpected loss, like Mary and Peter’s experience of losing Jesus, like my Mom’s experience of losing Dad.
Or perhaps the loss that came up for you was a different kind of forever loss. Perhaps it was related to a ministry or job that you loved and had to leave, or a living situation that changed, or a realization that as you grow older, you can’t continue to do what you used to.
Now remember: how did you experience the call to NEW LIFE in those situations?
On Palm Sunday, Jesus was being hailed and glorified; yet, a few days later his death was being called for by the same crowd. However, death did not have the final word then or now. Mary of Magdala had the joy of seeing Jesus resurrected, the joy of being called to new life by him.
Let Mary of Magdala’s experience help us to keep our own hope alive, the hope that we will see Jesus and each of our loved ones again, that whatever darkness we might be experiencing now will become a source of new life for us.
This Easter Season, what is it that Jesus is calling forth in you? How are you being asked to reclaim and reaffirm your own life, to live the Paschal Mystery of life — death — resurrection?
–Sister Arlie Ketchum, SC
Sister Arlie, a former elementary educator and director of the Elizabeth Seton Women’s Center, currently ministers as personal assistant to the Director and office manager of a preschool in Yonkers.