John 20:9-11
For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. * Then the disciples returned home.
But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb… *
So, I read the last line of the gospel for today, and then the following two verses. The reason I did this is because I think the story of Mary Magdalene is very important, especially in our day when we find ourselves so separated from the Eucharist, and from one another.
I hope you remember the story. But if not let me give a short synopsis. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene but she thinks he is the gardener, until he speaks her name. Then she recognizes him and tries to embrace him. But he said something that might sound… confusing at first. Jesus says to her “do not cling to me…”
Why did he insist that she not cling to him? I think it is because she wanted to hold him right here on earth without the risk of him suffering anymore, or of being separated from her, so much did she love him. But as he says next to her, “I must go back to my Father…” You see, Jesus knew that Mary’s heart was still not quite aligned with God’s intention. She was still thinking of this earth, when he wanted her to think of heaven.
It was not a question of – as some people have written in the last few years – some kind of love affair between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. No, she knew who he was, who he is, but she thought that everything was going to be complete right here… in that moment… on earth. Jesus was telling her that her expectations were not exalted enough. She wanted Jesus to begin his reign… right there, right then.
But, as I said, Jesus knew her thoughts. He had to let his followers – and according to the Scriptures there were over five hundred who saw him risen from the dead – that here on earth, right now, right then, was not what his Father intended, nor what he intended. He had so much more… Such a greater goal set for all of us: we have become inheritors of heaven.
As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
This is what I believe Jesus was trying to get across to Mary Magdalene. It was too soon, and her expectation was too small. She was grieving over his death, now she rejoiced in his resurrection, and because of her grief and joy all she could see was the moment in front of her. We cannot fault her for that. Look at our desire, right now. We all have a longing for Jesus in the Eucharist. This is what he has given us, and because of circumstances right now… it is kept from us.
So, in this day, when we rejoice in the presence of God, the God who conquered death and the grave – the God will conquer this pandemic – we rest at our homes instead of rejoicing with his people on a glorious Easter morning.
Our hearts and souls cry out to our God, begging for his mercy, begging for his healing on our world, so that we can return to worship him together. Mary Magdalene felt quite alone, because of what she was enduring in those moments before Jesus revealed himself. We can find ourselves feeling very much the same, but that is not where God wants to leave us.
Let your heart cry out to the risen Lord. Let your heart rejoice in knowing that he has risen. If you have been out and driving past the parishes, you have noticed the signs in the yards: “soon – we will be together – because he has risen”.
This saying that we have placed on the signs has multiple levels of meaning. First and foremost, it is a sign of hope – hope that this will all end. Second, it is a promise – the promise that Jesus gave to Mary Magdalene, that he was going to the Father and that he would not leave us behind. Third, it is a prayer – a prayer that we will hold onto our faith, and return to it and to one another to let the world know that our Savior lives.
So, we pray. Risen Lord, you have conquered death, and open the way for us to heaven. This earth is not our destiny, but is instead our path to you. In these trying times, with this pandemic, we are saddened because we are apart. Heal this sadness, and fill us with an Easter joy, a joy that cannot be taken away, if we but remain in you.
You are the one who was named us, and claimed us as your heirs. You are the one who has declared our destiny belongs in heaven. You are the one who is conquered death of the grave. You are the one, the only one who can fulfill all our desires. We turn to you with confidence and trust in your mercy and infinite love.
Even as we are so separated in this day, unite and heal us and draw us ever closer to one another and especially to you. Make this Easter a day to celebrate, even if we do not feel like much celebration. Make it a day of prayer, even if we have to pray by ourselves. Make it a day to rejoice in your saving love.
And, finally, we thank you that you have done all that you have done and that you have filled our hearts to overflowing as we find our rest in you. Amen.