In the year my Aunt Margarette died, and then my father, I began accompanying mother to Camp Nelson, Frankfort, Willisburg, and Rockbridge cemeteries. We cut lilacs, lilies, and Black-eyed Susans from her yard and placed them in coffee cans wrapped in aluminum foil. When mom moved into our home in Tennessee, we cut wildflowers from the family farm in Willisburg and improvised vases from solo cups that littered a ditch. We carried human powered grass clippers to trim around ancestral markers. Mom usually wrote a check to the Rockbridge Cemetery Fund. We laid our flowering arrangements offering a tearful prayer or perhaps an amusing family story. On the road near Mackville, I learned my grandfather could grow so irritated during University of Kentucky’s basketball games that he went outside to pout. Mom then explained that while they lacked electric power, they enjoyed a radio driven by a deep-cell battery that they recharged at Carrier’s General Store. Mom always smiled and showered me with gratitude for sharing this Memorial Day ritual.
Early in the morning, on the first day of the work week, before the farmers started milking, they left for the cemetery. The Gospel writers mention different names, each writer mentions Mary Magdalene, but Mary the Mother of James, Salome, Joana, and “the other Mary” are named as well. All are women.
Perhaps Peter, James, and John were still sleeping. I imagine the disciples stayed up late trying to make sense of the crucifiction. Maybe grief or fear robbed them of sleep. How do we make sense of the world now? What is next? They had left everything. Jesus called “follow me” and they left behind nets, boats, family businesses, tax booths, wealthy friends, trade guilds, homes, careers, security and family. What do we do when friends betray us, or we fail friends? The sky had turned dark, the earth shook, and Love died! How do we cope when our dreams of “on earth as in heaven” die?
How could Christ, who radiated such love, be treated so cruelly? Someone said Jesus hollered out, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing!” Do we still turn the other check? Do we still forgive? Do we love our enemies? Do we forgive that lousy Judas or those corrupt priests? With a kiss, that d*mn Judas betrayed Jesus; we all saw it! Do we go back to work? Do we get out of here? Are we safe? Will they come for us?
What do we make of Jesus’ sermons now? Turn the other cheek? Pray for persecutors? You are the light of the world? Let your good works shine? Feed the crowds? Did not the crowds cry out “crucify him”? Do we comfort Judas’ mother and widow? Now that Jesus died, do we stop feeding people, protesting in the temple, giving away healthcare, storing treasure in heaven, preaching hope, loving our neighbor, standing with the strangers, protesting injustice, or preaching Good News? With Love crucified do we stop loving?
How deeply did we fail Jesus? Could we have made a difference? What if we had stayed awake in the Garden? We all boasted our allegiance to the end! (Matthew 26:35) At least Peter and John stayed until the cock crowed three times.
What do we do when it seems our world is ending or our grief threatens to overwhelm us? Do we quit, when it seems that Love is crucified, dead and buried? Do we light a candle? Do we make a protest sign? Do we march for our lives?
What do we do after No-Good Friday? Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary, were not silenced by grief or shocked into inaction. They needed to do something. Love called for action. So they gathered clean towels, lilac soap, essential oils, and flowers arranged in old coffee cans. They headed to the tomb to do what they could. They could not undo all the evil in this world, but they could do something.
Light shines in the deepest dismay, and hate can’t overcome it. Love, what Doctor King called “redemptive goodwill for all people”, always does something.
Love awoke Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary before the sun could crack on the horizon. While it was still dark, Love stirred them into Jerusalem’s risky streets. I imagine they worked the day before. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, so these five disciples probably broke some Sabbath rules. After all, the upholders of orthodoxy crucified Jesus. Love nudged Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and the other Mary towards the Memorial Garden.
The women came to wash away the acrid smell of the crucifixion. They came rinse the stink of sinners like us off our Lord. They came to make a sign, to put flowers in a chain-link fence. Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary came to wash blood off Christ’s hands, hands that once held the outcast and healed the sick. The One, who had been forgiven much, carried another expensive jar of pure nard to wash his now pierced feet. They came to put balm on Jesus’ now silent lips. They came to shampoo Jesus’ grimy hair, remove hidden thorns, anoint his head with oil, and crown him with hyacinths, lilies, and buttercups. It was not much, but they could tell his mother they swaddled him in the finest linens, baptised him in fragrant oils, and covered him with flowers.
When the world seems to have slipped beyond the reach of God’s love- remember: Love is descending into the very depths of hell. The Apostles’ Creed and 1 Peter 3:18-19 tell us that Jesus after No-Good Friday marched through hell preaching Good News. Love awakens us on Easter. Love nudges us away from cycles of retribution, unforgiveness, and despair. When it seems “on earth as in heaven” has failed and No-Good Friday rules the day: “Love hopes, Love endures, Love never fails!” ( 1 Corinthians 13) So what will we do to undo an evil world? Will we comfort the grieving, resist evil, make a homemade sign, serve a meal to a homeless person, keep watch over our neighbors, welcome a stranger, tutor a child at Brighter Days, teach sunday school, or do something?
Love woos us away from hopeless grief and sends us out to bring healing, justice and comfort. Many times I have watched a grieving widow, maybe a teacher, bow down to comfort her student who never met her departed husband. I have seen Love tug a person from their flood-destroyed home, so that they might help a less affected neighbor, muck out soak drywall. Love turns the other cheek. Love feeds the hungry crowd. Love offers healthcare. Love comforts Judas’ widow. Love forgives 70 more times. Love nudges us into life.
Magdalene, Mary, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary come offering one last act of love. Light cracks the night dancing with pink, purple, and gold upon Jerusalem’s hills. Matthew records that the earth shook, perhaps the earth danced to greet Jesus’ feet again? Maybe, Creation contracted with birth pains as the Resurrection and the Life defeated sin, hell and death?
God sends an angel to roll back the stone; some jobs are better done by hand. The angel sits there on the big overturned rock. I guess she pushed it right out of the groove. Her holy biceps rippling, she looks like lightning. Matthew used a masculine pronoun, but what is gender in heaven? (Mark 12:25) The religious police fainted at the sight of her.
Evidently Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary did not sleep, slumber, or faint. The angel sings, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. Christ is not here; Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed, just as he said. Come and see the place where he once lay. Now go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now that is it! I have told you.”
Hear the Good News: Easter is an ordination service. A wave of holy awe swept over me when Bishop Carter laid his hands on my head proclaiming, “Paul Purdue, take thou authority to preach…” I would take Magdalene, Mary, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary’s heaven-born ordination over the Board of Ordained Ministries verdict everytime! Hear the Good News, oridinands, Magdalene, Mary, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary: “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now that is it! I have told you.”
Now let me just say this, if your theology bans women from preaching based on Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12, then you have a problem with Easter! And if you read a few more verses, you will have a problem with Jesus who sends the women to preach! Indeed, the problem is not Paul’s opinion but literalism. Literalism is the problem! Literalism will literally kill you! The Apostle Paul said that! (2 corinthians 3:6) Fundamentalism dishonors the texts, our minds, and the Holy Spirit. Literalism builds its’ theology from a faulty base, that glosses over such textual tensions. Resist it!
So Magdalene, Mary, Salome, Joana, and the other Mary hurry away from the tomb, afraid and yet filled with joy. Is that not our truth, we fear and fear letting go of fear? On Great Commission Mountain in Matthew or Jerusalem in Luke, the disciples will worship and hold doubts! That is the way of faith- we doubt and worship- we hold joy amid fear. So the women clergy run to tell his disciples. Nobody bans them- thanks be to God!
As they run to wake the disciples with the first Easter sermon, Jesus meets them. As they answer the call to preach improbable hope and Jesus showed up! Love never fails.
“Greetings,” Jesus said. “They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.” Let’s read that again: “Greetings,” Jesus said. “They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.” You just can’t put Easter into words, can you? Words can’t even describe holding a baby. Without enough words to contain the exceeding joy, Matthew is brief- “Greetings,” Jesus said. “We came to Christ, clasped his feet and worshiped.” I can’t explain the depth of joy authentic worship brings, to know we are held with a Love that speaks forgiveness from the cross, preaches in Hell, and restores us to life. Easter is about worship more than particular words. Words escape us- they only hint at the depths of God’s Love. Love never fails.
Then Jesus tells Magdalene, Mary, Salome, Joana, the other Mary, and us: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers and sister to go to Galilee or Ground Zero; there they will see me.”
Jesus is always going before us. Christ before us, Christ behind us, Christ above us, Christ with us, and Christ before us even the the end of the age. (Matthew 28:16) When it seems Love is crucified, dead, buried, and that the world has come to the end, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell the others to go to Galilee, Ground Zero, Parkland, or the Pulse; for Jesus is going ahead of us, waking us with love and nudging us out to do some loving act, for as we offer one last gift of love, we will see Jesus.” Amen.