John, chapter 20: Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Magdalene who lives in the shadows of judgment and incredulity. Jesus speaks her name. Magadalene knows, simply knows, the truth. She names him in turn, her teacher. She trusts that moment, that insight, with courage and resilience. And she bears this news to the Apostles who are living the greatness of grief and the depth of fear. She trusts. And she lingers in the uncertainty and the brokenness that crowds the Apostles into the Upper Room and into the unbearable waiting.
There is a poverty to that kind of waiting, that powerlessness. It is personal and collective, and its very nature defies every convention of social organization. It challenges the familiar, the understood. It baits what is accepted as reality and it begs for innovation, for change. It is a powerlessness that in depth and function parallels the dynamics of economic poverty. It is paralyzing. And like economic poverty, it is about process.
Now, in the midst of a pandemic that has a chokehold on society, is exhausting healthcare systems, crippling small businesses and re-shaping social institutions, there is that same poverty of waiting, a powerlessness. Mary Magdalene’s story speaks to this moment, to this ambiguity and uncertainty and to the pathway forward. She chose to believe. She trusted her vision. She knew.
The rawness of the epidemic, the way it engulfed so many countries so quickly, has left us grasping for effective responses. All of our economic and technological privilege has shriveled as government searched for strategies and responses. For a public largely disinterested and critical of government, the focus shifted. Officials emerged at local, state and national levels weighing options and considering values. Their decisions and choices have exposed our ability to cooperate, to collaborate and to consider a collective good, something greater than self. But now, weeks after the initial heartbreak, that uncertainty and ambiguity about what lies ahead has begun to gnaw away at coping mechanisms.
Our poverty lies not only in the deaths, the lost jobs, closed businesses, and re-ordered systems. It is in our waiting, in the powerlessness against this invisible enemy. Mary Magadalene dared to chart a path in the very midst of a similar powerlessness. She embraced the reality she could see, and she moved forward. She participated in the process, in the next steps, in the healing and the hope. She lived the uncertainty and ambiguity, and she found a voice in the essence of grief.
Here, poised on a flattening curve, our task is to move as she does. This is our time to recognize what is happening with stark simplicity, without the weight of bias or prejudice. We can name the poverty of our waiting, and we can choose, as she choose, how to proceed. Our paths, in our very individualistic culture, are actually deeply intertwined: it is time to see one another in new ways, to realize the value of one and the significance of the whole. This will be our time to become the architects of a new world, the world that waits. Like Mary, we must be able to see beyond the tomb.