The Gospel of John, the Gospel of Easter Sunday 2023, gives Mary Magdalene a central place: she is the bereaved, the grieving one, who discovers the stone rolled away from the tomb, who summons the disciples and ultimately is the first to see Jesus resurrected even though she did not recognize Him. Women celebrate the central role of Mary in this, and the privilege it indicates. Others find the subtle characteristics of humanity so powerful: the fear, the disbelief, and the empowerment, the community building. In so many ways, the Gospel charts the human stories for so many generations: journeys from disbelief to faith, from fear to courage and from ignorance to understanding.
This year, another theme and question emerges. The life of Jesus, his death and his resurrection stretch through millenia with telling and retelling, translations and new translations. There is a vivid accord that laces all of it together and that theme of unconditional love is powerful. And the accompanying questions: Is it better to be loved or to love? Or is it all one and the same ? The story, in this time of discord and disgruntlement, speaks simply about the most complicated to all simple things: love itself.
The story does not shy from the cruelty of human beings, from the flailing of ignorance or the reality of mob mentality. It does not shy from the failures of human beings, from the fear of identity threats or the righteousness of misplaced choices. But looking carefully, this story does not shy from the rigor of complex relationships like friendships and loyalty and the deeper commitments to persons, to truths and to blazing new trails. All that dances through the lines of each version of Jesus’ death and resurrection. To really hear it, to explore it, is something most meaningful.
To stand with Mary outside the tomb, to run with her to summon the disciples….that is a moment of imagination and insight. To bend with Peter into the tomb, to know his shock and his realization. To speculate with all the disciples about what occurred. To be there again with a crying Mary and know the depths of what grief so cruelly demands. And to be with all of them as each moment with Jesus is recounted, each lesson recalled, every parable reclaimed. The Gospel enables us to do that, to join them and become part of the story. There is a certain thrill there, an insight that could have been elusive or unknown before. And too, the love that pervades the relationships and that Jesus’ choice embodies, that somehow becomes more real.
And so we stand with questions about love. What is it? How do we know it? How do we live it? How can we share it? How can we be that for each other? Can we dare to love to the point of grief? Can we dare to face fears? To verify stories and claims before we act? Can we seek one another out and speak one another’s names in profound recognition of each other? Dare we become part of the story? Are we an Easter people?