Mary Magdalene’s story has so much to say to us. This year, the day reminds me of the need to listen carefully and to always be listening for the voice of God. This lesson is illustrated for us in the readings of this holy day and it is one that we probably need to hear again and again.
On the morning of the third day, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of Jesus and finds that the stone has been rolled away and the body of her friend and teacher is missing. She is already in the midst of grief and this new scene is unbelievable. It must have felt like the cruelest joke imaginable. She watched as Jesus was executed and buried and now, as she comes to see his body, she finds it too has been taken from her. She hears the voice of the gardener and begs him to tell her where they have taken Jesus’s body. It is finally when the gardener addresses her by name that she realizes the gardener is her friend and teacher, Jesus. When Mary’s name is spoken with dignity and love by her friend, she sees God before her.
When Mary ran back to the other friends of Jesus to tell them of what she had seen, they did not believe her at first. They assumed she was grief-stricken, confused, or perhaps had seen a ghost at best. Their culture taught them that women were unreliable witnesses. The idea that their friend Jesus was alive and loitering in the garden near his grave, appearing to be a gardener seemed well beyond the pale. It took some doing on Mary’s part, and some others checking for themselves, before the group began to believe what she had to say.
The other disciples insisted first that what they expected was what ought to be in front of them. They expected that Mary would have a story about visiting a friend’s grave. At first glance, they missed what it was that God was trying to show them and, when they realized, had a bit of catching up to do. The Spirit, like Mary that morning, seldom sits still.
This lesson is one we ought all to bear in mind. God speaks and reveals wisdom and guidance and comfort and blessing in the places where we need them, even if they appear in ways or at times that we are not expecting. God calls us to be faithful listeners and watchers, and to believe those who speak truth. Especially those who speak difficult truths and put themselves at risk when they do so.
Too often, the voices of those who speak uncomfortable truths to power are silenced, ignored, or told they are lying. The preservation of power and reputation at the expense of other people’s health and wellbeing is one of the sins called out again and again in our scripture. Mary Magdalene spoke truth to her friends and, because of their skepticism about the reliability of women, they did not believe. Shades of Peter’s denial of Christ just a few days earlier.
I want to leave you today with a prayer for this festival day written by Cole Arthur Riley, the blessed and creative force behind blackliturgist.com:
God of Mary Magdalene, Make us like her. So familiar with you that when we hear our voices spoken with the dignity that they are worthy of, we sense you. Make us like her. Confident enough in our voices and stories that we speak them unapologetically, even in front of those who disregard us. We want more for ourselves than spiritualities dictated by powerful men. We want a fuller story, a spiritual wholeness, knowing our faith has depended as much on the voices of the vulnerable as any one else. We are exhausted of spiritual spaces that are obsessed with only one kind of voice. Help us to never trust this, or become infatuated with the kinds of leaders this world celebrates—the callous, the remorseless, the enchanting. Instead, grant us leaders who tell the truth. Who remember. Who weep and are unashamed. Make us like her, that we would be able to recognize you.