Easter Sunday 2022 – Fr. Rick Sherman
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118; I Cor. 5:6b-8; Jn. 20:1-9
April 17, 2022
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Psalm 118: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
Today’s psalm 118 should be our ‘takeaway’ from the Easter celebration. When Christians celebrate Easter we do not just commemorate a special event from long, long ago, but we actually enter into a whole new life that is made possible by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Every year we precede Easter with 6 rigorous weeks of Lent in order to fast and abstain from the many attitudes and habits that really shape our day to day lives. We do this to make room for the God of Life who is always ready to move into our lives in the most personal way. Every day we in essence choose LIFE or death.
The gospel today gives St. John’s account of the resurrection story. It was written probably about 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. John has had lots of time to assimilate the enormous ramifications of the Resurrection. The decades following the resurrection of Jesus were very confusing in the fledgling Christian communities. In this account we can gain many insights into the workings of the Church in our times as well as our mission to “declare the works of the Lord.”
The main characters are Mary Magdala, John and Peter. The story starts with Mary noticing that Jesus was gone! She RAN to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Someone had taken the Lord and they didn’t know where they put Him! So Peter and John RAN to the tomb, but the younger John ran faster and then waited for Peter to enter the tomb first. The younger more impetuous John waited for the older and more experienced Peter. This sequence is very important.
Peter represents the institutional Church and the element of reason. Peter notices that the burial cloths are in separate places and the one that wrapped the head of Jesus was rolled up neatly. Definitely NOT the work of robbers who wanted to make a quick dash in and out while the Roman guards will still dumbstruck. Peter intuitively anticipated that many would charge that the resurrection never actually took place, but instead the empty tomb was just the work of grave robbers. The Church would need to engage the world of unbelievers and scoffers with the element of reason. John represents the sort of mystical element, one who merely sees and believes. He’s ready to dash off and spread the message of what really did happen. This is indeed a good and necessary impulse, but the mission to declare the works of the Lord must take many dimensions and possibly for a long, long time. In retrospect we know that we are going on 2000 years and counting. We still need the older, sometimes lumbering institution, along with the firsthand experience of the mystic who simply sees and believes.
And then there is Mary of Magdala who was known to have had a very close and personal relationship with Jesus. From the other gospel accounts we know that she was a woman of means and along with a few other women with ‘resources’ helped underwrite much of the practical needs of Jesus’ public ministry. If the depictions of Mary Mageline in the ‘Passion of the Christ’ movie and the ‘Chosen’ video series are even close to accurate, this woman was stunningly gorgeous. Rich and gorgeous. We also know that she was afflicted by SEVEN demons and was cured by Jesus. We don’t know for sure the nature of the demons but the fact that there were SEVEN gives us some insight as to their intensity. In biblical numerology ‘seven’ depicts a number representing perfection or completeness. We can recall the many times ‘seven’ is used in the Bible. The seventh day of rest after Creation and the seventh day of the Sabbath to name a couple obvious ones. But this was seven DEMONS. Could seven demons imply almost being completely possessed by demons? She must have suffered in the most desperate insidious way, sometimes perhaps without even being consciously aware, but living in the subtle and not-so-subtle state of demonic possession.
Rich and stunningly gorgeous? Pride is often considered the deadliest of the deadly sins. Do you think Mary had honed the very art of influencing people to get what she wanted? Magdala, where Mary was from, was a town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. A bustling town with commerce and lots of fishermen and sailor types. “You hooo, have you seen the Zebedee brothers around? Yes, thank you, do you have any of the fresh herring I like marinated in the onions?” No, no, not those. Please someone go find the Zebedee brothers”. Or perhaps, think modern day San Diego California, with the USS Gerald Ford coming into dock after a six month cruise and a stunningly gorgeous woman gets out of BMW convertible. “I do declare, I have some kind of a powerful thirst.” I suspect she could get a gin and tonic almost immediately if not sooner. Maybe even a burger and fries. Luckily there are thousands of U.S. Marines in San Diego to keep the sailors in check. !# (Remember that scene from the movie ‘Catch 22’ from the seventies when a gorgeous female publicity person showed up at a briefing of air crews right before a bombing run? The general says, can we get the lady a chair? and every single member of the air crews jumped up and brought her his folding chair? I digress)
Anyway, Mary may have very well been deluded by her own sense of power to influence and control. What a trap that would be. What a tendency to make up her own reality where she herself was little less than of goddess. This of course is the more common human struggle. Making up our own world with our own priorities. Regardless of which church we belong to, if we grew up in the United States, we were socialized to follow our own dreams and passions and figure out how to get our piece of the pie. It’s our right and nowadays it’s everyone else’s responsibility to get our needs met. It’s all about ME!! On Good Friday one line particularly jumped out from the prophet Isaiah, “We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way.”
After many decades of life, my personal estimation is that most of us are suffering with demons of delusion and confusion. Much more than we are mystics or serious students of well-thought-out reason, we are more like Mary than John or Peter. But it was also Mary of Magdala, after her healing, along with John a small group of others, that followed Jesus faithfully all the way to the foot of the Cross. She knew she needed Jesus and was ready to tell others all that Jesus had done for her. She was still a person of great influence, but now she knew who was really in control.
It’s interesting to speculate on this female within the new emerging version of a patriarchal church. It was the woman who first noticed that Jesus was gone. Think of your own experiences at home. Who is more likely to notice that Jesus is no longer in the home? That there is need for a little more patience or kindness or generosity or joy in the home? Where did Jesus go?
There are many examples of women asking this question throughout biblical and Catholic Church history. Think Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Dorothy Day, Elizabeth Ann Seton. Where did Jesus go? Where have they put Him?
Withut the well ordered feminine, our male clergy can sometimes get extremely domesticated, institutionalized and emasculated to the point of being neutered and impotent. Wisdom in the bible is almost always represented with a feminine pronoun. “Lady Wisdom.” This is a special dimension in the Church. Very influential when rightly focused. The properly-ordered feminine presence in the world is much more powerful than politics, aircraft carriers or cruise missiles.
We need mysticism, well-studied reason and the well-crafted feminine Wisdom that comes out of battling our demons. As we move into the seven full weeks of Easter time we will once again hear the Scriptures tell us how the disciples finally recognize the resurrected Jesus in their lives. It took them a while. They are being called into a whole new dimension and so are we. If we are actually ready to let go of our human delusions of wisdom and control we too are once again embarking on a whole new age. “We shall not die, but will live, and declare the works of the Lord!”