Rector Isaac Poobalan
Today, the world over, preachers would make sincere effort to show the factual reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the gospel narratives. The empty tomb, the talking angels, the rolled up wrapping clothes will be demonstrated as evidence to the resurrection of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday. Others, like the one that I heard from a Roman Catholic Church will affirm that all will be well because Christ is risen. No doubt both are worthy effort on an Easter Sunday. But, we know why it is not quite the force of the resurrection of our Lord.
The fact of the Resurrection of Christ had little or no impact on the world and all who heard about it. The short resurrection narrative by Mark repeats one point that the news of resurrection and the bearers of that news, caused one effect – disbelief! Our efforts to prove it today may have similar effect, I suspect. And the other tendency to believe that all will be well because Christ is risen has potential to cause irritation and anger as I felt today listening to the sermon on BBC Radio 4 at 8am today. The preacher was implying that all will be well with the victims of child abuse and their abusers because Christ is risen. I found it hard to listen to such approach to the power of resurrection. I therefore decided to listen to one of first witnesses of the resurrection, namely Mary Magdalene.
In today’s gospel reading from John’s account, the calling of Mary’s name by the Risen Christ had the force of radical transformation. What is so amazing about the Risen Christ calling Mary?
Firstly, the one who called the disciples to their vocation now calls them again to a life of radical transformation. Secondly, it is worth noting that the nature of the call of the risen Christ is different from the call they received before. The Sonship of the Risen Christ is radically different because he has accomplished his task of salvation, triumphantly. He bore the Sin of the world on his body on the cross and hence now crowned with a glorious body which has the voice that calls.
Calling of Mary’s name by the risen Christ is different from the calls she had heard before. Mark, in his brief resurrection narrative, says that when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. One New Testament Scholar describes Mary as a ‘scarlet woman’. Either as one free from seven demons or as a former ‘scarlet woman’, Mary had a personality which had a radical transformation. This transformation may have come to pass by the calling of her name by our Lord. Going by the various descriptions of Mary Magdalene in the gospel narratives, it is possible to believe that there were two other significant moments in the encounters between Mary and our Lord when he called her name besides the one in the garden around the tomb.
The first time Jesus called Mary, it was to assure of God’s forgiveness from her life in sin. It may have been that Mary lived a life of pleasure and dissatisfied with such life she sought freedom and a life of joy. She was longing for love which no one could give her. Her acquaintances were able to fill her with money and material but not the one thing for which she longed. And one day, in her guilt filled, loveless life, the Son of Man entered and called her by name. He said, Mary. She knew what it meant. She heard in that tender loving voice that called her name, that she is forgiven and she is ‘the beloved’. She no longer needed her pleasures. She no longer needed the money and material. The one the she longed for had been given to her for free. And this free offer of love and forgiveness has set her free. She is a beloved. The theologians call this justification. She is justified before God. She is now reconciled to God. Her relationship with God is now restored. She became one of the special disciples of Christ.
In today’s gospel, when Jesus called Mary, her spontaneous response was , ‘Rabunai’ which means teacher. Mary knew Jesus as a teacher because she was used to him teach her. There is no mention of Mary when Jesus taught his disciples. There is mention of her in the temple where Jesus taught regularly. She was not there to learn the ‘New Commandment’ at the upper room on Maundy Thursday. From the way she responded, she was not simply calling Jesus, ‘Rabuni’ because everyone else called him so. She knew him as her teacher because she saw him and she knew what to do and how to live. She learnt from him that God is love, we call God, ‘Abba’ and we are God’s children. It is as if Jesus called her by name for the second time to affirm that ‘God is love and she is God’s child’ This kind of growth in the knowledge and love of God, the theologians call, sanctification.
This lifelong learning of God and the ways of God had become a way of life for Mary. She hoped it would last for ever. But it was not to be! The triumphal entry on the Palm Sunday was glorious when the whole world praised the Messiah and sang hosanna. Sadly, soon after the same crowd turned around to shout, ‘crucify him’. A life justified and sanctified as the potential for denial and betrayal. It is possible that through such denial and betrayal, the process of sanctification continues. Mary was content with this life of sanctification. But it was brought to a rude end with the crucifixion of our Lord. All her hope and joy was removed with one stroke. She could not wait to be with the dead body of her Lord and Master that she went out early on the last watch of the night. She may have set off by three in the morning.
We hear in John’s resurrection narrative that the grief of Mary was such that she cried her heart out. So, the angels try to console her first, and then the man she thought was the gardener tried to comfort her. She was longing to hear, not the words of comfort and consolation. Her heart and mind was longing to hear one last time, her name, called tenderly by the one who told her that her sins are forgiven and that she is the child of God. Those of us who have born the pain of grief and bereavement and bear the scar would know too well what it means to be called by some name by which you were lovingly called. Her heart was aching to hear one last time, ‘Mary’. Suddenly, her longing was fulfilled. The still small voice which called her tenderly before called her by name, ‘Mary’! Her heart leapt for joy. It felt the force of Resurrection. This is it.
The one that Mary longed to cling on to has spoken her name. The voice of the Risen Christ quickened her mortal body. The life of God had entered her soul and transformed it radically for her. The Spirit of the Risen Christ had entered her. She is a new creation. Is this what the theologians call, ‘glorification’?
During the holy week on Maundy Thursday some of us who were present, were anointed with the oil of infirmarium. This is the anointing unto healing of the body, mind and spirit. This is to affirm that we are justified by faith and are reconciled to God. And at the Easter Liturgy on the Holy Saturday, those of us who were present were anointed with the oil of catechumenate or baptism. In this we affirm our life of sanctification which peaks each time we experience crisis as did the disciples of our Lord. Today, before communion we will receive the anointing with the oil of Chrism to affirm the abiding presence of Christ in our lives and the assurance of that presence in the Holy Spirit. In this triple anointing we experience that wonderful exchange and have the life of God in our soul. As you receive the anointing today, hear the calling of your name in your hearts, the voice that calls you tenderly to say, ‘you are the beloved’!