Print Version April 30th, 2000
At the end of the film “Terminator” Arnold Schwarzenegger—part-man, part-machine—is finally dying after being crushed, boiled and baked. Stripped right down to his metal skeleton he utters his last words—”I’ll be back!”
Schwarzenegger was the bad guy, but it’s the same for the good guys. At the end of another film—”Aliens 3″—the anguished hero, Ripley, gives her life to finally rid the universe of an awful alien creature. She is gone for good—or at least she was, for death is no obstacle when Hollywood recognises a cash cow, so back from the grave Ripley came—half alien herself—in a fourth film: Alien Resurrection.
Resurrection is very popular these days. There’s always the possibility of a sequel (or two) to milk some more cash from the movie-going public. Well, it may be a popular theme but it’s not the way to look at what we celebrate here this Easter morning. This is not the sequel. The Resurrection of Jesus is not a repeat performance of his life. This is not “The Nazarene Strikes Back” nor is it “Son of Son of God.” For one thing, sequels are never as good as the original —the hero returns and does all the same things over again with not one element of unpredictability. What we celebrate here is altogether unpredictable: a new life has been born.
But the birth wasn’t easy. If you listen to Mary’s story today you see how difficult. You realise how exhausted she must have been. And, if we ourselves have entered into the story, as we’ve retold it together in our three days of prayer, we will probably feel just as drained. For Mary, and for us, it has been a succession of intense feelings: a last and disturbing meal with a dear but doomed friend, betrayal and arrest, the waiting, the watching, the suffering, the dying, and then yet more waiting by his dead body in the tomb. And now it is all over, all done, all finished, Mary of Magdala is exhausted and distraught. And now, at the open tomb, her weeping is even more desperate than before because it seems they have taken away even the corpse and left her nothing to cling to, or mourn over.
If we have travelled with Mary these days, we have been mourning too—grieving for Jesus but also grieving for all his death evokes in us, all that seems dead in our own lives, all the failed hopes, the lost opportunities and dying dreams. We carry our own tomb with us—within us—and we don’t know why it is empty.
Then the Easter vigil comes and, overnight, darkness is transformed into light and death becomes life. Suddenly he who was dead is not dead, but alive. But, if we have any heart at all that good news is hard news. It takes time to absorb. It can’t just happen with the lighting of a candle. So there Mary is, bewildered, hanging around the tomb, when these two irritating angels say to her “Woman, why are you weeping?” which is a stupid question. Because, of course she’s weeping! Jesus might have moved from death to life but, as yet, Mary hasn’t. It takes time to grieve and time to accept that life is alive. Mary has to be coaxed out of her own tomb. She hears another voice ask the question: “Woman, why are you weeping?” and she doesn’t recognise it—yet. So she tells her story again, cradling the familiar hurt of it. Until that voice, his voice, speaks her name and lets her unclench her fingers from her burden of death, to receive again the gift of herself, tenderly given, and with it a mission, a call, to be an apostle to the apostles, to touch them too with life.
Jesus, the one death could not hold, is back—not to destroy his enemies but to console his friends. We will see this pattern over and over again in the next days and weeks: Jesus comes to meet friends who are hurting, and to do for them exactly what they need to bring them back to life. To the frightened disciples in the upper room he brings Peace; to the couple fleeing to Emmaus, hope; to the friend who cannot believe, faith; and, here, he pours out comfort for the comfortless Mary. Jesus comes as a friend to bring a friend back to life.
Coming back to life takes time, which is why the Church gives us time. The Church counts this whole coming week as one day—Easter day. And after it forty more days of Easter—a whole Lent’s worth—to unwind the way to Calvary and slowly get the message that Jesus is not dead and neither are we.
It may have happened already—it may take some time—but, however it happens, this Easter Jesus will come to each of us as the friend he is, to console us, to share with us his own joy. He knows what stands in the way of our joy and he knows how to get round it. No need is too big for him—or too small—in fact, the Risen Jesus has nothing else to do! Every single Resurrection story we have is a story of consolation—there is not a one of judgement or revenge—not a one. Jesus lives that we might live. And we, as we are brought to joy by his joy, have nothing else to do but befriend the world, and, through our care and consolation, help it out of the tomb.