Mary Magdalene Returns to the Empty Tomb a Year Later

The Rev. Evan Keely, Interim Minister


Reading: John 20:1-18

Forgetting’s not an option. Everything
we saw, and said, and knew
and heard and felt and touched is still with me.
In my mind’s ear, the crowds still break into
my waking thoughts, the ring
of cheers and weeping, outstretched hands, a tree
that shaded us as we
encountered humankind upon the road,
or in the fields, or homes, or places where
the loneliest in their
abodes await to reap what they have sowed
in tears. Our good news showed
them that they all deserved
a joy. This was my faith. We were not wrong.
This is the faith I served.
I can’t forget. I won’t shut down my song.

A year’s gone by. So much has changed, so much
remains too much the same.
Unanswered questions linger, intertwined
with victory and loss, with praise and blame,
commingled strength of such
and so much ruminating fear, defined
by pain and bliss combined.
You daughters of Jerusalem! A year’s
gone by since life erupted from this tomb,
and from it we exhume
a weave of rich-hued joys with pallid tears,
a braid of hopes and fears
by this rolled stone where I
rejoiced, like Sarah laughing in the tent
(a laugh she would deny).
You daughters, come, and help me to lament.

King Jeroboam made Israel to sin:
his sacrifices burned
not to our forebears’ holiness, but to
convenient vanities. Because he turned
away from what had been
held sacred by our heritage, and threw
away what Jacob knew
to be none other but the very gate
of heaven, and the house of God, then all
the people were in thrall
to his iniquities. We can relate
to that ancestral fate:
I see a year has passed,
and yet the witness of my hearing says
my people still hold fast
to easy lies and bogus promises.

Have we forgotten who we are? We stepped
into the Sea of Reeds,
looked up and saw the waters whisked aside
like dust: You brought us out, a God that leads.
As enemies were swept,
rider and horse, beneath the crushing tide,
You never left our side:
commotion reigned, we scrambled past the waves;
we struck a timbrel when we reached the shore,
and danced. That was before.
Redemption now is laid in Roman graves.
New servitude enslaves
Elijah’s children now.
Dear God, I didn’t know we’d sunk so far
until I saw us bow
suppliantly before SPQR.

Does any child of Abraham now doubt
that we’ve all been deceived,
run like a dray-mare by a mocking prod,
undone as just enough of us believed
mellifluous, devout
prevarications of a pious fraud
invoking Isaac’s God?
Some foreign, hostile altar’s where we’re schooled
at gladly sacrificing our firstborn,
though many tried to warn,
refusing to believe we could be fooled
as facts were overruled.
I warned. By God, I warned
that we would rue the careless day we sold
our birthright. But we scorned
redemption for a mess of pottage gold.

Divine Augustus is the god to whom
my people make their prayers;
our high priest Caiaphas is dean of bribes
and libels; Herod is a king of tares.
We scorn the empty tomb,
give pompous Roman names to our twelve tribes;
our elders and our scribes
collude — their Latin lines are well-rehearsed —
and Judah shrugs, indifferent to the plot
they’ve hatched. The worst is not,
so long as we can say, “This is the worst.”
Our pledge was uncoerced
with no chance to recant;
we wash our hands but never can get clean,
defiled by what we can’t
un-hear, by what can never be un-seen.

Ancestral gifts are not so easily
discarded. I will bring
the covenant we promised when we fled
from degradation toward a thundering
redemption, when the sea
gave way for us. A fiery pillar lead
us on, unleavened bread
still flaking off our cloaks. I am an heir
to this fierce miracle, and in my time
I’ve known a glory: I’m
the one, the first one who became aware
of what had happened there:
the stone was rolled away —
at first I didn’t see, but then I came
to know: our scorching day
had set; a bracing moon had cooled our shame.

And as I go my way through Galilee,
or Caesarea or
Emmaus, I can hear the grumbled lies:
“Hey, there goes Mary Magdalene, the whore!”
Their glib duplicity
may trod me in the dirt, but still I’ll rise.
It wasn’t a surprise
to me, here in Jerusalem, to find
as I walked on, not long since I returned,
an honor guard: I turned
a corner: on the road, young women lined
both sides. Their eyes inclined
toward me, and they all gave
a cheer for me: their hope and hurt poured out,
a deafening blue wave.
And I felt loved and lifted by the shout.

I know that resurrection happens. Spring
does not come instantly;
the trumpet sounds, and we shall all be changed,
but rising up takes time communally.
We’ll change, and we will bring
release from all that’s sundered and estranged:
when things get rearranged
like that, we’ll make creation quake. When thunder
rolls, it’s not the lightning flash that sounds:
the thudding roar rebounds
as lightning-blasted winds are split asunder;
the world will gape in wonder
as stunning blitzes flash,
enlightening beneath the storming skies
a billion footsteps’ crash
in thunderous march as all my people rise.

My sassiness upsets,
my haughtiness offends; I can’t keep quiet.
Without apology, I’ll sing my song
and speak this truth as long
as this heart beats, a one-woman riot
of good news. We’re not yet
where we could be, but we’ll
keep going till the liberation of
God’s people’s been made real
for everyone, and hate is trumped by love.

Reading: John 20:19-22