“Jesus was afraid” ~ Rachel Virginia Hester, (Please go read her blog, because she’s amazing: https://thegenerouspine.com/ )
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” ~ June Jordan, Poem for South African Women (from Passion 1980)
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter, and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him…
Then the disciples returned to their homes…
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb…
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he said these things to her.” ~ John 20:1-2, 10-11, 18
I didn’t have a Good Friday sermon. I’m not even sure I have a good Friday prayer. Sometimes it’s just “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” I don’t know what to do with Easter in our post-resurrection church calendar. I only know how to sit in the ashes and grieve most days because trauma is a bitch and this world has so much pain…I don’t know what I need.
But I do know I need a fucking resurrection. As a seminary student, I’m sure I’m supposed to feel something during Holy Week. This year, I felt more of a Holy Saturday than an Easter Sunday but I’m so longing for a resurrection. Yet, I keep coming back to post-resurrection Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
I keep thinking about Jesus as someone who had fresh wounds that hadn’t healed yet. Jesus shows up in front of the disciples with wounds NOT YET SCARS, fresh out of the grave (give or take a few days). And some of them don’t even believe him (re: Thomas, though he’s my favorite disciple).
So, he shows up to Mary Magdalene first. She gets to see his bloody scars first and the disciples don’t fucking believe her. There’s this saying I grew up hearing, “Preach from your scars, not your wounds.” I’m in seminary as a queer person who wants to do pastoral care. But how the hell can you heal if you’re constantly being wounded and re-traumatized by a church that doesn’t believe you. How do you do this thing called pastoral care working with churches and people who have also been wounded by churches? Of course, Brene Brown had a response for my questions: “How can you let yourself be loved if you won’t let yourself be seen?” (from Call to Courage a talk now on Netflix) The best advice comes in the form of a question sometimes.
This next part I call the queering of Mary Magdalene. Let’s do some midrash. Mary Magdalene is a bit of a mystery and yet she is mentioned BY NAME in all four gospels. John places her at the crucifixion of Jesus–she witnesses Jesus be brutally murdered. When others leave or question her words or her place in Jesus’ story, Mary stays. Mary doesn’t question. She soaks it all in and runs to tell the disciples about the resurrection even when they don’t believe her. A woman preached and men didn’t believe her. What else is new?
Why was Mary so special that she’s a common thread in every gospel? Why is she important? Luke just tells us she had seven demons cast out of her and she’s always described as “Mary of Magdalene” identifying her name and where she came from. John thinks she’s so important that he records a dialogue between Mary and Jesus that the other women who were there don’t get.
Based off James Carroll’s article in the Smithsonian Magazine (June 2006) on “Who was Mary Magdalene,” he notes: “What we are getting is not history but memory.” And whoever wrote John’s Gospel…I love his memory. Because the picture he paints is of a woman who’s seen some shit and gets to see Jesus first. Mary gets a speaking part that’s passed on to us.
Mary Magdalene amazes me and I feel connected to her through time. It may be a one way mirror but Mary Magdalene’s story seems queer as hell. Mary doesn’t just visit the tomb, see he’s not there, and go on her merry way. She runs to tell everyone else, and GOES BACK to the tomb. The disciples (well, Peter and John) see the empty tomb and go back home.
Mary sticks around. She sticks around to see what happens next because she loves Jesus that much. She needs a fucking resurrection too. She’s been through too much to give up yet. She watches Jesus be murdered by the State and religious leaders who can’t handle his challenge to power and radical love of neighbor. Talk about some trauma.
So yeah, when Jesus shows up again, she’s ready…
She’s in shock and she’s grieving, not recognizing him at first. But she’s ready. And yet we still don’t believe her. She is scandalized and known as the woman who had seven demons cast out of her. History remembers her as a prostitute–she’s thought of as a slut even though there’s no real evidence of this. Mary, they still don’t believe me either. Girl, I get you.
Thomas, bless his heart, says “Let me see this bloody mess for myself–then I will believe.” And no one calls him a slut for it. The worst he gets is “doubting Thomas.”
They tell me I don’t belong and that my faith and message aren’t worthy. So why do we stay? The question perhaps isn’t why Mary. I think the question is why Jesus?
Why believe at all when we will be wounded for it? Why do we stick around when no one else does.
When churches decide to kick us out, when churches are doing the wounding, and we go back in anyway.
Mary, you were wounded and you kept helping, kept healing. You had to heal yourself first and kept being wounded. But you showed up anyway.
Dr. Julie Todd, one of my professors gave a moving poem as a speech for Honors Convocation at my school recently. She says from her poem When Spires Fall, “Standing in the empty tombs, what can we imagine. Let’s not even call it resurrection. Resist the urge to fall back into old habits and old concepts. Let’s call it creativity. Let’s call it joy. Let’s call it the threat of possibility.”
People ask queer folks, why keep showing up? Why keep showing up in spaces that have pushed you out, told you that you don’t belong, have imposed life-limiting theologies on you instead of that which was life-giving… (this concept comes from Carrie Doehring in The Practice of Pastoral Care)
Why keep showing up?
Because at some point, we decided Jesus was worth it.
Because Jesus had wounds and so do we.
Because “Jesus was afraid” and so are we.
Because we can heal.
Because we don’t want any more people to be wounded and need healing like we did.
Because healing is worth sticking around for.
Because of the “threat of possibility…”
Because “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…”
Todd continues in this movement,
“The rich and powerful fear nothing more than the empty space of pure possibility filled with the sounds of the pounding of thousands of pairs of feet of the ones who inspire no donations whose march began with whispers and dreams and not spires but raised fists and ferocious self-affirmations pointing upward lifting songs & doing drag shows the highest amplitude of loving the highest altitude of non-conformity sparking an uncontrollable heat that yes, will cause fires when spires fall, who are we?”
We are here being healed and reclaiming sacred spaces. Like holding drag shows in chapels, wearing binders on bodies, bowties and make up, glitter and rainbows. Pride flags and fists raised, our voices lifted up. These are a few of my favorite queers. We are bending the ears of those who refuse to hear us so that we cannot be ignored.
Let us heal our wounds and help others heal theirs too. Heal and be healed.
Blessed are the ones who are wounded for they shall be healed.
Blessed be the scars that marked our journeys here to healing. Amen.
Sources used and referenced:
When Spires Fall, by Julie Todd, for Honors Convocation at Iliff School of Theology, 4/24/19
The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach by Carrie Doehring
The Call to Courage, Brene Brown, now on Netflix
Rachel Virginia Hester, from a thread on Twitter and conversations we have often