This week, this Holy Week, two worlds collided. Two ways of life clashed. Not for the first time. Not for the last time. But there was a conflict, a collision with profound implications.
There was the world of Pilate. The world of Empire, the world of power, the world of the realists. A way of life based on self-interest and privilege. Us vs them. Doing what it takes. I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine. We know this world, with its grievances and resentments, its competitiveness and conflict. It’s still around.
But then there was this other world. The world of Jesus, the one he called the kingdom of God. A world in which the poor and the hungry and those who mourn are blessed. A world in which the oppressed are set free. A world in which the hurt and wounded are being healed. A world of peace. A way of life based on self-giving love, forgiveness and compassion, based on love of God, and love of neighbour. Even if the neighbour is an enemy. We know this world too. We long for this world. We live in hope.
Mary Magdalene had become a part of Jesus’ world. Jesus had changed her life. She’d been healed and set free. Mary had become one of his followers, and she and the other disciples had been like family, traveling together, living out a communal way of life based on love and forgiveness and compassion, with Jesus at the centre of it all. Jesus’ world had given Mary hope. But that hope was put to the test when Jesus’ world and Pilate’s world collided.
You could see it coming on Palm Sunday. That day there were two parades coming into Jerusalem for the Passover festival, one coming from the east, and the other from the west. From the east came Jesus, sitting on a donkey, unarmed, proclaiming peace. From the west came Pilate, mounted on a war horse, at the head of an Imperial procession which proclaimed its own message: don’t mess with the power of the Empire. From the moment these two worlds collided, the power of Pilate’s world was on display. The authorities began to confront Jesus and intimidate his followers. Jesus’ disciples started to fall away, sucked into the vortex of Pilate’s world. Judas betrays Jesus, handing him over to be arrested. Peter, who at one point boasts that he would even die for Jesus, ends up denying him three times before the cock crows. The Jewish leaders manipulate the crowds. Pilate condemns Jesus to death, and orders his soldiers to nail him to a cross. In the clash of the two worlds, it looks like Pilate’s world has won.
Even to Mary Magdalene it looked that way. She stayed with Jesus, she and the other women, they stayed there right until the end, standing at the foot of the cross. But now he’s gone, dead and buried, and Mary’s world has crumbled all around her. In the wake of Good Friday, even Mary is being dragged into Pilate’s world. Early on the first day of the week, she goes to the tomb. It’s dark. She sees that the stone has been removed and she immediately assumes that the body has been stolen. After all, isn’t that what happens in Pilate’s world? She’s afraid, she’s alone, she’s bent over, she weeps.
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
Because everything I’d hoped for has been taken away from me.
Because just when I’d started to believe there was another way of living, it’s gone.
Because my world has just collapsed. “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”
“Woman why are you weeping?”
Because Pilate’s world has won.
Even when Mary sees Jesus standing there, she is still distraught. Supposing him to be the gardener, she accuses him of stealing the body! When your hopes and dreams have been stolen, everyone you meet starts to look like a thief.
Mary, like Judas, like Peter, is being sucked into Pilate’s world.
And that’s when Easter happens.
Jesus calls her by name.
Jesus calls her back. Jesus reaches out and grabs her, he pulls her out of the spinning vortex of Pilate’s world and brings her back into his world, his way, his kingdom.
He calls her by name. He calls her into the life of the resurrection, into new life, into life that will prevail, even over death itself.
She turns. And she returns to the way of Jesus. In that Easter moment, she is the one who is raised to new life. In that Easter moment she knows that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, she knows once again that there is hope. That despite all appearances to the contrary, Pilate’s ways are not the last word. The way of Jesus will prevail. Raised from the dead.
And Mary grabs on. Her instinctive reaction, and who can blame her, is to grab Jesus, to hold on for dear life, to never let go of this hope that she had lost but now has found. But that’s not Jesus’ way either. In Jesus’ world, in Jesus’ kingdom, hope is not something that we hold onto for ourselves. Hope is something we share, something we give to others, something we shout out from the rooftops.
“Don’t hold onto me. Go to my brothers and sisters and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God.”
Jesus has opened a way for you and me to have same relationship with God that he has, a relationship for which the image of a loving parent is about as close as we can get. He wants us to be God’s children, wants us to embrace the way of life that he came to show us. A way of peace. A way of healing. A way of reconciliation. A way of justice, especially for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. A way of compassion. A way of mercy and forgiveness. A way of generosity. A way of love.
Now the Pilate’s of this world would tell us that that’s all just wishful thinking. That we’re just not being realistic in thinking that life can be this way. That power and self-interest will win in the end. But they’re wrong.
I know they’re wrong because Jesus Christ is risen and alive, and he is calling us by name to be his brothers and sisters in this new way of life that he has taught us. Jesus’ world has prevailed. Love wins. And so, live in Jesus’ world, live in the way he showed us. Love God. Love your neighbour. Do justice, practice forgiveness, show compassion, to all people. And never, ever lose hope.
For we are an Easter people.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Homily: Easter, April 1 2018, St. Albans
Readings: Acts 10.34-43; Ps 118; 1 Cor 15.1-11; John 20.1-18