In my Easter sermon, I talked about Mary Magdalene and the faith that brought her to the grave even though she thought her Lord was dead. This is not the mother of Jesus Mary, but the Mary who John presents at the end of the Gospel as a disciple. Many people might relate to the shaken but vital faith that compelled Mary to come to the grave.
Mary Magdalene is the first person to visit the tomb. But she doesn’t come because she believes Jesus is raised from the dead, despite the fact that Jesus had said he would be several times. Her later shock at finding an open grave and then not recognizing Jesus when she comes upon him shows that she expects to find the grave sealed tight. Jesus is dead, but still she comes. Though crucified and thus discredited in the world’s eyes, Mary comes because, dead or alive, she wants to be near Jesus. Believing or doubting, she is taking her stand with Jesus. How can hers be called faith?
Let’s remember what the Gospel of John calls faith. In chapter 15, Jesus tells his disciples that “as he has been loved by his Father, in the same way he has loved them. So, live in my love. Do so by keeping my Father’s commandments, and this is commandment #1: Love one another as I have loved you.”
A heart-broken, grief-stricken, disillusioned, Mary goes to the grave because she loves Jesus. It is not an intellectual conviction, or certainty, or strong opinion that brings her here. A lot of what she thought she knew and counted on is lost to her right now. Despite the fact that she believes Jesus is dead, and though she is confused as to where God is in all that has happened, she still believes in the God she met in Jesus. God makes no sense right now. But she still believes and still follows. Love brings her.
Can faith be like that? Can we love God even when we wonder if there is a God? Or when we wonder where God is when the evidence seems to say God is nowhere near?
Of course, I am not talking about any kind of God. I am talking about the God Mary came to know in Jesus Christ. I am talking about a good God. There are holocaust moments in history and in life when we wonder if good can stand up to evil; moments when it seems good has been gassed in a chamber and now is in a grave. The world will keep spinning no matter how we treat it or each other, and yet we can’t give up on the God who forbids stealing and murder and commands compassion for the frail and weak; a God before whom there is a real difference between right and wrong, good and evil.
And, I am talking about a love that believes life has meaning. Sometimes it seems that we make up our meaning and all that we think is meaningful goes with us into the grave. But love of God keeps us believing that life does have meaning, that there is a God that cares that we are here and wants us to live in ways that have purpose and reflect the values of justice and compassion- the values of what we in church call “The Kingdom of God.”
That’s Mary’s kind of love. She doesn’t go to the grave because he thinks God has won, or is certain everything will work out. She goes because the Lord she loves is there. Despite what the world did to Jesus or now says about him, she remains committed to him. I think she is even willing to die for what Jesus died for because she knows that what he died for is the only thing worth living for.
I suggest Easter is not just for those who want to celebrate the empty grave, but is also for those who are here because they cannot quit loving the God they doubt and are searching for, want to follow a God they cannot find, are confused about the one in whom they seek meaning, want to be with God even when they don’t expect to be intimate and confuse God for the gardener, and are willing to give their lives to a cause where justice and compassion matter even if sometimes they wonder if they do.
If the Easter news is true, and I believe it is, here’s the wonderful news for those whose faith is in a Magdelenic stage.
You love God?
Well God loves you.
Do you want proof that what you hope to be true is true; that God is real, God is good, God loves sinners, life has meaning and justice and compassion matter?
Sorry; love can’t be proven. Love can be known, but only as it is lived.
Do you feel it?
Whether you do or don’t, it doesn’t change anything; God still loves you.
Do you half believe it, still hoping it is true?
Well, that’s your issue and not God’s because this isn’t a tale where Tinkerbelle lives if we wish it hard enough. God’s existence and love don’t depend on your believing hard enough.
If your faith is in a “magdelenic stage,” keep coming to the grave. Keep waiting, watching and praying for those moments when you hear your name and the gardener turns out to be God.
George Anderson is Senior Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church. Visit them on the web at www.spres.org