Neither perseverance or faith are popular concepts today – together as ‘persevering faith’ I fear they will prove too great an obstacle for many. Yet as we celebrate Mary Magdalene in the church today I find her story inspirational.
I spent some time reflecting on her meeting with the risen Christ as recorded in John. It is noteworthy that it was Mary who after the Sabbath was the first to rise and make her way to the burial place of Jesus. If she is the same women who burst into Simon the Pharisee’s house to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears before anointing him with expensive perfumed ointment, it is perhaps no surprise that she desires to visit the tomb of the one she worshipped so extravagantly.
However, on approaching the tomb she immediately spotted something was wrong. The stone at the tomb’s entrance was tolled away. Fearing who knows what she ran to Simon Peter with her assumption that Jesus’ body had been taken. Whether by the authorities fearful of Jesus’ claims that he would rise from the dead or perhaps even his supporters so that they might claim Jesus had indeed risen we don’t know. It was ti be the miracle of Christ’s physical resurrection that made all human efforts at managing the story redundant. No place for the red tops here! Yet her alarm was such that Peter and John set off racing to the tomb to see for themselves.
John arrived first, followed by Peter who burst right into the chamber. Something stirred within for they sensed this was perhaps no robbery but the fulfilment of Jesus prophetic claims for himself. They left pondering this sense yet with uncertainty remaining. And whilst they left, Mary remained, now weeping.
As she gazed into the tomb her eyes adjusting to the darkness, she focussed upon two angels who spoke to her enquiring as anyone might after the reason for her tears. She showed no reaction to these angelic beings, still convinced her Lord and Master’s body had been stolen and she says as much before turning to become captivated with the first sighting of the risen Jesus.
At first she didn’t recognise him, and thinking he was the gardener again pleaded her cause for the return of Jesus’ body. Only when Jesus uttered her name, ‘Mary’ did she recognise him and was commissioned to be the first evangelist in history, returning to the disciples to announce, ‘I have seen the Lord’.
My reflections were influenced by my recent pilgrimages to Ireland and Assisi, and also words from Pope Gregory the Great in the Office of Readings. How often do I, or any of us, set out on a sacred path such as pilgrimage, only to return with a faint glimmer of understanding about who Jesus is and what it is God is saying to us? Yet Mary waited.
It is as if waiting is the hardest activity for anyone of us today – and perhaps an activity that is getting more difficult as society develops – or maybe deteriorates – in my mind this question is in the balance. The two disciples look into the tomb, have a sense of something and then they are off to speak to the others. Mary lingers. She is deeply sorrowful, weeping the scripture says, yet she waits.
Not only does she wait, she waits alone. For me the journey towards God’s heart is one I must take alone, creating time and space simply to wait upon God. This is never easy, and sadly I seem always able to justify why it is I leave God’s presence too soon. Mary had two qualities everyone of us who want to encounter God require. A faith that she will encounter Jesus – her constant question, ‘Where is the Lord?’, ‘Where have you taken him?’ Then, with that faith, the perseverance to simply sit in her sorrow and wait.
Reading the scripture we can easily imagine this was simply a matter of seconds, when it might have been a matter of hours. Whatever time it was is immaterial. God invites us to wait, to persevere, that we might listen and hear the voice of God.
For Mary she eventually recognised Jesus when she heard her name spoken. God knows me by my name, as God knows you by your name. And so it is after waiting and believing each of us will hear our voice spoken by the ever present God.
Whilst the disciples who visited the grave returned from the empty tomb with a message of Christ’s disappearance but no revelation of his resurrection, Mary who waited returned with a testimony of the substantial reality of God, a personal meeting with God with a testimony to share and a confidence to speak of the reality of the risen saviour.
In these days of the New Evangelisation each of us needs to make our way to the empty tomb, to wait in faith to hear our name called and return with a testimony of salvation, a testimony we can invite others to encounter with us at the empty tomb.