Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Editor’s note: From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, bloggers for The Mennonite will write reflections on the Lectionary text. All eight reflections will be available at themennonite.org/lent. Sign up for our TMail newsletter and follow us on Facebook to receive the reflections.
Our local community context continues to change significantly. Nowadays it is easier to experience a domestic global reality. Local demographics reflect cultural diversity and practices, arts, political views, languages spoken in public spaces and at home, and faith traditions. It also reveals that financial disparities, white privilege and social injustices are at the forefront.
This reality affects and poses a challenge to our ecclesiology, holistic witness, theology and service. It also challenges our understanding and practice of mission.
Mission is an attribute of God that demands response in incarnate ways. It requires understanding and living out God’s message as we meet people where they are.
It seems that more than ever, the 21st-century church needs to have a constant resurrection experience and a breathing of the Spirit. Such experiences will challenge us to a witnessing practice that reflects salvation in holistic ways and to demonstrate a transformed life amid a polarized and divided society where xenophobia, misogyny, discrimination and racism, to name a few, continue to flourish and be empowered by a nonsensical rhetoric.
It is amid those deprived of basic human rights, neglected and underserved that I found the resurrection story a powerful narrative for hope. As I look at Mary Magdalene’s experience at the empty tomb, I found similarities and challenges for today.
As one accepted and loved by the Messiah, Mary’s account of the resurrection comes to us in a unique way as a key witness.
Her claim “I have seen the Lord” becomes powerful and intriguing. It challenges me to ponder questions like these: Why did the “pillars” of the church not show first at the tomb? Why Mary? There are several possibilities, but I like to think she came out of love for the One who taught her a better way, a redeemed and transformed life, and not only because it was the tradition.
She brought the news to Peter of the empty tomb: “They have taken the Lord out the tomb, and we don’t know where they had put him.” I can only imagine how shocking, painful and confusing was this new reality.
As Peter and John ran to the tomb, they noticed the linen folded, even the one piece set apart from the rest. The folded linen served as conduit to believe that Jesus had risen. “They saw and believed.”
Mary, through Jesus, experienced God’s love and redemption. This experience plus cultural custom may explain why she went to visit the tomb of a loved one, like Jesus.
Why three days? It was believed that a person’s spirit hovered around the tomb for three days. From John’s perspective, it is important to acknowledge this. Hence, the resurrection story finds relevance amid cultural belief.
The text emphasizes “early morning” on Sunday, referring to the last watch of the night. This means Mary came to the tomb between 3 and 6 a.m. I like to believe she did it out of love for the One who showed her forgiveness and acceptance and not only because she was an early riser. It seems she was no longer able to stay away from her Savior.
In John’s account, these are evidences of Jesus’ resurrection both for the audience of his time and for today’s reader. However, there is another intriguing fact: Mary goes directly to Peter.
Mary learned from her Master to extend grace, love, forgiveness and newness of life through her actions. She went to Peter, the one who denied Jesus in a public setting yet was also the leader of the early Jesus’ movement. The learning here is that a moment of weakness should not define a person’s true character.
Despite the moment of weakness and cowardly denial of his relationship with Jesus and adherence to this new movement portrayed as rebellious to the Roman empire and to the Jewish authorities, there is something outstanding, a lesson to be learned.
Peter was able to face the spiritual and moral demise. Also, he found the courage to face his peers and do some fixing. This may explain why he was with other disciples in the Upper Room.
John’s account of the Resurrection helps us recognize that love is powerful. In this case, it appears love was the capacity to see and act differently. It was also love that drew them to believe the Lord had risen. Undeniably, love gave them eyes to read the signs, a mind to understand, a heart to believe and the courage to commit themselves to respond as sent people.
In a similar fashion, the Resurrection of Jesus challenges us to act as a sent community.
Maybe we could start by living as local missionaries with a prophetic voice and lifestyle, announcing the coming of the kingdom and denouncing sin in whatever form.
May Jesus’ resurrection open our eyes to the new realities and help us respond in a Christlike manner.
Byron Pellecer is associate conference minister for Western District Conference. This article originally appeared in the conference newsletter WDC Sprouts.
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