The Simple Message of Resurrection
When I was a little girl, as far back as I can remember, I was scared to sleep away from my parents. Maybe it was because my dad was suffering from severe clinical depression and sometimes could not get out of bed in the morning. Maybe it was because I felt that my mother needed my help. There could be all kinds of psychological explanations but I did not know why and I did not really care. All I knew was that when I went to bed at a friend’s house, I felt so afraid.
My friend Heidi lived just down a country drive from the place where we would stay in the summer. She wanted so desperately for me to sleep over. After days of her pleading and coaxing, I was convinced I could do it this time. After all, I practically lived at her house anyway! I was about six-years-old. We lay down to sleep in Heidi’s bedroom and Heidi fell asleep quickly.
Then I thought about it…there I was, in a dark room, alone. And with that thought came the feeling…this feeling of total emptiness, of a darkness beyond my comprehension, a darkness that might swallow me. I felt that I was the only person awake in the whole universe. I was being cut off from the entire world. I was totally and inconceivably alone. It was a kind of primal terror that I can’t even put into words to this day.
Heidi’s bedroom was on the first floor. So I pried open the window and climbed out of Heidi’s small house. I walked home in my bare feet and my nightgown. I remember looking at my feet as I tiptoed in the dark that night. I was a failure. I was afraid of being alone.
Mary was born in the town of Magdala, a prosperous town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. She too was a little girl who had to learn to be alone sometimes but something happened to Mary. Something really hard. We don’t know what it was. Maybe a relative of hers started hurting her in secret. Maybe she just started fainting and writhing on the ground for no reason at all. Maybe she saw something horrible that scared her and made her talk to herself. But as Mary grew into a woman, she became different, very different.
Luke the writer of the gospel says that Mary had seven demons. Mary did seven strange and unexplainable things, things that she could not help doing. These demons could have been diseases like turrets, epilepsy or Parkinson’s. Maybe it was schizophrenia or maybe she cut herself. We don’t know what Mary was doing specifically but there were seven different things. Seven ways in which she did not act like a normal person. Mary had seven strange behaviors. And for these seven reasons, Mary would have found herself alone, totally and completely alone.
No one thought it was your fault if you had a demon. It was the demon that was bad, not the person it possessed. But nevertheless, in Jesus’ time, people were scared of those who acted differently. People were scared of those who had demons. And so they were often left alone, totally alone.
This is really still true today. We see it here on the streets of downtown Jacksonville. Candy, who sometimes yells and talks to her hand, Denise, whose legs are so swollen but does not want to come inside and writes long Bible studies for me that make no sense. We still have people who act strangely today, people who scare us and who we leave alone because we don’t know what to do with them. But Jesus wasn’t afraid and Jesus did not leave them alone. And he still doesn’t, even today. If you want to catch a glimpse of Christ, to feel closer to God, come downtown to be with the homeless. I believe you can see Christ best among the poor.
Mary Magdalene was a possessed woman and she was cut off. Her family would have had nothing to do with her. Demoniacs were often homeless or forced to wander around in graveyards or on the outskirts of villages. Did Mary get scared at night too? When she was sleeping outside alone? Did she feel lonely too?
When Jesus came, Mary was healed. He simply made it better in a way that only God can do. Her demons were gone. I cannot imagine her joy when she realized that all her illnesses, all her tormentors, all the strange and scary things that ruled over her body and mind were gone. She was so glad that she followed Jesus everywhere. Mary Magdalene did not let Jesus out of her sight. With him, she was not alone. With him, she found a home.
And then the nightmare came back. For reasons that she could not understand, the Roman authorities arrested Jesus, beat him and killed him. Mary, refusing to leave his side, stood at the foot of the cross and watched as the life drained out of his body. Jesus left her there, standing on top of that horrible hill. She was cut off again. She was alone. The darkness and the fear must have come back then in full force. Once more, she was alone. I can just hear the voices in her head saying, “See! It did not last! You do not deserve love! In the end, you will always be alone!”
In her desperation, Mary followed his body as they laid it in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. She watched as they rolled the giant stone in front of the tomb. And then she waited.
In the morning of the first day of the week, Mary walked to the tomb while it was still dark because she couldn’t stand being alone. She couldn’t stand being cut off. At least she could be near his dead body. At least she could be near his body. She walked in the darkness to find the only home she had ever had. Even if all that remained of Jesus was his body, it was all she had.
When she saw that the stone was rolled away, she was again afraid. Aren’t we always afraid when things turn out differently than we thought? Mary was crying by the tomb when Jesus appeared to her and she felt so lonely, so cut off that she didn’t even recognize him until he said her name.
For years, I studied the resurrection. It is about eternal life, I thought. It is about life after death. It is about things beyond our comprehension, about heaven and yes, it is about all these things but there is something more, something much simpler that God was trying to tell us when Jesus came back to us. God was telling us something so simple that I almost didn’t see it until now. For years, I just overlooked the most simple and profound message of all.
More than anything else, we human beings are afraid of being left alone. We are afraid of being cut off, being alone in the universe, being the only one left in the darkness. That is the essence and heart of our fear. We are afraid of dying yes, but really what we are afraid of is being left alone in the darkness. We are afraid of nothingness. All of us will climb out windows and walk through darkness just to find a way back home so that we are not alone.
When Jesus returned, he was telling us something profound about the nature of God. And it is this.
God does not leave. It is not part of God’s nature. God will not leave us, no matter what we do.
Even if we kill God, God will not leave. God will return. God will rise.
God will allow us to leave Him, yes, it is true that we can turn our backs on God. But God’s nature is never to leave us. Never. God will always return and God will always come back.
There is nothing to be afraid of now, little children, Jesus says to us. You cannot get rid of me. You cannot kill me or destroy me. Nothing you can do will make me leave you. Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. Nothing.
I will always return. I will always rise.
- The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead