Sunday, 31 March 2013

The men should have believed us

I should not blame the men for not believing us, but I do. The story was, coldly considered, incredible, but then the last year had been equally unbelievable. Jesus. His life, his death, all unbelievable. Yet, after all we had heard and seen and gone through, the men should not have turned to us and told us we were hysterical and not to be believed.

We had done what we always do. We had taken ointments for flesh that will never heal, perfumes that we know too well the stench of death will drown. Why? But we do. We cannot help it. I remember that Jesus told somebody to leave the dead to bury the dead, but no, we could not.

It was all the more grim because of the delay. We had done the best we could for his shattered body on the Friday, but we had little more than moments.

It was the Sunday, early. If you need do terrible things, do them as soon as possible. Go as soon as you are awake, without eating. If you have not slept, that will be early, before the light starts up. Best to go before the day starts to heat up, before the body starts to decay further. Understand, we know death. We know it as an intimate enemy, even as an occasional friend, but we know how death works. And then — none of us wanted to go that near the site of the execution. Remember how close the site of the execution was to the tomb, nestled in a dog-leg of the wall.

Rolling back the stone was not a challenge to women like us. But when we got there, the city making its first stirring noises behind the wall, the light starting to wash grey gently in, the stone was already rolled back. We were, oh, worried, but then he had so many who loved him, who might be there first, and what else could we do but go in?

There was no person. There was no body. And there was the shroud, lying there. Even had somebody moved the body, they would have kept it in the shroud. We had been steeling ourselves for the unwrapping of the shroud, now, over a day later, and after a hurried committal.

I don’t know when we began to take in the shining figures. It seemed absurd afterwards that they were not the first thing we saw, but they were not. When we did see them, another kind of fear filled us.

They spoke. They asked why we would look for a living person among the dead. Our hearts filled with images our minds could not grasp. Light, and water, and dazzle. Fear transformed to awe. Awe to something so stupendous that neither mind nor heart could rise to its level. I no longer know if we dared to leave the shining figures, or if they went as silently as they came. The next thing I remember is running back to the rest, to the men.

When we burst in through the door of the house where we lodged, with the words of angels ringing in our ears, and the shining reflected in our faces, and a growing confidence in our voices, the men should have believed us. But they did not. Not then.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah on Sunday, 31 March 2013 at 6:00am BST | TrackBack
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"..the men should have believed us. But they did not. Not then." - Rosemary Hannah -

So what's changed, Rosemary? - except that the Holy Spirit is working through the faith of those women whose understanding of God's call upon their lives, to make a difference. Let's hope the men wake up!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 31 March 2013 at 10:54am BST

I stole this piece for my sermon today ...thanks Rosemary! And added a bit more:

And later. In the garden. I was there alone. My eyes were tired with weeping. I couldn’t see properly. I spoke to the gardener. Sir, I said, they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.

Mary! he said. And I recognised him. And joy and love flooded through me, an avalanche of happiness. Rabbouni, I said, which means teacher. I moved to embrace him: but he drew away. Noli me tangere, he said. Do not touch me. But go to my brothers and tell them what you have seen.

I was upset by that. Of course I was, at the time. There it was: that astonishing moment, when the one I thought was dead had returned, when the misery I felt had turned into joy. Of course I wanted to fling my arms round him and hold him to me. Do not touch me, he said.

But I understand it now. It makes sense. He did leave – after that – not long after – and we were on our own. But it felt better; so much better. Because, somehow, we knew that he loved us. We knew that we were loved. As we are, and as we were. Me, Mary, the woman from whom he cast out seven demons. He loved me then. He loves me now, and he will love me always. And that’s what the others say, as well …. It makes sense to them, now. Yes, we’re on our own; but we’re not, and never will be. Every bit of us is loved. And that morning, in the garden – that was the moment it all changed. It all became different; it all became new. And nothing will ever be the same again.

Posted by: Giles Goddard on Sunday, 31 March 2013 at 1:21pm BST

"Sir, I said, they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." -- Mary Magdalene

Giles Goddard, I've often thought these were the most poignant words of the Gospel Passion stories. I can feel Mary's pain and anguish in those words. Then, Jesus says "Mary!"
The women saw and heard and understood.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Sunday, 31 March 2013 at 6:14pm BST

I am very flattered it was stealable - I did not put John's story about Mary in because I wanted to stick to one account, and chose Luke's. I think my telling is fairly close to that single account. But I do agree on how moving John's account is. However, it is bitter-sweet, and I wanted to get to the 'alleluia' moment. And getting the women to that moment meant that I could, hopefully, pose a double challenge. Firstly, the one picked up on above, that the men failed to hear the women as some still do. Secondly, and more subtly, that the reason for believing, or not, is the way people are changed by their experiences - that we believe, or not, because of the glow on a face, the echo of angels in a voice. And that, taken together with the things over which we are concerned and how we live, is all the outside world is ever going to have to go on when they ask if what we believe is true.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Sunday, 31 March 2013 at 10:44pm BST

'Secondly, and more subtly, that the reason for believing, or not, is the way people are changed by their experiences - that we believe, or not, because of the glow on a face, the echo of angels in a voice. And that, taken together with the things over which we are concerned and how we live, is all the outside world is ever going to have to go on when they ask if what we believe is true.'

I'm deeply resistant to this sort of appeal, and I certainly do not think it is the sort of thing we should be saying to the outside world. But you probably know that's my view, Rosemary. Happy Easter.

Posted by: John on Monday, 1 April 2013 at 11:38am BST

@John - people will believe if they see us changed. If we are not - they will not. Instinctively, they believe that you know a tree by its fruits. Joy, faith, resilience, the love of others, kindness to them, the ability to work for justice and show mercy - these are things that change the attitude of people. The joy of the angels, reflected, should have convinced the disciples. Real truth remains what it was - the one way, truth, life.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 1 April 2013 at 6:03pm BST

Rosemary,

I wouldn't dispute that what you describe has some force. but I don't think it has much force. It's the first-century prescription. Life now is so much more complicated and there are so many more different possibilities and 'stories'. Christianity at least in the west badly needs gifted apologists. It's losing - perhaps has already lost - the battle for hearts and minds. We absolutely won't get such 'apologies' from the likes of Justin Welby or pope Francis, and C.S. Lewis is crude and out-dated. Spufford is better, but ...

To go back to your piece. I'm very uncomfortable when I read 'the joy of the angels'. I don't believe in angels (though I sing about them). I think serious expositions of Christianity, whether 'in-house' or for others, absolutely have to ditch unbelievable embellishments and concentrate on essentials. So for example at Christmas we can sing and read about non-existent shepherds and angels, but it is a mistake to base sermons on them.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 5:27pm BST

Ah, but I do believe in angels - I really do. I suspect more people believe in them than believe in the more sophisticated Christian theology that 99% of people on this site believe, and I include those I deeply disagree with in that. I agree with focusing on the essentials - not on avoiding the less essential but still beautiful peripheries. When I used to preach at Christmas (island, no ferries therefore no priest) I led a genuinely all age service and always preached on John 1 - on light, on love and on the inevitable cost of love - and I am convinced that was totally right. But so are the shepherds 'right' - never more so than when the poor are being ostracised. Nor are angels a soft option. They are usually described as terrifying - but they are also exhilarating. I would never want dumbed-down angels - but oh, yes, I believe in the joy of the angels

I have no time for dumbed-down faith, for moralism-as-faith. I have no time, either, for the kind of moralism that wrecks lives. I am utterly for an inclusive church - but I also want Corpus Christi ...

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 11:47pm BST

I agree entirely with your last paragraph, Rosemary. In any case, there is no quarrel here.

Best.

Posted by: John on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 at 8:44am BST

Its not something new , of course, but I dusted off and have been using "All Desires Known" by Janet Morley to mark the current seasons.

Got round to this one this morning, "O God of the Powerless you have chosen as your witnesses those whose voice is not heard.Grant that, as women first announced the resurrection though they were not believed, we too may have courage to persist in proclaiming your word in the power of Jesus Christ."

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 5 April 2013 at 12:18am BST
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