Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Whom Are You Looking For? Why Are You Weeping? What Are We To Do?

The meeting of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is one of the most poignant scenes in the gospels. After she first met Jesus she became one of the women who travelled in Jesus’ company. She was very different from the rest of them, all of whom were from Galilee, and were relatives of Jesus and his disciples.

At the time of Jesus’ passion and death, Mary his mother and these other women followed him through the terrible events that led from the Last Supper to Calvary. They stood with Mary at the foot of the cross as He suffered and died. After the burial of Jesus, Magdalene and the others came with spices and perfumed oils to anoint the body of Jesus.

We can easily understand and sympathize with Magdalene who is distraught at finding that the body of Jesus is not in the tomb. To the man she believes to be the gardener, she expresses her concern to find the body so that she can clean it and prepare it for a proper burial. She is resolute in completing this mission, because of her great love for Jesus.

Then comes the poignant moment when “the gardener” speaks her name. “Mary!” Did he speak aloud? Did he whisper? Was it the tone, or the inflection? Something about that voice, saying her name reached into the depths of her being, and she knows that it is Jesus, who was dead and is alive again, as he had promised. Then she does something any of us would do, whether family member or friend, woman or man, grownup or child: She wraps her arms around him and holds on for dear life!

Jesus gently tells her to let go. But then he gives her a most significant task: “Go tell my brothers that I am going to God my Father, who is God your Father.” She is “the Apostle to the Apostles”, the bearers of good news to the bearers of good news, who will preach the good news to the whole world.

Today’s first reading brings us fifty days forward from the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven upon the apostles and other disciples gathered in the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Passover with Jesus.

Peter went out into the Temple Square and said to the people gathered there for the great harvest festival of Shavuot, seven weeks after Passover (which is why the Greeks call it Pentcost, which simply means “Fifty”).
 “Everyone in Israel should know for sure that God has made Jesus Lord and Messiah, even though you put him to death on a cross.
 “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and your sins will be forgiven. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, for your children, and for everyone whom the Lord our God will call.” On that day, about 3000 people heard and believed his message, and were baptized.

This is an amazing event. Peter is speaking to the people of Jerusalem, and Jewish people from the entire world gathered for the festival. (You can find the list in Acts 2:8-12). And all of them heard in their own languages. But we will talk more about that when the time comes.
Now, let us remember that among the people Peter is addressing are people whose leaders sought to silence Jesus by having him crucified, killed and buried. He announces that the person they helped to execute was the Lord, and they are moved to shame. They ask him, “What are we going to do now?” and he answers simply: “Say that you’re sorry, and mean it.” Ask forgiveness, and God will grant it, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. The promise made to your ancestors, to you, and to your offspring, and for everyone throughout the world whom the Lord will call shall be fulfilled.

The underlying message here is best phrased as a question, “How do we treat those who mistreat us?” Pilate asked “I’ve freed Barabbas. What shall I do with Jesus?” The crowd answered, “Crucify him!” God forgave them, and Peter welcomed them into the Church. What would you say if you met someone who had a hand in crucifying Jesus? I’m willing to wager that your first thought would not be of forgiveness and love. Remember that, the next time you look in a mirror. For the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, to be effective, we must accept God’s forgiveness, offer that forgiveness to others, especially when that is difficult – and the most difficult is to forgive ourselves for not living up to our own ideals. The preacher of Pentecost is depicted in classical painting as having two deep ridges running down his cheeks from his eyes to the corners of his mouth. They represent the tears he shed in sorrow for having denied the Lord three times in Pilate’s courtyard. Forgive, as the Lord has forgiven you.

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