The End that is the Beginning

chi-rho-sign-of-constantine-as-alpha-omega

Easter Sunday
April 16, 2017
The Rev. Austin Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

On Friday, the people put all their eggs in the Emperor’s basket, professing ultimate faith in the Empire while Jesus, the Son of God, died upon the cross.

It was the end of the story for the disciples that had left their nets in Galilee to follow the special man from Nazareth…an end for the masses who had received healing and hope at his hands…an end for those who saw Jesus and his counter cultural way as nothing more than a threat that needed to be stopped.

But perhaps most painfully so, it was the end for the two Marys who had stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross and witnessed each agonizing reach for breath, each drop of precious blood falling toward the parched earth, each jeer and taunt leveled squarely at the man they loved.

Mary Magdalene’s love of Jesus and her place as one of his closest disciples would not allow her to abandon him in his final hours, even though so many of the other disciples had done so.

But the other Mary…she too was there at the bitter end, and watched the entire tragedy as a sword pierced her heart.

Because that is what a mother would do.

Though she is not mentioned as Mary the mother of Jesus, the other Mary is almost surely the one who had said “Yes” to this divine gift being born through her, and had witnessed the countless miracles that her son had performed over the years.

This “other” Mary was also the one who recently heard her biological son ask, “Who is my mother?” and who experienced that question as a rejection, or at least, as a break in that foundational relationship between mother and son.

And as her son shouldered the heavy load of that cross laid upon his back by the Empire, wearing the mocking crown of thorns that had already dug into the precious forehead she had kissed so many times throughout the years, Mary was the one whom Jesus instructed to be mother to another disciple, and for that disciple to be son to her.

Just as Peter had no understanding about the washing of his feet before the last supper until much later, I doubt that Mary Magdalene or the other Mary had any understanding about why Jesus had died, nor where life would lead from there on out, as they went in grief and numbness to the tomb that morning.

But then came the earthquake, the seismic shift that marked the end of one story and the beginning of another.

Perhaps they had not fully grasped Jesus’ words when he met with them on the Mount of Olives across from the Temple before his Passion: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places:  all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

But when the angel stood before them, seeming like the Angel of Death to the guards that stood watch over the tomb, perhaps they began to understand.

“You have nothing to fear,” the angel says, “only something to witness and something to go and tell.”

In that moment, the end of the story became the beginning of a new one.

Like wheat that must die and fall into the earth before it produces more life, Jesus’ death is a death that creates something new—a new story and reality in place of the old story that the world has always known.

For those willing to follow where he leads, the new story does not promise an easy fix to life’s problems, nor an anesthesia to pain and suffering, but rather changes the lens through which we view such trials and hardship.

What the way of Jesus DOES promise, however, is life and life in abundance.

Because the new story is all about reimagined relationships.

A new relationship between God and God’s creation.

A new relationship between Crucified and Crucifier.

A new understanding of what it means to be family in the only story that survives death and the grave.

I think that’s why Mary the mother of Jesus is referred to as “The other Mary” instead of by her familiar title.

She is still his mother, but her more important status now is that of member of the body, fellow disciple, first proclaimer and herald of the resurrection.

I can almost see her and Mary Magdalene holding onto those resurrection feet of Jesus’, remembering the way he had washed their feet as a servant before the tribulations, and understanding that everything for which they had hoped was not gone forever, but only just beginning.

“Go and tell my brothers [and sisters]” Jesus tells the Marys, “to meet me in Galilee.”

So that the others who fled may also know that the end of death’s dominion has come. So too, the end of the inevitability of subjugation and domination and the end of the Empire.

The never-ending Reign of God has triumphed, and is now open to all.

For those of us gathered here today, we too have been too long acquainted with the loss of hope, the fracturing of dreams, and the paralysis of fear.

We know that when human beings choose the pseudo-safety and questionable methods of the Empire, people suffer, and the weak and the vulnerable pay the ultimate price.

And we are painfully aware of all the ways that we betray, deny, and abandon one another, and fall short of the grace of God endowed in Creation itself.

That story must die, and while we have breath in our bodies and fire in our souls, we must work for, pray for, and strive for its end.

But the Resurrection is God’s assurance that no matter how much the old story clings to power and seeks ascendancy, it will never be able to pass beyond the grave.

Only love can do that.

Only the kingdom in which there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female, but where all are one in Christ Jesus…that is the only reign that carries on past the whims of tyranny, the winds of fortune, and the age in which moth and rust consume.

That first Easter altered all time forever, because though it marked the end of one story and the beginning of another, it simultaneously inaugurated a Kairos era in which any moment can mark the beginning of our story.

Any moment. Any moment you choose to forsake death and live into resurrection.

Release your fears today, dear sisters and brothers.

Proclaim resurrection to the captives and to those still in the grips of the old story.

And above all LIVE the new story with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your might.

Because when you do, you will join the two Marys, the multitude of brothers and sisters who met the resurrected Christ in Galilee, and the unfathomable cloud of witnesses throughout generations who have known life and life in abundance through the unstoppable grace and love of God.

May all of us, like them, be so transformed by that love, that our only response is to share it freely with others, in fuller and more magnificent ways.

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