Friday, April 18, 2014

A Prayer for Good Friday


O God of grace and mercy,

We have heard the last words spoken by Jesus, your Son and our Savior. 

We have remembered the way your love was expressed to the world on the cross. 

We have heard words of compassion.

We have heard the cry of dereliction.

We have heard that “It is Finished.” 

As we have heard these words, we recognize our complicity in the death of one who knew no sin; who walked in complete faithfulness with you.  We rejected his offer of grace.  We chose the way of violence.  We placed him on the cross.    

But your Son, our Savior, has shown us a different path.  May we have the strength, as we go from this place, walking as we do through the valley of the shadow of death, to take hold of the promise that in Christ you have reconciled us to yourself and to each other. 

May your grace and your peace reign over us this day we call Good. 

In the name of the Crucified One, Jesus the Christ, We pray.


Amen.

Note:  I wrote this prayer to share at the Troy Clergy's Community Good Friday Service.  This served as the Closing Prayer of the service

Mystical Atheism? Sightings

It is Good Friday, a day that for me has rich theological meaning.  Many Christians around the world will gather to remember the one whose death on a cross serves to reveal to the world the extent of God's love for that world.  Good Friday and Easter can be explored historically, but the ultimate meaning of these events must be understood through faith.  So, perhaps it's with a bit of irony that I would be sharing this essay about atheist Barbara Ehrenreich's recognition of the mystical.  In the essay we learn that one of the things that Ehrenreich lacks is vocabulary to express her experiences.  As a believer, I am thankful that I do have vocabulary, but I think we can learn something from her experiences -- there is more to reality than meets the eye!  


Activist Barbara Ehrenreich on "Living With a 'Wild' God"
by BETTY M. BAYER
Thursday | Apr 17 2014
                                                                                                            Screenshot: Phillips Academy / vimeo
Online, radio, and print news is abuzz about Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Living with a Wild God, with the paradoxical subtitle, A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything. And, yes, this is the “fourth-generation atheist,” Barbara Ehrenreich, of leftist-labor and feminist-activism fame, whose award-winning journalistic investigations into social, economic, and political issues span decades.

Now in her early seventies, Ehrenreich discloses a narrative running parallel to her life and career since a young age, most significantly a personal experience at seventeen. On a predawn walk in Lone Pine, California, Ehrenreich recalls, she encountered “something alive” which she describes as nothing short of a “cataclysmic experience” when “the world flamed into life.”

No visual hallucination, no prophetic voices; rather, the world opened up and was “rushing out to” her. Ehrenreich writes: “Something poured into me and I poured out into it…. a furious encounter with a living substance.” Looking back on this moment, as recorded by her younger self, Ehrenreich reflects on the want of adequate language to describe what happened, personally, experientially, and as an atheist who continues to describe herself a rational empiricist (though, recently, also as a “mystical rationalist”).

Grasping for words outside of “ineffable,” “transcendence,” “spiritual,” or “religious,” Ehrenreich leans on the word “mystical” to carry her burden of meaning. The lack a vocabulary to express the varieties of the inexpressible leads Ehrenreich to her larger challenge to science: go forth boldly in the study of uncanny experiences.

This challenge also arises from the question Ehrenreich poses, as a young woman writing in her journal, to the woman she would become. “What have you figured out?” her younger self asks her future self. “What’s it all about?” And, the age-old question: “What is actually going on here?” Big questions “hurling across the decades from one’s younger self” pose quite a challenge, not to mention responsibility, reflects Ehrenreich.

The quest to answer these questions has taken her across decades of writing and research, through debate-strewn lands in which she has engaged psychiatric disorders, neuroscience, fiction and non-fiction writers, philosophers, and more.

From the psychologist and philosopher, William James, she draws some insight, especially on mysticism. From the theologian, Rudolph Otto, she draws support from his idea of the encounter with the Other as “beyond all question something quite other than the ‘good.’” Otto’s description of encounters as something like a “consuming fire,” with possible disturbing effects, resonates, says Ehrenreich, with her own experience.

She takes issue with narratives equating encounters with the Other as good, divine, or benevolent. Hers was more akin to what Otto calls mysterium tremendum et fascinans—at once, one trembles and is fascinated. She has sought out others’ stories of encounters, from saints to science fiction writers, such as Philip K. Dick, with an eye to charting these troubled waters of alternative experiences outside of ready understandings of “the religious” or “the spiritual.”

Equally critical, Ehrenreich tills familiar research-terrain in neuroscience and religion to uproot tendencies to reduce mind to brain. Surrendering one to the other imposes limits on vocabularies of subjective experience and curtails new studies of “the uncanny” or alternative forms of consciousness. Here she is not alone, for James and many others have also challenged this kind of medical materialism or reductionism and its implications for an interior life.

If Ehrenreich misses a thing or two in her argument it may be how experiences of the uncanny have set inquiries into motion and changed relations between religion, science and psychology throughout the ages. Witness: early twentieth-century scholars James or Otto, or, today, Anne Harrington.

Also, currently there are a growing number of experts who are reinvigorating not just the age-old questions Ehrenreich raises but age-old questions about the relationship between science and religion (and psychology).

Consider, for example, religious studies scholars (e.g., Rubenstein) interested in philosophy, theology and physics’ “persistent entanglements” often arising from multiple-worlds cosmologies, physicists (e.g., Lightman) pondering our significance and how we make psychological sense of living in an “accidental universe,” and social and political philosophers (e.g., Dupuy) contesting skewed relations between religion, science, and reason in which faith is set over and against reason.

Ehrenreich’s request for a bolder science and neuroscience is a worthy one. While her interests lean to a phenomenological side, her book suggests a call to cultural and social structures and to histories of science, psychology and religion for more, not less, cosmic wandering.

Resources:

Mary Hynes. “Poems That Make Grown Men Cry.” CBC Radio, April 11, 2014, Tapestry.http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/episode/2014/04/11/poems-that-make-grown-men-cry/.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. “A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment,” The New York Times, April 5, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/opinion/sunday/a-rationalists-mystical-moment.html.

Harrington, Anne. The Cure within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009.

Rubenstein, Mary-Jane. Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (... inwhich are discussed pre-, early-, and postmodern multiple-worlds cosmologies: the sundry arguments for and against them: the striking peculiarities of their adherents and detractors; the shifting boundaries of science, philosophy, and religion; and the stubbornly persistent question of whether creation has been "designed"). New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Lightman, Alan. The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.

Dupuy, Jean-Pierre. The Mark of the Sacred. Translated by M. DeBevoise. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2013.

Image Credit: screenshot of Phillips Academy / vimeo

To read previous issues of Sightings, visit: http://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings-archive.
Author, Betty M. Bayer, is Professor of Women's Studies at Hobart and William Smith College. Recent publications include "Enchantment in an age of occupy" (2012, Women's Studies Quarterly). She is working on a monograph: Revelation orRevolution? Cognitive Dissonance and Persistent Longing in an Age Psychological. Bayer is a 2013-14 Senior Fellow in the Marty Center.

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

God Sets Us Free -- Alternative Lectionary for Easter 2


The Lenten Journey that takes us from the time of temptation to the glorious day of resurrection has a way of so focusing our attention that the Sunday after Easter can seem almost anti-climactic. But, Easter has just begun. The message of resurrection continues to demand a hearing -- and in this set of readings that David Ackerman provides for us in Beyond the Lectionary, we are reminded that the message of Easter is one of liberation. So, here we have a reading from Exodus that speaks of God's act of liberation of the slaves in Egypt. We have the story of a man who cannot walk being freed to walk again -- and standing in contrast to these messages is one that seeks to prevent the message of liberation from going out. In a passage that comes just before the Great Commission those who had a vested interest in keeping Jesus dead make sure the soldiers assigned to guard the tomb have the message straight -- no resurrection! So which message will we choose -- liberation or bondage?


************************


Easter 2

“God Sets Us Free”

Call to Worship:  Psalm 18:1-6 NRSV

One:  I love you, O Lord, my strength.
Many:  The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
One:  I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
Many:  The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
One:  In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.
Many:  From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

Gathering Prayer:  With the echoes of Easter still in our ears, we gather to celebrate Jesus’ glorious resurrection.  Help us to bear witness to the good news that you deliver us from everything that would keep us from you.

Confession:  How quickly we forget and turn away from the good news of Easter!  Our shouts of “Alleluia” get muffled by the noise of life, and we find ourselves living as though your resurrection did not matter.  Forgive us and change us, so that we might see that you are our deliverer who sets us free from all evil and oppression.

Assurance:  We believe in a God who is greater than our sin and who has won victory over death and the grave.  Because of this astonishing news, we are free to live as people transformed by the power of the gospel.  Let us breathe deeply, then, and give thanks for the new life God gives us this day.

Scriptures:      Exodus 5:22-6:13; 7:1-6 – “God Sends Moses”
Acts 3:1-10 – “A Man Unable to Walk Is Healed”
Matthew 28:11-15 – “The Report of the Guard”



Commentaries and sermon helps are available in Beyond the Lectionary.

Reflection Questions:

  •  Do you think that God hardens people’s hearts or executes violence on nations as suggested in the book of Exodus?  If not, how do you think God delivers people from oppressive situations?
  •   Have you ever tried to use the name of Jesus with authority (like Peter in Acts 3) in order to heal someone?  Did it work?  What do we do if Jesus doesn’t answer our prayers or heal people the way we expect?  Does it mean that we have to try harder or that we lack faith?  Is God not real if things don’t work out for us the way they seem to in the Bible?
  • Why do you think that Matthew’s account of the report of the guard in chapter 28 would have been important to early Christians?  How is the silence commanded by the authorities in vv 11-15 different from what the risen Jesus commands in vv 18-20?
  •  Can you think of a time when you were trapped, forbidden to speak about something, or were physically in need of deliverance?  Did God set you free from that situation?  What was that like?  Are you still struggling with something like this?  How might God free you?


Prayer of Thanksgiving:  You have indeed saved us, God, and given us purpose in our lives.  Thank you, God, for the gift of your grace, which changes everything.


Benediction:  We are a people of resurrection sent out into the world to be messengers of new life and hope.  Let us go now, as we celebrate the freedom we have through our risen Savior, Jesus.  Amen.



A Meal of Liberation -- Reflection for Maundy Thursday

37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power. Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did, both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen, 41 not by everyone but by us. We are witnesses whom God chose beforehand, who ate and drank with him after God raised him from the dead. (Acts 10:37-41 Common English Bible) 

We gather tonight to share in the meal we call the Last Supper. We gather to remember the one whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit, the one who traveled around the region we call Israel and Palestine, "doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him." It was this man named Jesus, in whom God was present, who instituted a meal of remembrance. Rooted in the Passover celebration of the Jewish people, this meal celebrated God's act of liberation. Yes, God is the great emancipator of all who face slavery. The bonds cannot hold the spirit of those who will entrust their lives to Jesus. Bread and wine, staples of ancient meals become the symbols of this work of liberation from the bonds of sin and death.  The Gospel Peter preaches declares that humanity will put the one sent from God to death, but God will have the last word, for the one who dies hanging from a tree will be raised to life on the third day.  

In our reading from Acts 10, we find Peter preaching the gospel of Jesus to Cornelius and his household. Both Peter and Cornelius have been brought together by the Holy Spirit. As Peter preaches this message, the Spirit begins to move, and before long, the entire household has been swept into Jesus' new family.

In a reference fitting for a night like this, Peter declares that those who ate and drank with Jesus have been empowered to be his witnesses. Even as God chose to raise Jesus from the dead, God has chosen witnesses to the message of Jesus.

The good news for us is that we too can be witnesses to Jesus and his mission. Why? Because we have also eaten with Jesus and we've lifted the cup with Jesus - after he had been raised from the dead. Yes, each time we gather at the Lord's Table, we share a meal with Jesus. And as we share this meal, we receive our call to be witnesses of this great work of God revealed in Jesus, the one whom humanity rejected by putting him to death, but whom God vindicated by raising from the dead.


Written for the 2014 Lenten Devotional, edited by John McCauslin for Central Woodward Christian Church.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sharing in the Passover Seder -- a Jewish one!


There has been much conversation on the blogosphere concerning the appropriateness of hosting a Christian Seder.  Tony Jones is among those who have commented on this -- providing reasons why it's not appropriate.  In part it's not appropriate because it is seeking to expropriate the worship/community experience of another faith community and make it your own.

While some of the reasons Tony gives concerns the fact that the Seder service practiced today developed long after the first century are helpful, the most important reasons is his fifth:
5) How would you feel if a rabbi or imam performed a mock baptism? That’d be pretty weird, right? That’s pretty much how it is when Christians take a practice that is central to Judaism and attempt to recreate it with Christian meaning. Virtually every Jew I’ve ever asked about this finds the practice offensive.
I  had a great time last night sharing in the Second Night Passover meal at Congregation Shir Tikva here in Troy, Michigan. Our invitation had been facilitated by the Troy-area Interfaith Group, which I serve as Convener.  It was appropriate that we gathered for this meal last night in light of the horrific and hateful attack on the Jewish Community Center and Assisted Living facility in Overland Park this past weekend.  We remembered those who died at the beginning of the meal.

But here's the point.  No matter how prepared you are -- even if you use the official Haggadah (the script for the meal) and prepare all the pieces of the meal appropriately, it's still not the same.  In essence, what we do in such cases is engage in a bit of play acting.  And more unfortunately, in many cases what church groups do is Christianize the Seder, affirming the Christian superiority over Judaism.  The Seder becomes a sign that Jews just didn't get it, but we Christians do get it.

So, here's my advice -- dispense with the Christian Seder and see if you can't get an invite to a true Jewish Seder -- either in a Jewish home or at a synagogue.  Having a real Rabbi lead it will allow you to get a real sense of the meaning of the event, and see why it is important to the identity of the Jewish Community life. This was my second experience of a true Jewish Seder, and I was blessed by it!  In fact, the seder was a joyous experience of worship, conversation, and food!

Thanks Rabbi Arnie and Congregation Shir Tikvah for being such great hosts!  

The Pope Asks for Forgiveness -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

For the past decade or so we have been inundated with reports of priestly sexual abuse of young people.  We have been privy to the airing of much dirty laundry, and we've watched as bishops have tried to dodge accusations of dereliction of duty.  Non-Catholics have often taken delight in these reports -- not the abuse itself but the humiliating effects on the Catholic Church itself.   As we make our way through Holy Week, Martin Marty highlights the Pope's request for forgiveness.  In a very unscripted way, the Pope has taken responsibility and declared that these acts of abuse are acts of evil.  My hope is that this is the beginning of a new day, but we must all keep in mind the frailty of our communities, for it is not merely the Catholic Church that has seen scandalous behavior.  I invite you to take a read.

******************


Pope asks for forgiveness
by MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Apr 14 2014
                                                                                                                Photo: Jeffy Bruno / Compfight.com
Holy Week in the Western Christian calendar is a time for Christians to confess their sins, ask for forgiveness, and seek to amend their lives. A billion believers will be doing all that in the five days ahead. Some may do it in their churches, some in other places of their choosing, and more in their own heads and hearts.

Leaders of many different churches are encouraging their fellow-believers to ask God and other humans for forgiveness. One of these leaders made headlines this week because of his extraordinary role, gifts, status, character, and celebrity. Thus: “Pope Takes Responsibility for Priests’ Abuse Scandal” (New York Times, April 11) and “Pope Asks Forgiveness for Priest Abuse Cases” (Reuters, April 11).

Predictably and understandably, leaders of organizations protesting the ways of bishops and others who fall far short of atoning acts and becoming accountable, made headlines of their own. They dismiss the Pope’s words as mere words, and keep their suspicions high. Their cause deserves attention, but the Pope has to be heard first. What astounds is the way in which he addressed the topic.

We have heard the language of many bishops and other leaders whose scripts are vetted, if not written, by diocesan attorneys, which means that few took them seriously. We have also heard many abusers who, along with other miscreants, whisper that they “made mistakes.” (One wishes that “I made a mistake” could be banished from serious records: apologies for “mistakes” are meaningless.)

The Pope did not say he made mistakes, though he knows he makes them. Refreshingly, he used the word “evil” for the perpetrators of child sexual abuse, and he talked of his personal responsibility for the way the church handled the cases. In other words, he spoke in terms of commitment, and not mere reportage.

He will be tested by parents of priest-abused children, adults who were once victims, and all the agencies who represent children—abused or not—in the church. Listen: “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil. . . to personally ask for forgiveness.” At last we are getting classic, non-bureaucratic, non-managerial confession and language of resolve.

Sightings has rarely addressed this subject, for a number of reasons. First, for non-Roman Catholics to point fingers can obscure their own churches’ flaws. (The week of the Pope’s confession I received word from our local Lutheran bishop about radical action against a pastor who broke his marital vows and sexually misused women in the church.)

Other reasons: Catholics who are helping set their house in order are more credible and helpful than non-Catholics would be in helping bring about a better future. Pope Francis took major first steps with his personal word, spoken informally and without script, and he will be busy for the rest of his pontificate with following through.

Can one legitimately speak, as does the Pope, of one’s personal guilt in an instance like this, where others notably sinned?

Those who understand Catholic theology or, for that matter, biblical theology recognize that they can and should. In the Hebrew Scriptures, recalled by Jews last week, the whole community (=tribe? family?) suffered when individuals in it were errant. The New Testament speaks of believers sharing life in the “Body of Christ,’ the church. When one suffers, all suffer. When one has reason to rejoice, “the many” can rejoice and join in supportive action.

For the Pope, all this is more than a catechism lesson: it’s life.


Resources:

Povoledo, Elisabetta. “Pope Takes Responsibility in Priests’ Abuse Scandal." New York Times, April 11, 2014, Europe. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/world/europe/pope-takes-responsibility-in-priests-abuse-scandal.html?partner=rss&emc=rss.

O’Leary, Naomi. “Pope asks forgiveness for ‘evil’ of child abuse by priests.” Reuters, April 11, 2014, Vatican City. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/us-pope-abuse-idUSBREA3A0UR20140411.

Image Credit: Jeffy Bruno / Compfight.com

To read previous issues of Sightings, visit http://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings-archive.
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I Have Seen the Lord! -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter Sunday


20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

                The long road to Easter has come to a close.  Jesus has been crucified, died, and was buried.  According to John, he was laid in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of some note in the community, who asked Pilate for the body (John 19:38-42).   There are, of course, numerous challenges to this part of the story.  Rarely if ever did one who was crucified by the Romans get a decent burial.  They were usually left to rot on their crosses and then thrown into a common grave – if that.  While this may be true -- that is not the way John tells the story of Easter. 

The Empty Tomb itself is not a sign of resurrection.  As Mary Magdalene herself makes clear – someone could have stolen the body in the night.  In John’s telling of the story there are no guards placed at the tomb by either Pilate or the religious authorities.  It is the appearances that make the difference.  The point here is that death could hold Jesus.  Although modern minds struggle to make sense of this witness, for as Hume reminds us rarely do people three days in the grave get up and walk away, something happened to the lives of Jesus’ followers that transformed them and gave them a witness to share with the world. 

                The Gospels tell the Easter story in four ways.  There are similarities that cross the four gospels, but there are also significant differences.  We are wise, therefore, to let each of the gospels tell their own story and then seek to hear a word of God in that story.  As I read this story once again – having read it innumerable times over the years -- I was struck by two items.  First there is the contrast between the disciples and Mary Magdalene.  The two disciples, one of whom is Peter, come to the tomb to see for themselves what Mary had told them about the open tomb and the missing body.  What is interesting is that Peter and the unnamed disciple whom Jesus loved enter the tomb, look around, and then head home.  The unnamed disciple is said to have believed, but what did he believe?   Did he believe what Jesus had been saying about resurrection – now did it make sense?  If so then, why just return home.  In contrast, Mary, who seems to have caught up with the two disciples who had raced ahead of her, stays behind at the tomb and begins weeping.  There is grief expressed by Mary, but the two disciples just walk away, perhaps giving up their dreams and moving on.  If you were in their shoes, where would you be?  Would you head home or stay behind and at the very least grieve your loss?   

                The other element of the story that intrigues me is the conversation Jesus has with Mary about the ascension.  Liturgical tradition, based on the Synoptics and the Book of Acts, distinguishes between resurrection and ascension – the latter happening about forty days later, during which time Jesus appears to the disciples on several occasions.  Only then does Jesus bid a final farewell, after commissioning the disciples to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). 

In John’s telling of the story, after Mary receives a message from the angels sitting in the tomb, she encounters Jesus, standing beside her.  Both the angels and the man who appears beside her, ask why she’s weeping.  And Mary tells the man, whom she doesn’t recognize, that her Lord had been laid in the tomb but now he’s missing.  Assuming the man is the gardener, she asks if he knows where the body has been taken.  It’s clear that Mary doesn’t see the Empty Tomb as a sign of resurrection.  It’s at this point that Jesus calls her by name, and then, and only then, does she recognize him – leading her to cry out “Rabbouni!”

As you would guess, the confused by joyful Mary, wants to grab hold of Jesus.  She wants to make sure she’s not hallucinating.  She wants to make sure this is real.  But Jesus tells her not to touch him, because he has not yet ascended to the Father.   I am reminded here of Jesus’ statement in John 16 that while had to leave, the disciples would again see him.   Could it be that in John’s mind, Jesus must first ascend to the Father before he can be seen and experienced most fully by the disciples?  While Mary gets a preview, she and the others must wait until the ascension is complete before fully experiencing his presence.  Remember that in the scenes following Jesus allows Thomas to touch his wounds and he shares a meal with them.  It appears that Jesus can come and go as he pleases, but first he must ascend.  Thus, resurrection and ascension are held together as one piece.    

                Perhaps this connection of resurrection with ascension separates this story from the story of Lazarus – for Lazarus is raised back to life, but he will die before experiencing the full fruit of resurrection.  In this situation, Jesus is not only raised to life from the grave, he goes to be with the Father.  Death no longer has a hold on him, for he has been glorified.  As Cameron Murchison notes, the ascension extends the promise of resurrection by “asserting that the new life manifest in resurrection is enduringly located in the heart of God.”  That is, “it is new life that abides in God, and thus abides forever” [Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2: Lent Through Eastertidep. 374]. 

This is the message that Jesus wants Mary to deliver to the disciples -- their job isn’t over.  Death didn’t win.  Life triumphs over death, but the life of resurrection and ascension differ from the life lived before death.  Yes, resurrection requires ascension – for we do not merely live on after death – we live on in relationship with the living God, Jesus having paved the way for us.       

With that Mary returns to the disciples and tells them -- "I have seen the Lord!"  May we also see the Lord!