I can’t help but wonder what they must have been thinking—the apostles, all those who had grown to love and follow Jesus throughout his life. What ran through their minds that morning, when the burial shrouds were lying there on the floor, their beloved friend nowhere to be found? I imagine that, after the trauma of witnessing the passion and crucifixion of this man, they were asking, “What has all of this been for? What now?” And then to find his tomb empty, they must have been reeling! Overwhelmed. Despairing. Confused. I certainly would have been! “For they did not yet understand the Scripture, that he had to rise from the dead.”
I have to admit that the last year has been really challenging for me as a person of faith in this Church of ours. Which is not to say it was all that easy before, but somehow our brothers, from their rectories and pulpits, from my local parish to right here in the heart of Rome, managed to make me feel even more alienated from my Church. Lack of transparency, communication, participation, accountability…you name it!— coming from the leaders of our church this past year added to my already disheartened skepticism of their capacity to lead us with integrity and faithfulness. At this point it is difficult for me to lend their words any amount of credibility, whether speaking on issues of theological significance or simply responding to the news of the day. I feel less and less inclined to subject myself to the random luck of parish life, which seems to depend so much on the stranger preaching from the altar. An overwhelming number of male clerics in our Church have unwittingly given up their moral authority through their inadequate and at times violent responses to the stories of survivors of abuse, the love and courage of LGBTQ persons, and the wisdom and faithfulness of the women in this church, just to name a few examples. Witnessing all of this unfold has left me feeling overwhelmed, despairing, confused. And while I hope that mercy and grace will unfold in resurrection through this pain, I have to tell you, I do not yet understand.
I like the apostles am asking myself, “what has all of this been for? What am I to do now?” I have grown up in this Church. It is my church. And yet the things being said in its name often bring me to tears of grief and shame and anger. What am I to make of this pain, this trauma, this isolation I find in the aftermath of our own suffering?
What we don’t see in today’s readings is the point immediately after Mary of Magdala, Peter, and the third, unnamed disciple discover the empty tomb. Peter and the unnamed disciple returned to their homes, but Mary of Magdala stayed, weeping at the tomb, until two angels appeared asking her, “Why are you weeping?” She turned to see Jesus, risen, and he instructed her to go and tell her fellow apostles. “Stop holding onto me,” he said to her. Let me go so that you can take me with you as you announce my resurrection. The apostles then gathered together in the locked room where Jesus appeared to them and bestowed on them the Holy Spirit, who dispelled their fear.
Despite where our Gospel today ends—with fear, confusion, and despair—we know that the Resurrection does not end here. We know why the burial shrouds are scattered on the ground. We know where Jesus has gone, even if we don’t know where to look for him. Perhaps this can be consoling to those of you who have felt disenchanted and estranged as I have, knowing that the confusion and pain of this moment is not the last page of the book, even if we can’t predict the next chapter.
Perhaps, too, we can learn from what we know Jesus tells Mary of Magdala in the next few verses of John’s Gospel. Stop holding onto me. Let go of what has been past to make room for this new reality. Clear out the old yeast, as we hear in the second reading. Start fresh. Even as the path forward is unclear, we are told that the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth will be enough to sustain us into the future. That the dough will again rise.
I think it is time for myself and for our Church to move through these moments of fear and pain. It is time for us to turn around and see Jesus risen. To get up, blinking through our tears, and to share the hope of the Resurrection with the people around us. To restore our communities in justice, through reconciliation and atonement. To let go of past ways of being Church to make room for healing, growth, and prospering as we begin a new chapter. I know I can’t do this by myself. I need all of my church, all of you, all of my brothers in positions of power, to join me in this Resurrection moment. It is time to listen to the unattended to prophets, to seek out the voice of the Spirit in the most unexpected places, to put as our new cornerstone that which had previously been rejected.
I believe if we are able to do this as Church, if we are able to move forward with mercy, grace, compassion, and camaraderie, with sincerity and truth, then the fear and despair, pain, and confusion of this moment will not last. And while we cannot guess where the Spirit may lead us, we can trust that the Spirit remains with us. We can trust that this moment, these burial shrouds, this empty tomb, are not the end of the story.
Christ is risen. That we might also rise.
Annie Burns most recently lived and worked in Cochabamba, Bolivia with Maryknoll Lay Missioners. There she and a fellow missioner worked with a rural community in the Andes mountains to open and run an after school program for the primary school students of the community. Before Maryknoll, she attended Loyola University Chicago, where a robust faith community empowered Annie in her spiritual practices and her hunger for justice. She graduated in 2016 with degrees in Business Management and Theology. A Cleveland native, Annie was excited upon graduation to connect with FutureChurch, a church reform organization in her hometown, and collect data regarding the participation of women in the work of the Vatican. This past month, Annie was able to attend FutureChurch’s pilgrimage to Rome, to look at the presence of women in the early church as represented in the catacombs of the Eternal city.
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