From “hosanna” to “hallelujah”— Palm Sunday to Easter. The triumphal entry to the triumphal rising. The holy week we begin today will take us to scenes of anguished prayers, betrayal and abandonment, capital punishment and burial in a borrowed tomb before we arrive next Sunday at the garden of resurrection.
The distance seems even further in the shadow of another mass shooting, the one-hundred thirtieth so far in 2023. The dead number three adults, three children, and the 28-year-old shooter, armed with assault weapons. Hosanna.
But here’s the thing, friends. Hosanna is not a cheer, not an ecstatic expression of joy. It means “save us now!” It’s a prayer—a plea to God for deliverance from the forces that oppress, including our own egos, and to act on our behalf for our wellbeing. Hosanna, God! Save us! I think the landscape today is littered with hosannas as we try to understand, to find meaning and most of all to do something to save the little children (and big ones too) from tragic, unnecessary deaths.
Ironically, we can find help in the contrasting story of Jesus’ death. Likewise tragic and unnecessary yet somehow redemptive. Jesus did not have his life stolen from him; he gave it, freely and lovingly. But to see how it saves us, we need to start in the right place. Before the last supper, before Judas’ kiss of betrayal and Peter’s adamant denial; before the trial at high priest Caiaphas’ house and the execution orders of Governor Pilate, Jesus and some friends gathered for a meal. And during dinner, a woman trespasses on the male-only gathering, approaches Jesus, and reverently, tenderly anoints his head with expensive, fragrant oil. A reading from the good news according to Mark, in the fourteenth chapter, reading verses 3 through 9. Listen for God’s Word to us, told in remembrance of her. [Mark 14:3-9]
Just exactly who are we remembering here? An unnamed woman many biblical scholars have come to believe was Mary Magdalene, healed by Jesus from persistent illness who became his companion and devoted disciple. While popular novels like The Da Vinci Code tantalize with the notion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers or spouses, more significant is the nature and depth of the relationship they shared. One of the fascinating things I’ve recently learned concerns Mary’s name. I’d always assumed that it referred to her hometown: she was Mary from Magdala. But there was actually no place by that name in Jesus’ time. A more correct translation of Magdala is “Watchtower,” a stronghold, something like the desert version of a lighthouse. Mary the Watchtower may have been the name Jesus gave her (as he christened Peter “the Rock” and Thomas “the Twin”). The name reflects her character and the role she played as a strength and refuge, helping Jesus—aka the “Good Shepherd”— to protect his flock, and through their union to shine a light to illumine the people’s way.
Mary Magdalene. We remember her as the disciple who understood the purpose of Jesus’ life and the reason for his death. Unlike the other disciples, she didn’t try to talk him out of the danger he was taking by entering the capital city, or persuade him that the savior of the world should triumph bloodlessly and miraculously. She didn’t counsel avoidance or like Peter, denial. No, she loved him for demonstrating that God will go the full distance to demonstrate the height and depth and breadth of Divine love. She loved him for choosing to lay down his life for people –all people: rich and poor, privileged and those kicked to the curb; ones whose oppression is obvious, and those whose chains through attractive and enticing imprison the soul; ones in need of healing; those who have lost their life-purpose; ones who lose their lives in mass shootings; and those who pull the trigger; people who feel lonely and isolated; Black lives and natives; ones who are hungry and weary whether of body or soul; ones who have been rejected by religion and we good people who feel entitled to grace and blessing. Mary loved Jesus for showing us who we are: God’s beloved, and that we are saved the moment we receive it and begin to share it with everyone.
We remember her by name and allow her witness of undying love to strengthen us to do more than pray and grieve. Here are those who died in the mass shooting at Covenant Presbyterian School: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Mike Hill, William Kinney, Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Peak, Hallie Scruggs. . . and Audrey Hale. We remember them by name and like Mary Magdalene did for Jesus, promise to keep on showing the love that will disarm the powers of darkness and raise us to new life.
Mary the Watchtower anointed Jesus’ body ahead of his burial as an act of love, so Jesus would know that he did not face suffering and death alone, but would be held by her until. . . . . .
…….until that early morning when she came to his garden grave, carrying spices with which to anoint him in the full reality of his death. Let us listen to her witness. [RACHEL’S MONOLOGUE]
The Red Egg Monologue by Rachel Dempsey
The first Easter egg was red.
After the Passover, after I anointed Jesus, after the betrayal and the farce of a trial, after the long road to Calvary and the crucifixion, after Jesus appeared to me, resurrected, and I spread the good news to the disbelieving apostles, after the Ascension, only then did I leave his side and travel to Rome, to confront Tiberius Caesar.
I brought with me a single egg. I stood before the most powerful man alive, by earthly standards, and declared, “Christ is Risen!”
He laughed. “Jesus is no more risen than that egg in your hand is red.”
“This egg?” I replied. (show red egg)
Pontius Pilate was soon after removed from Jerusalem under imperial displeasure.
But sometimes justice comes too late. Sometimes the losses feel too great to bear, and we crack or shatter like an eggshell.
Whenever you dye eggs, remember you are not alone. I wept at an empty tomb, we weep at tombs still. Remember that an egg, symbol of creation and rebirth, contains the end at the beginning. Remember that everything an egg needs is inside itself. Alpha and Omega. World without end.
I began in a cave, in an egg, in the dark womb. My body will end in a cave, in the Mountains of La Sainte Baume. But my soul will live on, for my spirit is a piece of this shell, (show egg) protecting and nurturing the yolk that is God, the God that is Love.
I anointed Jesus for his death, knowing he had to die, as we all will. He was reborn to show us we don’t have an ending. We never end. And so, the God that is Love will be reborn into the world ad infinitum. We are the shell, broken into new life. We are fragile, but we are enough.
We are love, and love is stronger than death.
Today we remember her, as we remember Jesus in broken bread and a cup poured out in blessing. And as we do, we can face this week and all that will happen: heartbreak, betrayal, abandonment, unmerited suffering and God-damned death not with fear but with invincible hope.
Love rules. Love endures. Love will overcome.