All she has, in that moment, is her grief.
After walking to the tomb in the dark of the early morning, after the shock of seeing the stone rolled away from the place it had been three days before…after the chaos and confusion and the strange – competition? – of the running back and forth…after it all, his body is just not there. The linens lay scattered across the floor. And the other two disciples leave. They go home.
All she has, then, is her grief. There’s nothing else for her to hold onto – not even the sad comfort of ritual; she has no chance to bathe and anoint him, now, to chant the prayers singing him out of this life. Even that familiarity is beyond her grasp, beyond what she can see and touch.
So, absent it all, she stands weeping. What else is there for her to do? When two strangers dressed in white ask her why, she says: “He’s gone. And I don’t know where.”
Then she turns. Which matters – it’s worth paying attention to, this moment. She turns, and finds another person, someone she presumes a stranger; she guesses it’s the gardener, as he repeats the question the first two have asked: “Why are you weeping?”
“Just tell me where he is,” she says. “Tell me where to find him.”
“Mary,” he says.
And she knows. It’s him.
He knows her name.
When we baptize people into life in the Christian faith of this Church, we ask six questions:
· Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
· Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers?
· Will you strive for justice and peace among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being?
· Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
· Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
· Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain, and renew the life of the Earth?
To each of these questions, the person being baptized – or, more often, godparents, who pledge on their behalf – respond with this promise: “I will, with God’s help.”
Each week throughout the season of Lent that leads us to today, we have looked more closely at one of those baptismal questions and promises. In our prayers and our preaching and our conversation and our charge to go out into the world, we have asked together what it looks like to make each promise real in our lives – to say: “I will, with God’s help,” and give that promise substance with our choices and actions, day by day.
We have begun and continued conversations about real things: resisting the collective sin of racism; taking our places as members of this beloved community; asking whom we are serving when we seek and serve Christ; wondering about what dignity really looks like; protecting the work of God’s hands that is this fragile Earth, our island home; sharing God’s good news with a world that starves for the Word that is true and real.
And that’s it. When we ask what is true and real, this is what I can point to; you are who I can point to. Because those questions and promises are more than the ritual of standing with a baby in a white gown at the font. As beautiful as that moment is - and it is beautiful – it is only the beginning. Lived out over the course of a lifetime, those promises say something true and real about who we are as a Christian people. They equip us to face into hard truths: the chaos and confusion and shock and strange competitions that are all too much with us. Even those deep and profound losses, so true and so real that it seems sometimes all we have is our grief, because everything else is beyond our grasp; when it feels like all we can do is stand weeping with Mary.
You know. You know, from the news you see and the news you live.
Baptism is for something. The Church is for something more than itself. Our lives of faith matter, especially in a time when we see things we wish we did not see, and know things we wish we did not know. We need those promises in our lives because they offer us a way to stand against that which would diminish or destroy us, they equip us to steady ourselves, to say: “here, and no further.” We promise to resist evil because there is evil at work in the world. We promise to continue in fellowship because there is too much that would separate us from one another. We promise to seek and serve and safeguard and respect because all we have to do is hear one word – one word – of the daily news, to see that these practices, which make us more fully who we are, are quickly becoming evermore and alarmingly scarce.
So we make our promises, “with God’s help,” because we know enough to know that we can’t do this on our own. And when we do, when we strive, imperfectly, as we will, to live those promises out in our lives, we see our own humanity, and that of the person next to us. When we try, imperfectly, as we will, to live those promises, we catch glimpses of that which is holy within us, and within everybody, everybody, everybody. We do this imperfectly, human as we are, and so we practice, as a people responding to a question with a promise, a people sealed by the Holy Spirit who belong, forever, to the God who knows our name.
A group of us gathered earlier this week with our bishop, who invited us into a series of meditations. When he spoke about the sacrament of baptism, Bishop Lee said that God takes what is true and makes it real. God takes what is true – that you are God’s own beloved; and makes it real – in tangible ways, in ways we can hold onto, with water and flame and oil; in words said and sung by the voices of the people we love, by the people who know our names.
“Mary,” he says.
And she knows.
He knows her name.
She can’t hold onto him, still, because he will be leaving her again, this time to ascend to the Father. But he’s real; she has that to grasp. And she sees him – in a way she might never have imagined, as she walked to the tomb in that sad morning darkness. She sees him – not his body, beaten, and broken, and lifeless, as it had been on Friday afternoon. She sees him on this Sunday morning – risen – God made manifest as her teacher and friend, the one she belongs to, forever. The one who knows her name.