Monday, February 17, 2014

The Resurrection Way to Relationships

Mary Magdalene models for us a way for resurrection relationships with Christ and with others.  In John 20 Mary comes to the tomb of the crucified Jesus.  She intends to mourn the end of a relationship with Jesus.  But to her astonishment the stone sealing the tomb has been rolled away and the tomb itself is empty. Befuddled, Mary goes and tells John and Peter this news.

They race each other to the tomb, survey the scene, and return to other apostles.  Mary apparently trailed John and Peter back to the tomb.  But she does not leave with them.

Instead, she lingers there at the tomb in the place of death.  That’s the first part of the resurrection way of relationships.  All relationships begin from death – either the death of not knowing the other, partial knowledge of the other, estrangement of some kind, enmity.  Lingering signals our willingness to engage whatever form of death hovers over us.  We linger in sorrow, perhaps.  Hopelessness.  Fear.  Anger. 

Nevertheless we doggedly linger.  We keep on trying even in the face of lack of interest, lukewarm interest, resistance, rebuff.  When God seems silent, we sit in the silence and wait. And pray, cry, scream, blame, or rage at God.  But we stay; we linger.

Growth in relation to others is a matter of pushing back the shroud of death.  We linger at the present boundary of our relationships hoping to find openness to grow closer to the other and “kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight” (Bruce Cockburn).  Yes, linger at the places and boundaries of death is essential.

What does Mary do next?  She listens when the risen Jesus (who Mary does not recognize) talks to her.  They converse. Understanding does not immediately occur.  Growth comes slowly.  Yet Mary talks and listens.  Even in her misunderstanding she pursues the conversation.  And she listens. And listens

Listening is a form of death to self.  If it be true that most of us do not really listen to each other but rather are busy preparing our response while the other yet speaks, listening requires us to turn from ourselves and our interests and continue attending to the other as they speak and reveal themselves to us.

Learning is a moment of growth in relationship.  For Mary that moment happens when she lets go of her questions and listens to Jesus and hears call her name, “Mary.”  Such awareness is always a resurrection, a burst of life out the place of death.  A garden in a cemetery. 

Learning in relationship is new life because it opens us to fresh possibilities.  For Mary, this new life issues in a new vocation.  Jesus commissions her to become the “first apostle” and carry the good news of his resurrection to the male apostles!  For us such learning enables and extends our abilities to carry out together the vocation we have as humans to be God’s royal representatives and overseers of the growth and well-being of creation.  Or in Cockburn’s language, we discover new ways to “kick at the darkness” together “’til it bleeds daylight”!

Lingering, listening, learning – this is the way of resurrection relationships.  And resurrection relationships are the “life abundant” Jesus promises his followers.

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