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March 31, 2018

Lent 2018: Day Forty Six

Matthew 27:57-66

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (vs. 61)

Begin by letting that simple, silent scene take shape and sink in. Then read the entire passage – Matt. 27:57-66 – and I think you will note how starkly that one line sits there all by itself, like the two Marys, sitting there all by themselves in the middle of this story.

In a 1993 interview, Cornel West (author, activist, and professor at Harvard Divinity) shed some light on this Mary and Mary scene for me. He was asked by the interviewer, “What does your deep religious belief say to you when you see…cruelty and crimes against humanity?” West replied, “Well, as you know, this is the Easter season. I speak as a Christian. I look at the world through the eyes of the cross and I see the blood that flows. I see the death with no dignity. I see the soldiers making fun of the person who died. I see the loss of hope. I see the darkness…on that good Friday…and yet…even given that Saturday, with Easter possibilities seemingly foreclosed or held at arm’s length…and yet…there are the small victories: those who get up every morning and love their children, project a future, those…who are struggling against the grain, the Davids against the Goliaths….”

Seven years later, in yet another interview, West described himself as “a Christian who is wrestling with the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.” He said, “Most American Christians are post-resurrection Christians….In other words, they’re concerned with the winner….We have to come to terms with the relative impotence of good. We are looking for some power, we’re lured by some possibility, but Good Friday is real…and that Saturday…was real….” To be a Saturday Christian, he says, is “to wrestle with the distress, the death, disease, despair on that Saturday, looking for possibility by means of stepping out on nothing and landing on Something [capitalization of Something mine].” Mary and Mary were the first Saturday Christians.

Martin Marty, another great thinker and a generally hopeful person, was approaching the Christmas season several years ago and found himself feeling hopeless and complaining among friends about the depressing state of the church and the world. One of his good friends reminded him that another great thinker, Pascal, once said something to the effect that the church lives best and most faithfully when it has nothing in the body of hard evidence, nothing in the sociological, political, or economic data, on which to rely for hope, and must lean instead and entirely on the promises of God. And a funny thing happened – Marty turned to begin reading the Christmas letters and cards he and his wife had received that season. He writes, “Alongside stories of death, depression and debilitation there were newsy stories about college kids who are not binge drinkers but binge volunteers. About missionaries who have spent years quietly caring for AIDS orphans….About pastors [and congregations] being of real service to God’s children in out-of-the-way places.” He continued, “As I read these letters, I found no reasons for optimism, but I did found reason for hope. In the promises of God, on which the church and the people rely, there is reason for hope – a little, innocent, lower-case hope, but still hope.”

And that is why today we read, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.”

Suggestion for Prayer: Sit quietly with Mary and Mary, listening and watching for the yet Unheard and yet Unseen.

Rev. Myron Wingfield
Executive Director of Connectional Ministries
California-Pacific Conference