I Have Called You By Name

Easter Liturgy 2017

One morning when I was eight years old, my little sister banged on the bathroom door. She was about 1 at the time. She yelled, “Ashaa, Ashaa!” I quickly open the door and knelt down to look at her – with her footsy pjs and shock of uncombed curly hair. This was her first word. My name. Something shifted inside me and I felt love and pride. When she called my name (or the version she could manage), I felt a connection, I knew that we were sisters.

Names are important. We are called by different names all the time. We’ve been called bad names, nick names, labels given to us, and first and last names (perhaps mispronounced). Yet, we all hold onto a name that is entirely our own. The name that comes to mind when we contemplate our true selves. Maybe it’s the name your closest friends call you; a name not on your birth certificate; or the name your mom or grandma calls you (when she’s not mad at you). When you hear that name, perfectly pronounced, there is something inside that delights in being called by name.

In the gospel, Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name. It’s an utterance that claims Mary as Jesus’ beloved. This gospel scene teems with tenderness. I imagine Mary abiding in the tomb, filling that sacred space with sounds of weeping… resinous oil covering her hands becoming a blessed veneer over her face as she wipes away tears. She’s in despair. She eagerly asks a man nearby if he knows where they have taken Jesus. I can see Jesus gaze at her, saying with the sweetest cadence, “Mary.” When Mary hears this, her name, her heart is broken open and she recognizes the risen Jesus. She is recognized just as she recognizes Jesus. Something is risen in Mary… just as love rose in me when my baby sister called my name.

Mary Magdalene is a name that has been misrepresented through history. For 2,000 years, Mary Magdalene has been portrayed as a prostitute. There is no biblical evidence to support this accusation. Through history her story has been distorted. I want to set the record straight: Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. Here is the truth about Mary…

The Bible says that Mary Magdalene was tormented by mental illness. When she crosses paths with Jesus, Jesus sees beneath her suffering, and heals her. When she received this healing and heard Jesus’ teaching, she could not help but be a part of the force that gave voice to the good news. So, she embarked – as a single, financially independent woman – to follow Jesus. When she chose to follow Jesus, she left behind the possibility of the traditional role expected of women. She did not ask permission to do this. She thought she could, so she did.

Mary followed Jesus to the end – to the darkest hours of his life. Mary could have easily distanced herself from the pain but she stayed. Mary showed up. She showed up at the tomb when so many had left in fear. She didn’t know what to say, or do, or even think. But she showed up. This is perhaps the greatest spiritual practice: showing up.

Mary was the first witness to the Resurrection. During that walk from the tomb to the city to proclaim the Resurrection to the male disciples, Mary was the Church – the vessel that contained the most momentous event of faith.

Really, it all comes down to Resurrection. Twenty centuries of Christianity hinges upon this event. It’s literally unimaginable. So how are we to grasp resurrection in our lives today? I think the best sign of the Resurrection in our day is the risen person of faith. When I say risen, I don’t mean that final rising from this life to the next, but small moments of resurrection. Mary Magdalene experienced resurrection many times in her life. She was risen when her illness was cured and when she embarked on a new path to follow Jesus. These moments of resurrection were times of transformation – turning suffering to rising.

Mary was well acquainted with suffering. How she personally dealt with this suffering, we don’t know. I know that for me, whenever I hear of suffering, either from across the world or from my students, I have no answer to why this happens and my response is almost always tears. What I do know is that what breaks our hearts is what breaks God’s heart. There is a reciprocity inherent in suffering. Our own feelings of pain and comfort are an impetus for offering comfort to others in pain.

God reveals and revels in our blessedness when we reach out to offer or receive resurrection… calling your true name. Let me be clear here, your name is not the various labels given to you. Labels like mental illness, child of divorce, rich, poor, addicted, closeted, undocumented…no…these are NOT your name. They may influence how you see and walk in the world but they are not who you are. Jesus’ resurrection tells us that these labels are not the final word. They never could be when God abides in our hearts. When we discover ourselves beyond the labels, we discover God.

Family, you are God’s beloved. You are lavishly blessed. You are called by name to delight in Easter joy everyday, to experience tiny moments of resurrection when you recognize yourself as worthy of love and restoration, just as Mary Magdalene did. In our lives and in our faith, we fall, but still we rise. When we suffer, Jesus, usually looking like someone else, takes our hand, calls us by name, and offers us new life. For this we proclaim: Alleluia. Alleluia.  

*Cover artwork by Janet McKenzie.

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