Easter is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It's one of those great days that is ripe with nostalgia, with family, and with deepening meaning as I grow older and the clamoring voices grow quieter. I was recently reflecting that it's funny how you can hear a story so many times as a child and yet it can take on a new life and a new voice as the hearer becomes a woman.
This was my experience of Luke's narrative of Mary Magdalene's encounter with the risen Jesus on that first Easter dawn. Perhaps most of us have sat in a Holy Week service or leaned in to some familial storyteller and heard about that Easter morning when Mary arrived at the tomb, her eyes damp with tears, and mistook the Christ for a common gardener in her grief. More often than not, this narrative was mixed in with the many other accounts of eyewitness testimony - some of them charming, some of them fantastical.
As a young woman, I remember hearing many versions of sermons noting that Jesus Christ, the Great Peacemaker and Restorer, appeared first to a woman - something scandalous and decidedly not categorically correct for the ancient world. Preachers and teachers have hemmed and hawed over this not-so-little point in every conceivable way, and yet, as I've grown older and my concept of knowing God has embraced a certain mystery, my thoughts of that garden encounter move from theatrical observer to silent sister of that broken woman who found herself in the midst of a powerful transformational encounter with God.
I must admit that a piece of my deep interest in this story stems from my conviction as a worship leader. Sharing in Mary's journey through the morning's event preaches more about worship than any sermon ever could. As a sister on this journey, I can share powerfully in Mary's experience and be simultaneously empowered and humbled, drawn in and released.
Worship is a dialogue that begins when we first utter our acknowledgement of God - whether we do this through song, through prayer, through sacrament; whether we are experiencing joy, complacency, or the fog of grief. I know that my experience has been guided my too many cultural pieces; I come to worship too often with the agenda of receiving, of self-focused need, of measuring the quality of the day by the impact on my emotions or mood. Then I would wonder why I didn't feel an expected and pre-defined communion with God.
Ah, the conviction of sweet, selfless Mary. It is often the stories of others that provide us the sign-post we may not have even known we needed. Mary transcended the cultural expectations of her gender, set off alone to the tomb to worship - to serve perhaps for the final time the man she had come to call Master, Rabbi, Friend. She had no expectation of receiving anything from the dark tomb. She had no consolation of company or dignity of position. Her intention-filled trek to the tomb was her profound worship utterance.