Christianity · God · My Thoughts

Mary Magdalene: First Eyewitness!

Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb

So many characters take part in the Easter story. Mary Magdalene has captured my attention this Easter. Happy Easter to all and here are my thoughts:

Mary rose early this Easter morning hundreds of years ago, before anyone else did. It had been a restless night for her—she still had trouble believing that Jesus was dead. She stood at the foot of the cross and witnessed him breath his last. She wept uncontrollably and the other women surrounding her collapsed into each other in their sorrow.

For the last two nights, the disciples and followers had slept together, scattering around the room on mats where they had shared the Last Supper with Jesus, frightened with what they faced in the future. The Sabbath (Saturday) had drug out endlessly. They couldn’t return to the tomb because of the Passover celebration, so they hung out in that hollow room, wondering what they faced.

Dawn breaks for Mary Magdalene

Quietly, as the darkness faded away, she closed the door behind her and headed straight to the tomb where they had buried Jesus. Dawn crept over the horizon—even the birds seemed to be stunned by the recent events.

The disciples had told Mary that Roman soldiers would be guarding the tomb, but she desperately had to be near Jesus. Mary wondered, “What will I do when I got there?” Freely weeping as she went now, Mary had to stifle her sobs during her sleepless night because she didn’t want to keep the others awake. It felt so good to sob deeply out loud! Her heartbreak echoed through the hills. Exhausted and nerves strained, she didn’t care who heard her on this sad morning.

Stone rolled away from the tomb - Mary Magdalene

When she came around the corner and started the incline to the tomb, Mary saw no soldiers—that caught her by surprise. Where were they? The next surprise took her breath away. Someone had moved the stone covering the tomb—massive stone that had taken several to place, rolled away, and she faced a gaping hole it had covered previously.

At that point, Mary went no further. She turned on her heels and ran back to tell Peter and John about her discovery. In her confused state, she thought someone had taken Jesus’ body and told the two faithful disciples that. They quickly latched on their sandals and sprinted to the gravesite. Younger John outran older Peter, and John arrived first. They measured the situation, then returned home in a confused state. What was going on?

To her credit, Mary lingered outside the tomb, weeping about the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Curiosity urged her to look inside the tomb once more—maybe they were wrong, maybe it was an illusion. Maybe Jesus’ body was there. But what she saw again surprised her—it had been a morning of surprises.

Two angels sat where Jesus had been and questioned her about her tears. She answered their questions directly, then a third person appeared behind Mary, who she thought was a gardener. She didn’t look at him but quizzed the angels and him about where they had put Jesus.

It wasn’t until this third person simply said her name, “Mary,” that she turned around, shocked, and recognized his voice. It was the risen Jesus. After a short discourse where Jesus told her what to do, she returned to the disciples. As she ran, her hair tangled with her scarf. Mary’s heart raced. She threw open the door to their lodging and exclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!”

Source: John 20:1-18

What an amazing revelation! In her lingering at the tomb and not rushing off, Mary Magdalene became the first eyewitness to Jesus after the crucifixion. A woman—imagine that!

“In all four Gospels, she is the first to witness Jesus after his resurrection.”

https://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/marymagda.html

I just spent forty days in a Lenten study using Fr. Richard Rohr’s book, Wondrous Encounters, with four other women from all over the world. Daily we communicated on WhatsApp after reading the day’s reading, then we commented and shared our lives. I’m sure these strong, spiritual women (my sister disciples) inspired me to connect so deeply with Mary Magdalene this Easter.

Mary Magdalene’s faithfulness as a follower gave her the privilege of being that person who Jesus first appeared to. I love the fact it was in saying her name that she recognized him. Before that, he appeared and Mary focused on the two angels and her questioning them. She didn’t turn around because she knew these two angels had all the answers she needed. Jesus spoke to her, but in was in saying her name that she recognized him—how powerful our names are when said by a loved one!

Finally, Mary Magdalene, a woman, became the first eyewitness of the risen Lord. She lingered, didn’t rush off in a hurry. I wonder what encounters with Jesus I’ve missed in my life by always being in a hurry—busy, busy, busy.

To many, the Easter story is familiar and maybe has lost its luster. By focusing on one person this year, it made this wonderful story rich and alive for me differently.

Have you ever focused on one character in the Easter story? Peter? John? Jesus? Judas? If so, what was your experience?

It's OK to be a Christian - Happy Easter!

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Holidays · My Thoughts

How Do You Celebrate Easter?

Celebrate Easter - bunny
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Easter eggs? Church attendance? A religious holiday? Chocolate eggs? Our secular world celebrates Easter in a variety of ways. How do you celebrate it?

As a child, I focused on the secular side of Easter—finding Easter eggs, my basket, and lots of chocolate. I attended church each year with a new dress, shoes and hat. Our family celebrated with a festive dinner and all the fun activities for children, but no focus on the religious significance. Here I am in 1960, all dressed up for Easter at seven years old.

Celebrate Easter, 1960
Larada dressed up for Easter, 1960

In 1966, one memorable Easter, I ended up with a broken nose. Our county 4-H group had a roller skating party in Trinidad, Colorado, the night before Easter, bringing together country children from all over Las Animas County. The owners of the skating rink decided to wax the floor before our big event, so we skaters had a terrible time standing up, much less skating., and we skated often, so it wasn’t new to us.

After I finally got the hang of skating on this slick floor, I skated with my cousin and a friend from Hoehne, Colorado, holding hands, laughing and enjoying our night of fun. Suddenly he fell first, and she fell over him. I flipped over the two of them and landed flat-faced on the floor, nose gushing with blood everywhere.

I had been looking forward to this big day for months, so I cleaned myself up and continued skating, cautious and careful, ignoring the pain in my face.

Next morning, I woke up with two black eyes and a swollen, sore nose. The unofficial diagnosis: a broken nose! Even though I hurt and looked horrendous, I proudly dressed in my new yellow seersucker Easter dress, white shoes and white hat that cradled my head. Here I am in 1966 at thirteen years old, but you can’t the black eyes or the swollen nose.

Celebrate Easter, 1966 with broken nose
Larada dressed for Easter with broken nose in 1966

Because I didn’t have children, I didn’t get into the egg hunts, baskets and such. I had a memorable time with my young niece, though, in 1974. At that time, my husband and I and my brother and his wife lived in Denver, Colorado as young married near each other. At nine months, my niece didn’t understand the whole egg dying business. Her mom and I prepared the multiple cups with the different dye in each one.

We wrapped a tea towel around the little one to protect her clothes from the dye and began our joyous adventure. We gently placed an egg in each cup of color and used a spoon to roll them around to deepen the color. The transformation from white to different colors captivated my niece: red, blue, green, yellow! She squealed with delight standing on the chair peering into the multi-colored cups.

Celebrate Easter - dying eggs
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Excited and before we could stop her, my nine-month-old niece grabbed an egg out of the cup with her hand—now her hand was red. We tried to stop her, but in her exuberance, we couldn’t. The red dye didn’t discolor her hand too much, or we didn’t notice it.

Then we moved on to the next cup and the blue dye had already darkened to a deep shade. Her mom held her back as I rolled it around a little to get a deeper blue, then my niece’s small pudgy hand darted past her mom and grabbed the blue egg!

Dripping blue dye from her fingers, I quickly snatched it from her chubby hand and giggled. I loved her enthusiasm! But now we had a problem: her hand with fresh blue dye with the red stain already present. We looked down at my niece’s hand and it had turned a horrible shade of murky blackish grey! My niece howled, shook her hand to no avail, and we laughed! She kept shaking it, but the color stayed!

Her mom and I laughed at this strange situation, scrubbed her hand with detergent. The unpleasant color stained her hand still. My niece would look at it and shake it repeatedly, whimpering. Finally, we returned to our task and finished the dying activity with the rest of the eggs dark and colorful. But my niece had lost interest in the whole thing and became a reluctant observer.

After my Dad died, I made it a point to celebrate Easter with Mom every year. One year, her Methodist church from Des Moines, New Mexico had a Sunrise Service at Capulin Mountain, which is a volcano. We drove to the Visitor’s Center, then rode up the mountain in a school bus. When we got to the top of the volcano, the group gathered in a sheltered area to keep warm, away from the wind. Deer grazed inside the volcano and peace filled the air. I remember little about the service or the sermon, but Fred Owensby had arrived early and walked down in the cone. At the end of the service, he played “Amazing Grace” on his trumpet, and I shivered with goosebumps, not the cold. It was glorious! Afterwards, we drove to Des Moines for a pancake breakfast and fellowship and fun—a memorable time for sure!

Capulin Volcano

After that fateful experience with my young niece, I didn’t have another notable Easter with children until 2013. My brother’s family gathered with me and my husband for my mother’s memorial service on April 1. Easter that year was the March 31, the day before Mom’s service. My niece in the story above now had her children there with us. Her brother and sister’s families joined us, too. My nieces and nephew did a remarkable job under dire circumstance to celebrate Easter for their children. They colored eggs, had baskets and made it fun! And it was!

During my lifetime, I have continued attending church on Easter, celebrating our risen Lord. This year, I felt a deeper meaning in the whole Easter story from Good Friday to the celebration of Easter. Today, as I attended my church on Facebook Livestream, I marveled at the wonders and the blessings of this day so many years ago. The Resurrection story still brings a tear to my eyes.

I hope you had a meaningful holiday this year—beyond the trifles this world offers and delved into the deeper meaning of the holiday.

How do you celebrate Easter? Did you gather with family this year? Did you go to church? How was it different to celebrate it this year from the past? The same?


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Christianity · My Thoughts

What is Holy Week?

Holy Week may have no significance to you. I’m an Episcopalian, rooted deeply in the Anglican tradition, and we celebrate Holy Week, starting today, Palm Sunday. I’d like to share my thoughts with you about the events of Holy Week and the participants who stand out.

“From early times Christians have observed the week before Easter as a time of special devotion. As the pilgrim Egeria recorded in the late fourth century, Jerusalem contained many sacred places that were sites for devotion and liturgy. Numerous pilgrims to the holy city followed the path of Jesus in his last days. They formed processions, worshipped where Christ suffered and died, and venerated relics. From this beginning evolved the rites we observe today on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. These services provide a liturgical experience of the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, as well as the time and events leading up to his resurrection.”https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/holy-week

In my tradition, we separate out these events from the Easter celebration. Some of Christianity focuses only on Easter and the Resurrection. I like our way of honoring all the events beforehand that set the stage for Easter.

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, not in full Royal regalia but on the back of a donkey colt. His entry defied what the world thought the King of the Jews would do!

Maundy Thursday, we give the willing the opportunity to have their feet washed, again taking Jesus’ actions to heart of “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  (John 13:64) The act of feet washing is an act of love and service.

            “The Thursday in Holy Week. It is part of the Triduum, or three holy days before Easter. It comes from the Latin mandatum novum, “new commandment,” from Jn 13:34. The ceremony of washing feet was also referred to as “the Maundy.” Maundy Thursday celebrations also commemorate the institution of the eucharist by Jesus “on the night he was betrayed.

Following this, the altar is stripped and all decorative furnishings are removed from the church.”

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/maundy-thursday

Good Friday we provide a quiet solemn time at the church from noon until 3:00 PM doing the Stations of the Cross with ample time for reflection.

            “The Friday before Easter Day, on which the church commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a day of fasting and special acts of discipline and self-denial.”

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/good-friday

Holy Saturday we have the Easter Vigil Candlelight Service celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

Easter Day is truly a day of celebration—He is risen, He is risen indeed!

So, what’s all the fuss? As I slow down this week and linger at these points along the way, I enrich my Easter experience with the details leading up to the most important day in all Christendom—Easter.

What fascinates me most in the midst of the events are the actual people who participated willingly or unwittingly:

  • Of course, Jesus is center stage. His behavior throughout the week varies. On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey colt when many thought the King of the Jews would have a magnificent entrance letting all know of his power and authority. Instead, God wanted a man among men, not an authority figure similar to the Roman dictator and all his fanfare.
  • Jesus needed alone time before the insanity of the week took over, so he drew away in the garden at the Mount of Olives in the dark of the night to pray and anguish over what He faced.
  • The Twelve disciples joined Jesus, but they couldn’t stay awake and support him in prayer. They knew that something was coming and they feared the possibilities. Grief gripped their hearts in the dark of the night, and they drifted off to sleep out of emotional exhaustion.
  • Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss. He had been one of Jesus’ closest associates but was willing to sell him out for money. When did he stop loving Jesus?
  • Peter denied being a follower of Jesus three times, just as Jesus had predicted. The cock crowed, and at that moment, the eye contact between Jesus and Peter at his third betrayal must have been electric. Why did Peter change so quickly? In Jesus’ stare, Peter realized later a deep forgiveness.
  • Pilate and Herod, world leaders at the time, became mere puppets in the drama that unfolded: Jesus accused; Jesus’ silence enraged them; Jesus’ fate determined by an angry mob, not two world leaders who should have stopped it. Did they realize the position they put themselves in?
  • The angry mob shouted “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate succumbed to their angry words forcing him to sacrifice Jesus instead Barabbas. Did one person start the chant then it grew out of control?
  • Barabbas, a convicted criminal, guilty of insurrection and murder, released from facing this cruel death, and Jesus took his place, innocent of any crime and not guilty. The mob won. Did Barabbas suffer from survivor guilt?
  • Simon of Cyrene, an innocent countryman, forced to carry the cross behind Jesus. What did he think as he watched the wounded Jesus stagger and fall? Did he agree with the decision to crucify Jesus and not Barabbas?
  • Chief Priests hurled insults at Jesus, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God his chosen one!” How could these Godly men watch this horrific torture of another human being and not weep?
  • Two criminals crucified on each side of Jesus. One accused Jesus, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one identified Jesus’ innocence. Jesus promised the repentant one, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
  • The centurion witnessed Jesus’ death, “Certainly this man was innocent.” Did he sob at what he saw?
  • Women followers stood at a distance in shock, not knowing what to do. We know there were three or four women, but we’re not sure who they were except for Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Were they able to sleep Friday and Saturday night as they grieved over the death of their Jesus?
  • Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council and a good man who did not agree with what happened asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and he laid Jesus in a tomb. Did he think that Jesus would burst forth from this tomb?

 

            It took this whole cast of characters plus many others to put into action the events that happened during Holy Week. Some names we know; some unnamed, but yet they participated in a succession of actions that changed the course of history for all times.

            At church today, we sang a song, “Above All.” The last line of the chorus states: “You took the fall, and thought of me, above all.”

            At that moment on the cross when the suffering of Jesus seemed insurmountable, He thought of me, He thought of you, above all! That’s why he suffered and died—because he thought of you and me!

            Do you celebrate Holy Week? If so, how?

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