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Early Easter 2015– John 20:1-18

You may have heard of the custom in the Ubuntu African tribe, where

…when a woman of the tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes to the jungle with other women, and together they pray and meditate until they get to “The song of the child.” When the child is born, the community gets together and they sing the child’s song. When the child begins his education, people get together and sing the song. When the person becomes an adult, the community gets together again and sing it. When it comes to the time for a wedding, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the person’s soul is going from this world, family and friends gather and, like at birth, sing their song to accompany the person on the “journey”.

“In this Ubuntu tribe, there is another occasion when men sing the song. If at some point the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, they take him or her to the center of town and the people of the community form a circle around her or him. Then they sing “their song.” The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment, but is the love and memory of one’s true identity. When we recognize our own song, we have no desire or need to hurt anyone. [Tolba Phanem, singingteachers.wordpress.com]

You could do a lot worse than to imagine God or the Church as the One who knows your “song,” who knows your true name, before you were born, who sings it to you in all the joys and sorrows and wanderings of your life, and then sings it to you as you pass into new life.

Jesus had taught Mary Magdalene her true name. She had heard her own song in the melody of his voice, in his teaching, in his healing, in his laughter. But the events of the past three days had muffled that song, had blurred her vision, had broken her heart.

She went to the tomb alone, as John tells the story, “while it was still dark.” She finds the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, and assumes the worst. Running to find Simon Peter and John, she tells them that someone has taken the Lord’s body and hidden it. They come and enter the tomb, and, John says that the disciple whom Jesus loved saw the empty grave cloths and “believed.” Then the men go home.

Mary, though, cannot leave, any more than she could have left that Good Friday scene of crucifixion. When she finally bends over and looks into the tomb, she sees two in angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. She still thinks somebody has stolen Jesus’ body, and continues to weep. “When you live only in a Good Friday world,” a wise woman observes, “and your eyes have gotten too used to the dark, and you are crying over a stolen body, a stolen hope, a stolen promise, everyone you meet is not a potential friend, but a potential thief–even two angels sitting in an empty tomb.” [Shannon Johnson Kershner, Journal for Preachers, Easter 2015, p. 35]

Mary even assumes the gardener is a potential thief–”Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” And Jesus says to her, “Mary.” “What an empty tomb, two angels, folded linens, and a separated wrapped up hanky could not do, [one writer says] the call of one’s name does. This is a beautiful moment.” [Mark Davis, leftbehind. 3/30/15] Mary has heard her song, her true name, and at last she is able to see clearly and truly. “Rabbouni!” she cries, and falls at his feet. “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus tells her. This is not where the journey ends. Go and tell my brothers and sisters.

Life in God’s reign is far more than “surviving,” more than simply becoming accustomed or adjusted to the Good Friday world that so many people–and most of us at times–can only see. The only way out of that Good Friday haze, as one woman puts it, is to remember our true names, or, when we forget them, to have them sung to us. It may not be the actual song, like the Ubuntu tribe sings, but we might hear it in some other music, in poetry, in the hug of a friend, the laughter of a child, in a dream or vision, in the voices and faces of all kinds of people, in the view from a mountain. “Mary,” he said, and she knew who he was and who she was.

“While it was still dark,” Mary went to the tomb. The darkness does not last forever, and in fact it is precisely out of the darkness that the dawn arises. God does some of God’s best work in the dark–at the creation of the universe, on Christmas Eve, on an early Easter morning, “while it was still dark.” In your darkest hour–at the bedside of a loved one, when you feel like a failure, when your life is a hot mess, when the pain seems never to go away, when you feel all alone –know that God is especially experienced at this kind of thing. Listen for your true name, perhaps the name given you at your baptism. Perhaps your true name, your own song, has only become clear to you in the years following your baptism. Maybe you’re still waiting to hear it. Know that your searching, your straining to hear it, is part of the melody. And know that this One, whom death could not contain, is even now singing the song of every heart which is open to Love and Truth. Like a bottle of precious essential oil, a fragrant perfume of the most beautiful flowers and blossoms, broken open and filling the world with its fragrance, so the risen Body of Christ infuses and pours over the wounds of the world, including each one of us.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed.” It was when she heard him call her name that she too experienced new life. Listen for his voice–”You are beloved, a precious child of God, beautiful to behold.” He’s singing your song.

Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark

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