"Shake Off The Dark"
Written by the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.,
Visiting Bishop for the Diocese of South Carolina
I love John’s story of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning, which is our Easter gospel this year. It is a solitary, intimate moment that is especially timely for this unusual Easter Day in our homes.
John tells us that the other disciples hastened away from the empty tomb, but Mary remained there, weeping. Her tears are deeply moving. Mary was very close to Jesus. His death and the absence of his body brought forth a flood of emotions, which John uniquely lets us see. It is a profoundly honest story. We can feel Mary’s grief in our deep heart’s core.
As she weeps, a person appears and asks, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She supposes him to be the gardener. But when he speaks her name, “Mary,” she sees—astonished—that it is Jesus. This is consistent with all the Easter narratives in which no one recognizes the risen Christ at first. Then they do. He was himself, yet different. Jesus had not just come back to life; he had entered into a new life, a risen life.
Mary Magdalene is the first to see this new reality breaking into the world. She becomes “the apostle to the apostles,” as she runs to tell them of the radical hope that had dawned out of the darkness of the cross.
In John’s telling of this ineffable mystery it is when the Risen One speaks her name that she sees. This strikes me this year with enormous power. In his teaching, Jesus had spoken of the good shepherd who knows his sheep by name: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” [John 10: 27]. So intimate is his love for us that Jesus calls us each by name.
As we observe this unique Easter in our homes, I invite you to sit quietly and imagine Jesus speaking your name. You may be weeping about something in these trying times. You may be rejoicing about something. You may fearful. Just imagine hearing your name spoken by the risen Christ with you, as he was with Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. Imagine the sense of new life and hope that this brings, as it brought to Mary beyond her tears.
Wendell Berry wrote a mystical poem about an Easter moment he experienced on his farm in Kentucky that concludes with these words:
I go amazed
Into the maze of a design
That mind can follow but not know…
Be still. A man who seems to be
A gardener rises out of the ground,
Stands like a tree, shakes off the dark.
The bluebells opening at his feet,
The light a figured cloth of song.
May you, too, glimpse the Easter mystery afresh this year. May it shake off the dark and fill you with hope.
The Rt. Rev. Henry Nutt Parsley, Jr.
During the uncertain times created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, leadership of the diocese will send out regular meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for the next while as we all adjust to a new chapter of living and being the Church.