John 20:11-18 and Psalm 126
John 20: 11-18: But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. And then, as Sister Miriam Elizabeth pointed out to me recently, there is this movement in our gospel for today—Mary turns twice. I have thought about those two turnings ever since she said that to me. The first is a turning of lament. It happens before Mary recognizes the risen Lord. She is lamenting that they have taken him from her. This first turning is a moment of loss—without hope. Then, he calls her name—and she turns again and says to him “Rabbouni!” This is the turning of resurrection, the moment of rejoicing.
Tomorrow, as attorneys and justices take a next, and we pray, decisive step in resolving the legal issues we face, I call us to the turning of lament and to the turning of resurrection, our moment of rejoicing. I call upon us, as we reflect on the property in question, to begin our day with lament to remember those in our midst who have known, for centuries, injustices related to removal from their ancestral lands; those forcibly removed from their homeland packed into ships to come here to face lives of torture and enslavement; and, those who have faced and face still, in parts of the world, grave dangers if they openly reveal their identities—including imprisonment or even death simply because of who they love.
The privileges many of us who are white, cis-gender heterosexual people—particularly men— have known—in property ownership, wealth accumulation, in personal freedoms, yes—even in the capacity to build beautiful edifices in which to worship God—we have gained by the blood and agony of those whose suffering is hard for many of us to comprehend.
Sociologists, including Justin Farrell from Yale University, have just released research confirming what Native Americans have known—that in the continental U.S., Indigenous tribes lost close to 99 percent of their combined historical land bases through European colonization and the expansion of the United States. Their documented presence was reduced from more than 2.7 million square miles to roughly 165,000 square miles.
Well into the twentieth century—into the mid 1960s, our white diocesan leaders denied seat, voice, and vote to our African American sisters and brothers in Christ at our Diocesan Convention—one of countless injustices with which they contended as they were fighting for their basic rights against constant threats of intimidation, physical violence, torture, and death in cities and towns across our state and nation.
There are still approximately 69 countries that have laws criminalizing homosexuality—nearly half of those are in Africa. These laws can, in many cases, be traced to colonial times. And we are at risk of a roll back on hard earned civil liberties for marriage equality, upon which hinges many basic rights for family members in this country.
As we pray for clarity and justice to prevail in our own matters of concern as a diocese, let us remember that our present trials sit in the larger context of the story of God’s mighty justice in this world. It is a story in which the circle is always, as Bishop Rob Wright of the Diocese of Atlanta has said, being drawn wider. The only true reason to hope for a favorable outcome of our present legal matters is so that we might use our resources rightly—to bring the light of the Gospel to transform powers and principalities that have harmed God’s beloved children, to restore God’s hope and truth and beauty in this world.
Our present conflict has at its roots very different understandings of what justice entails. Just under 10 years ago, you made painful, wrenching choices to stand firm with Jesus in his call to us to practices revolutionary love. You committed to building communities where there are no outcasts. I am profoundly moved by your courage, your clarity, your willingness to embrace the wilderness for these many years because you would not leave a single beloved child of God out of the circle. You respected the dignity of every human being by your actions. For that, you can be deeply glad. No matter what happens tomorrow or in the days ahead.
As we pray and tend to our own wounds and to the wounds of those with whom we have disagreed, and whom we love as we always have, I ask that we not lose perspective. When it comes to the story of land and property, Jesus calls us always to tend first the needs of those who have been most disenfranchised—those who have lived with injustice from generation to generation. See them. Center their experience. Honor their lives. Seek their well being first. This is the gospel call upon our lives.
For all the nameless ones who have had land, freedom, dignity, and life ripped from them because of human sin, may we pause to lament tomorrow. May we name them. May this be the first turning of our day.
Then, I call us to the second turning tomorrow—the turning of resurrection. From our lament, may there rise in us a conviction to walk in solidarity—with all those of good will who would join us—be they ones we have counted as friends or adversaries. May all of us who long to build the beloved community of Jesus join hands across all of our differences. May we walk from a past of division into a future where everyone, everyone has a seat at the welcome table. And we all feast together—no outcasts.
This is what beloved community entails—radical, unfettered welcome, safe harbor, just society. I believe there are those on all sides of our disagreements who know there is room at the table for everyone. There are those on all sides of our disagreement who want a world where their children, their siblings, their cousins, nephews and nieces, their parents and friends and neighbors can live without fear of harm simply because of who they are.
I promise you, if we dare to follow Jesus and “draw the circle wider” like Bishop Wright says, bright will be our future, clear will be our voice, beautiful will be the footprint we leave in every place where we plant ourselves—with or without buildings and properties.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to her disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
When we see the Lord in each and every one we encounter, then, those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Then, those who go out weeping, bearing the seeds for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. Lament will give way to rejoicing. Resurrection will arrive, clothed in unrecognizable form.
So, tomorrow morning when you arise, turn and turn again. For a new day awaits.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord ,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley
The Rt. Reverend Ruth Woodliff-Stanley was elected by the Diocese of South Carolina in May 2021, and consecrated as a bishop on October 2, 2021.