‘LIFE AFTER DEATH’
After listening to our reading today from John’s Gospel, some of us may think that Mary Magdalene was a weak person. It was the third day of Jesus‘ death and she was still weeping outside the tomb. I mean why did she not move on? After all Jesus had been dead for days. With no modern preservative, the body would have smelled badly by then. And don’t forget that it was only the body that was inside the tomb. The person himself had gone.
But not for Mary. Yes she may cry over and search for a dead body, but that body was once a part of her beloved teacher and friend. For her, the body may be lifeless, but it was not meaningless for her.
I lost my mother two weeks ago in Jakarta, Indonesia. I was there next to her when she died in the hospital. It was one of the most heartbreaking and surreal experiences I had ever had, almost like a dream. One moment she was still asking for food and drink, the next moment she was gone. Her body was still warm when I embraced her and kissed her goodbye.
I was there when all the machines that once supported her life were taken off her and her lifeless body slumped gently on her bed. I was there when they moved her body from room in the hospital where she was treated to the mortuary. I was in the car with her when they transferred her body from the mortuary to the funeral home. And I was there when they washed her body, put make up on her face, and dressed her.
All those times I spoke to her as if she was still alive. I spoke to her as her body lied peacefully in her casket. I spoke to her as they closed her casket for the last time. And I still spoke to her in her grave.
You may think I’m crazy, but there was nothing insane about it. The body may be lifeless, but for me it was still my mother. It was the body of the woman who gave birth to me, raised me in her arms, and took care of me when I was sick. It may be a dead body, but it was still a part of who she was.
So I can understand why Mary Magdalene cried bitterly outside of Jesus’ tomb, searching desperately for Jesus’ body. She was there when Jesus was dying on the cross (John 19:25). According to Matthew, she was there when he finally succumbed to his injuries and drew his last breath (Matthew 27:55). She was also there when they took his body down from the cross and laid him in the tomb (Matthew 27:57-61). His body was the only thing she had left of him and now, on the third day of Jesus’ death, it was also taken from her.
So I wouldn’t dare to imagine how she felt at the time. I would have reacted the same way if I had been her. Jesus’ body, lying in the tomb, was the only thing that she could cling on to as she grieved the loss of her friend. And now it was gone also.
But everything was turned upside down when the event took an unexpected turn: Mary met Jesus, not as a dead person or a ghost, but as the resurrected Christ! After all the beatings and tortures that he had endured, Jesus was there, standing next to Mary, calling her name, and he was all right! Death could not conquer him; the evil machine of the Roman Empire could not defeat him. He was OK and he was on his way to his Father and their Father and our Father.
One thing that I kept on saying to my mother, as I embraced her lifeless body, was to go and rest in peace in the house of God, our Father. I said this again and again and again to her. And I know that she is there now (with my Dad who was gone when I was six); and it gives me peace knowing that she is OK now with God in His house.
The place that the prophet in our reading from the book of Isaiah envisioned was a place of bliss and eternal peace. But we may wonder, “Where is such a place? Is it down here on earth; or is it up there in heaven?” We don’t know for certain. What we know for certain is that the prophet would like us not to look back to the past, but forward to the future. “Don’t worry about the events in the past. Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth!” God said through the prophet’s mouth.
Indeed if there was one thing that the resurrection changed Mary and the disciples was that it made them people of the future and not of the past. Mary and the disciples must stop worrying about Jesus. He had been risen! Suffering and death had no control over him any longer. Jesus now had a different kind of existence.
One of the most heartbreaking experiences in my life was to witness how my mother withered away. It was difficult to see how her body grew weaker and weaker, and smaller and smaller in the past months until it finally reached the state of beyond repair. It was as if the power of death came into and took away her life little by little.
And the moment of her death was the most heart-rendering event that I had ever experienced; a moment that I always dreaded since I was a kid. Yet I could also see in that moment that Mum was not struggling any more. She was not in pain any longer and was completely at peace. Indeed in that moment, death had become for her a gate to a new existence that those who are still alive, like you and I, could not understand. My heart was broken, my head hurt (because of too much crying), but I was at peace knowing that she was in a better place. Indeed after we washed, dressed, and put make up on her face, everybody could see that she was smiling. Perhaps it was her way to tell us that she was OK; that she is with God now in a place where the prophet in Isaiah says that there is no weeping or crying. And we, her family, are not to worry about her any longer; we are to continue living our life the way that my mother would like us to live.
Friends, Easter Sunday is a reminder to us that death is not the final word in God’s world; that faith, hope, and love extend beyond death; that new life is always - always - available even after death. Like Mary and the disciples, we are not to let death define who we are and what we are to do with the life that God has given us.
Yes we are to stop worrying about the dead - God in His love and mercy will look after them. We are to focus our energy on the living instead. We are to join God in his mission to create a new world. Just like I feel my mother’s presence whenever and wherever my family and I continue her legacy, Christ is risen whenever and wherever we continue his mission on earth.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! (3x)