There is power in a name.
The story, in John, reads almost like a Shakespearean comedy, except that it's so tragic. They walk, they run. They don't dare to look, they look. They leave, they stay. There are people there who weren't there before. There's even a servant, a gardener, who is not what he seems.
As Paul would say later: I believe, help my unbelief.
My husband asked me yesterday what the point of all that running was, and I had to read the text again. There is indeed a lot of back and forth going on, and a lot of names. And yet, the protagonist is simply named with a phrase: "The one the Lord loved". A hash tag if you like. And yes, I would claim John is the protagonist in this text. Here, as during the crucifiction scene, he is special, singled out. Because this is his story, his gospel. This is his narrative crescendo, his moment of transformation. Look at John, the most beloved of disciples.
But it is another that shines.
Maybe I am reading John the wrong way. Maybe he isn't interested in presenting his closeness with the Lord, maybe he doesn't brag just a little. Maybe he is merely setting the stage for the real star of the story. Because that's what happens. The supporting actors leave the stage, and there is only one person left. Weeping, desolate. Without any hope at all.
Maybe John needed to tell the world he was the most beloved of disciples, because deep down he knew there was another who was closer to Jesus' heart? Someone who couldn't count, someone who shouldn't be there? A woman, a nobody, an outcast. A person without voice, without power. Sure, they could take her money, and use her house. She was handy when clothes needed mending or food had to be cooked. But she was not, ever, in their eyes, a disciple.
No, not a disciple. Just a friend.
The disciples ran away. They hid. The disciples lied and betrayed, denied and were ashamed.
But the women stayed. The women saw him die, and the women went to see him dead.
Now, Jesus is not one to judge people for their shortcomings. He chose the weak, the greedy, the vain and the needy. He chose the disciples for their weaknesses, because through the cracks the light shows through. They, in just being themselves, let the truth and love shine all the more. But when it came to sheer trustworthiness, it had to be the women. The faithful ones. And most of all, Mary from Magdala.
It is said that women are stronger than men. Not in muscle force, but hardier, more enduring. More female children survive, and women grow older than men. There is something stubborn about the female body, a refusal to give up. That is why women give birth, and women, often, nurse. Our bodies are made for never giving up.
So Mary doesn't. Or a least her body refuses to give up. She follows through, from the feast to death, from death to the grave. And it is only when all hope seems lost, when there isn't even a body to care for, that her body collapses. She hits rock bottom. She has nothing more to give. The strange gardener asks her why she cries. And the simple truth of nothingness comes out. There is nothing more she can do. She is helpless, hopeless. All alone.
But there is power in a name.
There is life in a name.
She might not have been dead. But she was without life. Until he saw her, called her.
And she might have not been dead, but she was without meaning, without purpose. Until he sent her.
And this is the moment when the Shakespearean comedy falls apart. Wild, beautiful, unbelievable reality tears the stage curtains away. The theater we thought was life breaks down, and the sky outside is bluer and wider than we ever imagined. He lives. And he calls her. And us.
You, who have waited for so long, I am here now.
You, who have cried for so long, I hear your pain.
You, who have not dared to believe, I know you.
You, who had no name or place, I call your name.
He lives. We live.
The one the Lord loved most lives.
The woman who refused to let go lives.
We who have waited for so long live.
No matter what happens. No matter the hurdles and mistakes. No matter all the horrors evil send us, all the crimes and violence we cause each other. No matter all the despair, the hunger, the pain.
Life wins. In the end, life wins.
Do not stay by the grave, do not hold the risen Lord so tightly that nobody else might reach him. Run. Shout. Proclaim.
We are called by name. In the name of the risen Lord. And there is power, glorious power, in a name.