The Recovery of Love
This sermon was delivered by Keren McClelland at ABC on Easter Sunday, 27 March 2016. It is part of the ‘Resurrection People’ series which is also accompanied by Study Notes for group discussion and personal study. Here is the link to Study 1 which is based on this Scripture passage.
The recovery of love (Mary Magdalene)
Reading - John 20: 1 - 18
The farmer poet, Wendell Berry, writes the poem “Do not be ashamed”
You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.
Mary Magdalene is asked twice
Woman, why are you weeping?
We don’t need to know her reply
John has already told us why describing her shame, story of forgiveness, her life transformed and her extravagant response with pure perfume, a lifetime of savings poured out.
Jesus has been the heron on the horizon when she said I am not ashamed.
In the reading from John’s Gospel the angels and Jesus also ask us
Why are you weeping?
Because despite all our best efforts it seems the world is falling apart!
Why is Goodness crucified?
Through her tear filled blurry eyes Mary doesn’t recognise the risen Christ. Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. The twist in the story, love is recovered. Easter Sunday becomes the first day in a renewed cosmos, a new day of creation.
In that moment Mary also is a new creation the first in a new generation where the orientation is wholeness.
Isaiah anticipates this newness, this transformation (65:23)
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well.
Paul a little later describes resurrection more fully in 2 Corinthians 5:14-18
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!
Mary Magdalene’s love is recovered this day. Mary, the first of the disciples on the scene in John’s story, becomes a co-creator with them in this unfolding drama. With them on Easter Sunday we are not completed, just beginning!
Paul, in Corinthians, fleshes out this dynamic:
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
French palaeontologist, geologist, Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in the late 1800’s. His writing on original sin, science and evolution, was so controversial the Catholic church forbade publication of his work in his lifetime.
Ilia Delio, a scientist who loves Teilhard de Chardin’s work, makes some of his thinking accessible (to English speakers in 2016).
“Original sin, he said, is simply the “law of imperfection which operates in (hu)mankind in virtue of its being in fieri”; that is, because evolution is an unfinished process and the human person is still being created, sin is the inevitable correlate of incompleteness.”
One of the themes that has come through in our thinking about welcome has been navigating the tensions of change and resistance. Jesus demonstrates the new pathway to healing between those two things. God’s outpouring of love. “Jesus’ approach to sin in the Gospels is in the form of healing; power goes out from him that brings to life what is disconnected or diseased (see Luke 7:36-50; Mk 1:40-45).
The emphasis is on wholeness. Jesus’ God-centered life shows a way of relating to others that makes wholes where there are divisions. His love gathers and heals what is scattered and apart…”
Easter Sunday declares the direction of the universe is towards wholeness. The cosmos is charged with love connecting us to one another. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin died Easter Sunday 1955 and the church is just beginning to discover his contribution!
Love story of Dante and Beatrice
There is another Easter love story where love is the orientation,
the direction and focus.
It’s the story of Dante and Beatrice.
Theirs is a story of transforming love.
A pilgrimage towards wholeness.
Beatrice Portinari (1266-1290) and Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
were born in the 13th century in Florence.
She is nine when she captures Dante’s attention.
They never marry. She dies at 25 well before their story is written.
The epic is called “The Divine Comedy” and it has inspired artists such as Gustave Dore, William Blake (exhibition at the NGV in 2014), Salvador Dali, contemporary artists also (see here for 2015 exhibition of African artists!). Recent writers include Dan Brown, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Faber (with subtle and overt allusions to Beatrice), Toni Morrison (in her Dantesque trilogy), and Jhumpa Lahiri (Geoff mentioned two weeks ago)… Dante’s use of the Florentine dialect trumped all the other dialects to become the language we now know as Italian.
Set in the Jubilee year of 1300, Pope Boniface, for whom Dante has little respect, had declared Easter a special year of pilgrimage to Rome (as Jerusalem was not safe to journey to).
There are three parts with 33 cantos in each: inferno, purgatory, paradise. The three sections align with a pilgrimage which starts in Rome on Good Friday (inferno/hell) and moves through to Easter Sunday (paradise).
The Divine Comedy is not to be read literally.
It also reflects a cosmology where the earth is at the centre,
but it has a drive, truth and energy that is timeless.
Australian born poet Clive James was introduced to the story in Italy by his partner Prue Shaw in the mid 1960’s. His recent remastering of the poetry in English makes the story accessible for us. Shaw taught James that the secret in the masterpiece was the “handling of the verse” which always moved forward.
It makes me think of Paul’s description of love urging us on.
As a poet this movement informed his translation into English.
At the “midpoint” of life (he is 35/70) Dante is a leader in his community.
An intelligent, highly educated person, trained in the classics and philosophy,
he finds himself caught up in unmanageable political circumstances.
He is expelled from Florence, never to return. (Inferno. Canto 1)
He puts himself into the story as the main character.
This is how he describes the lostness of the midpoint of his life:
“At the mid-point of the path through life, I found
Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way
Ahead was blotted out. The keening sound
I still make shows how hard it is to say
How harsh and bitter that place felt to me -
Three “beasts” block his way. For example:
The wolf appeared, whose name is Avarice,
Made thin by a cupidity that steals
Insatiably out of its own increase,
Obtained from many people it made poor
This one propelled such terror from its face
Into my mind, all thoughts I had before
Of ever rising to a state of grace
Were crushed. And so, as one who, mad for gain,
must find one day that all he gains is lost
In a flood of tears, a conscience racked with pain,
Just so I felt my hopes came at the cost
Of being forced, by this unresting beast,
Little by little down towards that wood
Whose gloom the sun can never in the least
Dante’s experience of humiliation in public life and hardship
force him to dig deep.
He walks us through addiction, deadly sins and vice,
down through levels of hell to find the devil frozen upside down in a lake at the bottom.
Dante walks through the gate of choice and scales the mountain on the other side of the globe in the section called “purgatory”.
The ascent to the top is relentlessly demanding.
His poem is a journey to the summit to recover love.
He spends the remaining 20 years of his life in exile,
writing this masterpiece about the psychological,
spiritual experience of personal transformation.
Dante's work invites us to put ourselves as the hero in our own journey.
To travel the path through our own change and resistance into wholeness.
The inspiration that shapes and compels Dante in his pilgrimage is (his memory of meeting) Beatrice.
In this story she is the one who intercedes (with characters Mary and Lucy)
for Dante by asking the poet Virgil to accompany him through hell
(although Virgil, writer of the Aeneid, can only take him so far).
Through it all Dante is ever drawn onward to healing
by his first vision of the purest love.
He whispers a description of his glimpse of paradise like the petals of a rose on the dawn of Easter Sunday.
Beatrice is there to meet him and introduce him to the saints in the movement of the planets.
Dante’s awakening conclusion expresses his limitations in describing Easter Sunday fully:
… As my eyes yet drank their fill
Of that light, things did not remain at rest:
Not that the light did not remain the same-
It always had one aspect, as before-
But as my sight, in gazing at the flame,
Gained strength, the single aspect the light wore
Was changing in my eyes as I was changed.
In that high flame’s deep and unblemished field
Three circles of three colours were arranged,
All of the same extent. One seemed to yield
Its lustre-as a pair of rainbows may-
To the other, and the third was made of fire
Breathed forth by the first two. What can I say?
Was this the trinity of my desire
Or was it not? Alas, how scant is speech,
Failing my concept by so very much!
And what I saw, that concept failed to reach
By such a distance, was so out of touch,
To call it “little” scarcely would suffice.
Eternal light, known to yourself alone,
Knowing yourself alone, once, twice and thrice,
In loving company yet on your own,
The self-renewing well of paradise
Forever! All the circling thus unloosed
Reflected light, which my eyes dwelt upon
And saw the way those swirling tints produced
A painted likeness that my eyes fixed on
Completely, for that likeness was of us.
Like the geometer who sets his soul
To square the circle and will not discuss
One thing besides, and yet-although the whole
Of what he knows is poured into the task-
Can’t find the necessary principle,
Just so was I when faced with that strange mask.
How was the image fitted to the full
Activity within the circle? Why
Should it be placed there? But my wings were not
Sufficient. It took faith’s flash to supply
My mind with that sharp blow by which it got
Its wish. Imagination, there on high-
Too high to breathe free, after such a climb-
Had lost its power; but now, just like a wheel
That spins so evenly it measures time
By space, the deepest wish that I could feel
And all my will, were turning with the love
That moves the sun and all the stars above.
Mary, why are you weeping?
Easter echoes with stories of love!
love that heals the cycles of brokenness
love that comforts the brokenhearted
love that invites us home
love that welcomes us into eternity
love that moves the sun and all the stars above.
 For some of Ilia Delio’s writing see “The evolution of Ilia Delio": http://ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/evolution-ilia-delio
 Ilia Delio The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, God, Evolution, and the Power of Love. (2013) 116-118.
 The Divine Comedy, translated Clive James (2013) xiii.