The Rev. William C. Redfield
Trinity Episcopal church, Fayetteville, NY
Maundy Thursday—March 28, 2013
I have talked about the confluence of my two present journeys—first, my movement (our movement, to be sure) through the sacred time and events of Holy Week, while at the same time, second, traveling through my own personal story as I make my way through my own current life transition. This convergence has never been more poignant to me than it is tonight – on this most tender night in the life of the Master. You might assume that my subject matter would be about the connection between death and leaving, between unexpected dead ends and difficult good-byes. Actually, though, even more potently, it is about love. For, while our Christian tradition over the centuries has chosen on this night to fasten onto the twin themes of abandonment and betrayal, it is love that actually holds these sacred events together, and it is love that colors my own life transition.
We start with the Gospel story. While it is true that abandonment and betrayal are indeed part of the picture we are viewing when we catalogue the events of Jesus’ last days on earth, there turns out to be another story present—a story hidden in plain sight—whose storyline trumps and transcends the darkness of everything else. This is the story of a love and of an understanding that Jesus shared with his beloved disciple Mary Magdalene. Because she had so integrated his teaching, she was able to keep Jesus tethered by the strong thread of love as he moved through the last demanding days of his life. Her steady and unfailing presence was able to track him through his suffering, death, and entry into the heart of the earth. The Gospels faithfully report that, while the other disciples fled in fear, she remains present with and to Jesus at every step of his difficult passage. Is it any surprise that she would be the one who would encounter him first on Easter morning?
Perhaps the key to understanding the abiding connection between the Mary Magdalene and Jesus is to imagine that their hearts have become so connected as to become intertwined. Now, I don’t mean this is either a sentimental or purely erotic way. It is much, much deeper than that. Not only has she heard the teaching of Jesus, she has come to fully incorporate it and embody it. So, knowing that her life is constantly flowing into his life, she is able to stay present to the Master through everything.
This is so incredibly important because it exposes for us an interior view of how we can find the fullness and the vibrancy of our own lives. And while this may seem to many of us to be new information, it in no way contradicts the teachings we have grown up with. It only provides the deeper context by revealing the dynamic interior perspective.
“The Son of Man already exists within you…and those who seek him there will find him.” Through the receptivity of her own completely open heart, Mary understood this teaching. By purifying her heart, she had discovered that Jesus had already and always existed in her own heart and being. She had also learned that to remain in constant union with him required the releasing of the outer clamor of her life and tuning in again and again to his presence through the homing beacon of her heart. Of course, she did this while Jesus walked the face of this earth, but she was also able to do this after he died and had descended into the heart of the earth.
There is a high and essential spiritual teaching here; and it is imperative that we come to understand this. Our original birth did not come when our mothers gave birth to us. Our origin is from another realm. Let me express it this way: We come from God and we are going to God. Or, we come from love, and it is in love’s direction that we are moving. It is also by means of love that we can make this passage.
It is in this sense, then, that “the Son of Man already exists within us.” Thus, the fullness of our relationship with Jesus is accessed simply by keeping the heart in natural alignment with its Origin and Source. That is what Mary Magdalene is able to do; and she becomes for us the model of loving discipleship. When the heart, then, is aligned with its Source, abundance flows from that place of origin. This is how the scarcity and constriction of this world can be overcome. Mary’s is not the path of merely mental belief; it is the path of purifying the heart. That, too, is the path to which we are being called.
We, then, are being called to live our lives with eyes and hearts wide open. Instead of getting trapped in our own small stories that keep us locked up in our tight little worlds of emotional reactivity, we are being called to follow a deeper trajectory of love set by the Master. That means moving beyond fear, moving beyond sentimentality, beyond small-mindedness. Constantly bringing ourselves back to the fullness of the present moment, we push nothing away. We let it be as it is. But at the same time we cling to nothing. This forms our lives in the shape of “Yes,” conforming to the Master’s “Yes” as he articulates it on this night, and delivers us to that ever-flowing inner fountain of mercy, love, and blessing.
On Ash Wednesday, way back at the beginning of Lent, I said,
In Lent we have the opportunity to find the fullness of life in the falling itself…More than assuming that we will automatically come out in one piece on the other side (that is, the Easter side), in Lent we can find something akin to the hidden victory in the vulnerability of the falling itself.
Here, then, in the midst of our own falling lies the secret seed of resurrection. While you wouldn’t have realized it when I imposed the ashes on your forehead and proclaimed that you are dust and to dust shall return, I was also marking you for resurrection.
In the resurrection God has taken Jesus’ path of descent and death and lifted it to become the path to greater life. Easter is not the reversal of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; it is their deepest truth. In this, the value of his love has become precious beyond measure. It becomes the gift to which we can open in order to receive it; it also is the gift that we can pour out to others. It is in this way, then, that the Easter message is truly prefigured on this mysterious and tender night.
Last night at the conclusion of the Anointing Liturgy, Renee sent us off with a short portion of T. S. Eliot. It is as fitting tonight as it was last night:
All shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well.
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
(from T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”)
My life with you has been and continues to be for me such a blessing. It has been and continues to be marked not by duty or any kind of outer form really, but by an inner connection of love. And so with hearts anchored in the fullness of being, we can open to the changes before us. And can we give ourselves over to “Yes”—the “Yes” that flows from the heart of love.