Searching For Easter

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Scripture Reading
John 20:1-9 (NRSV)

Happy Easter!

As someone from the Evangelical/Pentecostal/Protestant tradition, I remember Easter (Resurrection Sunday) as one of the busiest days in our calendar. A friend Jeb and I met with two weeks ago remarked that it was a surprise that I have time to catch up considering Resurrection Sunday is just a few weeks away. We used to spend months of preparation for choir pieces. The music team is a little bit extra for the sunrise service (yep, the program starts at 5 am and we have to come earlier for the preps; para rin maiwasan ang traffic dahil sa Salubong). The dance ministry would be sleepless from choreographing. Ushers are all in their Sunday best. And even the kids’ ministry is involved. You can almost taste the excitement (and exhaustion) in the air because, as the folks would often say, “… if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain and your faith is in vain”. You see, we were part of a very triumphalistic church where our image of Jesus is Christus Victor so Easter, really, is a big deal. It is very colourful, festive, and loud.

But an aspect that is sometimes downplayed by the people of the resurrection is that Easter and the crucifixion is intertwined. Life comes only after death. In our former tradition, the death of Christ, the cross, was akin to the symbol of victory and of glory. But is it?

Let us walk through the resurrection account by looking at some of the characters in the narratives.

Jesus was crucified. It was not a glorious death. There was nothing majestic or royal to his end. He did not just die. Jesus was killed.

Jesus was killed because he touched lepers. There was no contempt as he ministered to their bodies being eaten away by illness because he knew there was something worse than the ills of the body.

He was killed because he openly conversed with women, with “adulterers,” with sinners, with the nobodies. Those who sought the best places on the table were frowned upon. For him, the last will be first; the first will be last.

Jesus was killed because he dined and partied with misfits. He thought they were his equals. He enjoyed their company.

He promised and proclaimed to those under Roman occupation “release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to those who are oppressed.” He also proclaimed a kingdom not like that of the Empire, of course, he was killed.

Ultimately, he interfered in the temple business with his business of turning tables. (No… You do not interfere with church business.) This was a big factor which led to his death.

Yes, we understand that if you speak ill against the empire and its other institutional collaborators, like the temple, troubles and death will follow. We have heard stories of martyrs and those who came before us who were too loud and too proud and who met their end. We have heard whispers of those who were nanlaban and the tragedy they encountered. We listened to the accounts of political prisoners who were tortured because of a glorious hope they are dreaming.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus was political. “Good Friday is the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the domination systems of his time… the normalcy of civilization.” The Jesus movement is that of compassion and love, economic sufficiency, lasting peace, public justice, and righteousness. What is routine in the world is that of violence. What is normal is injustice.

The sin of the world, this injustice, caused Jesus to be crucified. His peaceful, symbolic, and nonviolent protest and resistance to imperial Roman oppression and the Jewish religious leaders made waves. His death was certain. The one who came in a humble colt, who was called Messiah, was later seen hanging on the cross with his fellow criminals. He did not die for the sins of this world. Jesus was killed because of the sins of this world.

The death of Jesus brought fear. It also brought sadness. “Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene”. They wept, and waited upon the Lord. “When the men in the company of Jesus betrayed him (Judas) or denied him (Peter) or went back home (disciples of Emmaus) or accepted defeat and refused the vision Jesus once shared with them, the women stayed on.

In Luke, it was said that the women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid… On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They were surprised to see the stone rolled away and the missing body of Jesus. Two men in dazzling clothes told them that Jesus had risen.

Mark 16:11 said that “when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by [Mary Magdalene], they would not believe it. Verses 8-11 of Luke 24 then said: “…Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

Akala ng mga apostol ay kahibangan/kadaldalan/tsismis lamang ang kanilang sinasabi kaya ayaw nilang paniwalaan ang mga kababaihan.

The women witnesses were silenced. Pinatahimik dahil tila tsismis lang raw ang mga tinuran nila.

This is not a surprise. We’re accustomed to receiving such comments. Women suffer from stereotypes, like this. We were often labelled as emotional while men are cerebral. For them, that makes us unable to perform/lead like men.

Throughout history, women are silenced. In the pages of the stories of humankind, her narratives were hidden in between the lines. In the Bible, women are not accounted for; they were not counted as witnesses to the feeding of thousands. We were side-lined, neglected, and made quiet. And this is very evident in the Bible.

One woman who received injustice from the hands of the people handling Scripture was Mary Magdalene. Many were said about her. They said that she was a prostitute, and as Mariz shared to us last Community Connect, she was not.

Early church leaders confused Mary with other biblical women in order to portray her as the original repentant whore. The Catholic Church stopped referring to Mary Magdalene as such centuries ago in 1969 and began to distinguish her from the sinful woman who anointed Jesus described in the Gospel of Luke. However, Mary Magdalene’s status has been diminished by her association to prostitution. It somehow makes her less, like she was not fit to be a leader.

But this is not the case. Let me geek out a bit.

The Bible that we have today was a product of centuries of transcription, translation, and replication (parang DNA lang). Scribes very meticulously copied texts text (continuous-text manuscripts, or lectionary manuscripts) which may be dictated or from another into papyrus or parchment. The process takes time and a lot of money (they’d need 50-60 sheep or goats!). Sometimes there would be accidental mistakes, like doubling of letters/words, omission, or the like. Minsan parang lasing ata mga scribes eh. But sometimes, there are “mistakes” that reflects theological “improvement”or historical dilemmas.

Balik muna tayo kay Maria Magdalena.

The text we read this afternoon came from the Gospel of John. The oldest and most nearly complete manuscript of the Gospel of John is thought to be Papyrus 66. It is dated to 200 CE. A female scholar, Elizabeth Schrader, noticed that there is something notable in 𝔓66. In her article, she described that with all of these scribal adjustments at the beginning of the chapter, John 11 in 𝔓66 stands out. It is especially evident that the name “Mary” has been changed to “Martha” in verse one. It is just one letter. In the Greek text, iota becomes theta and Maria becomes Martha.

Additionally, there is a full line in John 11:3 that only mentions one woman by name.

Originally, John 11:3 reads “Therefore Mary sent to him saying, ‘Lord behold the one you love is ill.’” But it was changed to “So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’”. Her name is totally scratched out and it’s changed to say “the sisters.” (1) A woman’s name is completely erased and (2) all the verbs are changed from singular to plural. Mary was made Martha.

Is it just a human error? In more than a hundred different manuscripts of the Gospel of John, there are other instances where Mary changes to become Martha, singular verbs appear where plural verbs would be expected. That’s a lot of editing. In some manuscripts, Mary performs actions that one would expect Martha to perform, such as serving the supper in John chapter twelve. The scribe of 𝔓66 cannot simply be sloppy as it is not consistent with how crucial the manuscript is with many other issues readings.

We can discuss more about this some other time or I can even provide you the journal article. Let’s go back to our text.

Why are female Biblical scholars concerned with Mary being erased? Please do note that Martha is not erased; she was just used/misplaced in John. Martha is a real character in the Gospel of Luke. She is not even a sister to Lazarus (she owns the home; ownership in Greek). She is an awesome character herself. Why attribute to Martha some of what she said and do? Why discuss this?

Because it concerns Mary Magdalene. She is a very controversial character.

This may be because of her status. She’s perhaps a leader in the Jesus movement. For example, a certain Mary, generally known as Mary Magdalene, is frequently mentioned in the Gospel of Mary, which is a piece of New Testament apocrypha found in the Nag Hammadi collection, as being more beloved by Jesus than the others. This caused debates, and that causes the text of John to get edited.

In the second motif of the resurrection story in John, when Mary Magdalene, in verse 16, realized that he was talking to Jesus, she exclaimed “Rabbouni!” which in Aramaic literally translates to διδάσκαλε (“teacher”). However, in some early manuscripts, ῥαββουνί is instead or also translated as κύριε/domine (“Lord”) as supported by philological, text-critical, exegetical, and patristic evidence.

Why is translating rabbouni teacher or lord important?

Well it may be argued that Mary Magdalene was not very intelligent and that she had poor insight into the identity of the risen Lord if she refers to Jesus as teacher. You see in John, the title of Jesus changes and ascends. Kaya nga it is a good text for an ascending Christology. Teacher is the same title that Jesus bears in John 1.

Alam nga ba ni Maria Magdalena na si Jesus ang Panginoon? Balikan natin yung geeky discussion kanina. Take note of this account in John 11. I will be replacing the Martha’s with “Mary”

Mary [Martha] said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Mary [Martha] said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

This Christological confession made by Mary was akin to the Petrine Confession. She knows, that Jesus is the Messiah. She believes that he is the Son of God. She witnessed how Lazarus came back to life. She believes so much that she stayed. She held on to the end. Thus she became the first witness to the resurrection. It was not incidental. She was a true believer, a true disciple, an apostle of Jesus. But, like the problem we still have today, her contributions were diminished, if not erased.

Why? Because Mary is too much for her time. She supports the Jesus movement. She is a disciple. Imagine a woman having a faith and status like that of Peter, the rock. There are studies and account wherein “Mary” is called Magdalene not because she is from Magdala but because she is a “tower-ess,” the “magnified one”. As Peter is the Rock, so Mary is the Tower.

She is too much, so her name had to be removed and replaced. She is too much so she has to be dumbed down to one not understanding who Jesus is. She is too much that even if she is the first witness, her story has to be edited so a man was given the chance to touch the resurrected Lord. She is too much so she has to be silenced, stigmatized, and suppressed.

And what do we do when we discover stories like this? Papyrus 66 was discovered in the 50s, it was translated by the 60s and the issues we discussed above were known by scholars. Did scholars took interest? Nope. That was basically it. Nothing is done. The silence is kept.

Remember that you will be silenced.

You see, there were other women in the Scriptures whose stories may be different from what we think. There’s Elizabeth, Mary of Joseph and/or James, Salome who was also at the foot of the cross. But all their stories were edited out to keep them on their places, to keep their silence.

Women, the LGBTQIA+ community, indigenous people, our workers, farmers are a few groups that were being silenced by the existing powers in the world. We have the desaparecidos, our political prisoners, personalities like Leila De Lima, Pura Luka and other. The story of Jesus death reminds us that if we challenge those in power, we will be silenced.

As a woman, a unionist, I remind myself how every day is a risk, how we will be surely silenced. Some of you know why Jeb and I are here. How I was kicked out of the church where I got baptized, where I started ministry, because I commented on staff welfare, and why, after 10 years of working there, I was not even a recognized employee (Eh yung kababata kong lalaki, kakapasok pa lang regular na, pastor na, may benefits na…Char!).

But we find, not comfort, but affirmation when we are silenced. It means, we are disturbing the norm. That they are concerned about our presence, our actions, and our mere existence. Be affirmed that what you are shouting are heard because those in positions of advantage are being affected. (After my encounter with the pastor, the other volunteers and the new hires got the benefits I was demanding to be given to us.)

Find beauty in the struggle.

It is in small communities where big movements are formed. Remember how the Jesus movement started. Keep in mind the beginnings of our denomination/church, of Open Table MCC. A small group of people with minds unafraid to question, a community where those who are oppressed is at their heart, and whose hands are never doubtful to help can be something. A small drop may ripple to form a wave too strong not to be ignored.

The journey may be hard, it may be long and frustrating, but keep on. We will find stories of people finding hope with our actions. We will hear whispers of joy, of love in our midst. We will be connected to people who will be of significance in reference to our mission. The struggle is real, but we must press on.

Stay, come out, and see the resurrection.

Women are great contributors in the Jesus movement. They provided financial, and logistical help. They offered hospitality and opened their homes to the workers. They were disciples who sat at the feet of Jesus. They also stood and stayed at the foot of the cross at the time when all the rest of men went running away. And because they stayed on, they were the first witnesses of the resurrection.

Come out of where ever you are just like these women. Face the darkness. Walk towards the tomb. Be comfortable in your doubts and fear, in death, in sadness. Choose to come out rather that hide in fear.

Bagaman maigsi lamang, paano na ang edukasyon ng mga kababaihan kung walang katulad ng mga Kababaihan ng Malolos? Paano na ang karapatang politikal kung wala ang women’s suffrage movement sa iba’tibang bansa? Kung walang mga kampanyador, mga namumuno sa kilusang mapagpalaya, mga kapwa kababaihang magtataguyod ng karapatang politikal, ekonomik, panlipunan, pangkalusugan at iba ng mga kapwa kababaihan, ano na kaya ang sitwasyon ng mga babae ngayon? Kung walang haharap sa mga kalalakihang nasa podium, nasa pulpito, sa trono, nasa posisyon sa lipunan, paano mailalahad ang kalagayan ng mga kababaihan?

Choose to come out rather than hide in fear. Choose to speak, to shout, rather than remain in silence. Choose to lead rather than remain to be a slave because of inequality and injustices. Face the darkness, face the grimness of the situation. Face the tomb, face death for only then will you be reminded of life.

As we are being reminded that Jesus has triumphed over death, we must also remember those who came before us in struggling against oppression. In the light of the fight for justice and equality, we will choose to remember and to press on. We will continue until every young girl or queer kid will be comfortable with themselves. Until all will feel safe, and all will be free.

Happy Easter to all.

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