On discipleship, darkness and a rolled stone

In the days following Easter, I happened to come across the homily that Pope Francis delivered during this year’s Easter vigil and – being part of a community whose current pastoral theme is ‘nurturing disciples’ – I was pleasantly surprised to read the Pope’s reflections which emphasised the disciples’ experience both before, but especially after, the Resurrection. The first part of the homily revolved around the darkness, numbness and pain they experienced on becoming aware of their inability to support their friend, teacher and Lord. Pope Francis refers to this moment as the disciples’ ‘silent night’, a night which he believes even today’s disciples experience in front of their weaknesses, failures and paralysis when faced with all that is happening around them, which leaves them ‘plunged in a crushing routine that robs memory, silences hope and leads to thinking that ‘this is the way things have always been done’.  

He goes on to say that ‘creation itself was the first to echo the triumph of life over all that had attempted to silence and stifle the joy of the Gospel and this is shown by the stone before the tomb that, having been rolled away, ‘proclaimed the opening of a new way for all. Easter is indeed this new way that is open to all: both to Mary, John and the others who stood beneath the Cross and accompanied the Lord to the very end but also to Peter and the others who, in a way or another, denied him and left him alone. What hinders this message being absorbed and accepted in our lives is, amongst other things, our inability to jump the line, our being trapped in the memory and reality of our sin, our feeling undeserving of this ‘new way’, our feeling ashamed at the thought of the numerous times where we found ourselves rejecting ‘our’ Lord.

Easter is indeed this new way that is open to all

Exactly a week after the Easter Vigil, I was following the priestly ordination Eucharist and listened to the homily that Archbishop Charles Scicluna delivered, a homily which I felt tied very well to the Pope’s reflections. Archbishop Scicluna also reflects upon the moment of the Resurrection but instead of speaking about the disciples in general, he draws upon the experience of one – Mary Magdalene. He points out that emphasis is made on the fact that Mary was not just a ‘normal’ sinner and this is clear when Mark points out that she has been delivered from ‘7 demons’ (Mk 16, 9) However, she is the first person to receive the good news of this ‘new way’. Mary Magdalene, the Archbishop says,  touched the abyss of weakness, passed through the traumatic and humiliating experience of having been possessed by not one but seven demons.’ However, she is the one to be chosen to be the bearer of the Lord’s victory over sin, over the devil and over death. Her being ‘emptied’ from the demons that inhabited her left ample space for her to be inhabited by Jesus’ mercy and love so much so that she followed him to the Cross, and stood at its foot till the very end.

Whilst believing that being constantly aware of our weakness and our sin is the best ‘qualification’ we can have for discipleship I also believe that we should guard ourselves from lack of faith or hard headedness. The Archbishop points to the Greek word for hard headedness ‘sclerocardia’ which refers not just to a hard head but also to a hard heart that cannot understand how great and merciful God is.  

Mary Magdalene is the one to be chosen to be the bearer of the Lord’s victory over sin, over the devil and over death

Mary Magdalene’s experience in the Gospel of John is, however, a tad different and worth reflecting upon. John recounts her inability to recognize the Lord. She was looking for ‘her’ Lord, the Lord who had delivered her, the Lord whom she loved. Even in her case, the rolled stone that was crying out the reality of the Resurrection was not enough to help her widen her vision and make the leap from that which was and that which is now forever changed. In front of the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene and all the disciples can run the risk of falling into the error of ‘Gnosticism’ that Pope Francis mentions in his latest apostolic exhortation ‘Gaudete et exsultate’; the error of thinking that we can grasp God; the error of forgetting that God is indeed ‘the God of surprises’. Going back to the Gospel of Mark, Archbishop Scicluna notes how the disciples entered their silent night by losing hope and not believing that Jesus whom they saw performing so many miracles also had the power to overcome death in a final, definitive way. The rolled stone was crying out a reality that the disciples could not understand yet since they were crying cries of lament and mourning, the cries of those who are facing the failure of all of their projects.

A few days ago, a student asked me about how we can live out our identity as the Easter people in a society that is promoting a culture of death and challenging all that is dear and precious to us. The reality around us can very well make us believe that we are still living in the darkness, in that ‘silent night’ that precedes the lighting of the Paschal candle that every year proclaims the True Light that has already cast out all the darkness and that has already won over death. Our weakness, the weakness of the members of our communities, the weakness of the structures of our society and also of our church can throw us into this night but, as the Pope said, to celebrate Easter is to believe once more that God constantly breaks into our personal histories, challenging our “conventions”, those fixed ways of thinking and acting that end up paralyzing us. To celebrate Easter is to allow Jesus to triumph over the craven fear that so often assails us and tries to bury every kind of hope.

A few days ago, a student asked me about how we can live out our identity as the Easter people in a society that is promoting a culture of death

Two thousand years ago the stone before the tomb and the women of the Gospel shared in this but now it is our turn to break out of our routines and to renew our lives, our decisions and our existence. To do so, however, we have to let go of ‘our Lord’ the Lord that we try to fit into the limited structures of our mind in order to find ‘the Lord’ – the one who is truly Risen, the one who has indeed opened ‘new way’ for us as proclaimed by the rolled stone and the empty tomb. The moment Magdalene understood and accepted this novelty, she immediately went away to proclaim the Good News.

In front of the empty tomb, one can stand speechless or in mourning, paralyzed in fear and doubt or else one can share in this message of life and hope. This awareness, imperfect as it may be, does not cast us away from our daily lives and routines. It rather sends us back there, to the place the Pope refers to as ‘Galilee’. Pope Francis believes that is is there that Jesus invites us to meet him again – at the time and place of our first love where once again, and all the time, he invites us to see the nail marks in his hands and put our hands into his side and tells us ‘do not be afraid, follow me’.

Mariella studied at the University of Malta, where she obtained a Master of Arts in Theology in 2007. She teaches Religion in a Church School. Mariella is a board member of the Pastoral Formation Institute, in which she also teaches, and is also the secretary of the diocese's ecumenical commission. She is also currently very much involved in pastoral work at the Sgħajtar pastoral centre in Naxxar especially in the areas of liturgy and catechism for the family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *