I preached a sermon this past weekend that had me struggling with my emotions from the beginning. The stories of scripture have all the drama you would expect of a great narrative. The writings of John feel like a Steven Soderbergh film, full of complexity and mystery; or maybe a David Lean epic, almost too big for the screen.
My sermon from the Gospel of John was about the people who encountered the resurrected Jesus. I noted the significant differences between how the male and female followers of Jesus responded to his death. The men gathered off site. The women were still committed to the body of Jesus and traveled together to the tomb. It was his blood and muscle, sinew and bone that drew the women. The incarnate Jesus was the focus of their faith. I believe their devotion would have remained even if there had been no resurrection.
I knew from the time I began memorizing that I was going to have trouble when I got to John’s account of what happened after John and Peter left the open tomb. While they did what men do and began formulating plans to slay dragons and build kingdoms, Mary Magdalene stayed behind, lingering at the tomb. Mary wept.
My need to grieve is so much greater now than when I was living as a male. It is close to the surface and extends far beyond any parameters I had previously known. Nowadays, watching a sensitive granddaughter nestle hard in Grandma Cathy’s lap can send me into gentle tears that fall all afternoon.
Sometimes I grieve for our nation and the grace and kindness I fear have been irretrievably lost. For two years I kept an email from my co-pastor Jen Jepsen that she wrote shortly after the 2016 election. Jen said, “The women must grieve. The men do not seem to need to grieve. The women will do the hard work, but that will come later. Now, we must grieve.”
As I memorized my sermon I was powerfully overcome by the moment Mary Magdalene saw the risen Christ. Mary, eyes full of tears from her profound grief, sees the gardener and asks where the body of her precious Jesus might be. Jesus tenderly asks, “Why are you crying?” Then he speaks her name, “Mary.”
When Jesus spoke her name, Mary heard that familiar voice speaking the very essence of who she was – Mary. As I memorized the message, every time I got to that part of the sermon I cried. Of course, I also cried when I preached the actual sermon. If it piques your interest, here is the link:
Even as I type this post, I am weeping. As I wrote the last paragraph one of my best friends came for a visit. I greeted her at the door with tears welling up. I told her what I was doing. She had been at church when I preached. She said, “Keep writing.”
When you speak my name you see me. Paula is who I am. It is my essence, verbally spoken. When you say “Paula” you have reached into my soul and pulled forth the beauty and complexity that is me. It tells me that you see me.
I don’t do much marriage counseling anymore, but when I did, I would listen to see if a couple called each other by name. Even if a name was spoken angrily, I knew that a strong and intimate bond remained. It was when they did not call each other by name that I suspected the problems were going to be more difficult to solve.
Occasionally I still get letters addressed to Paul. Unless they are junk mail working from an outdated list, they are usually an arrogant statement of superiority from a religious person intent on correcting my sinful ways. I never cease to be amazed at the confidence of fundamentalists.
Every now and again someone I have seen only once or twice since my transition will still call me Paul. Most are people who love me, and they get a free pass. If I hear “Paul” spoken over an airport intercom or from someone behind me on a street, I no longer turn around. Paul is not my name.
My friend who sat patiently while I finished my paragraph does not like to be called by her name. But I can’t help it. She said she doesn’t mind when I do it. I call her by name because I see her. I like to use the name of the friends I clearly see. Their souls are as deeply embedded in their names as they are in their eyes.
I awoke from a dream last week with someone whispering my name. I thought it had been whispered aloud, not part of a dream. I even got up and looked around to see if anyone was there. At first I thought it was the voice of my son, but the more I thought about it I realized it was a whispered voice, neither male nor female. The voice was insistent, but compassionate – “Paula!” “Paula!” As if it was calling me forth into a new day.
I like being called by my name. I think Mary Magdalene did too. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (John 20: 16)