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Managing the Past in this Human Place: A Meditation for the Anniversary of September 11, 2001

By Glory E. Dharmaraj

Scripture Focus: Mark 15: 40, Luke 24: 1-11, John 20: 1-18

Some events are tied to places. September 11, 2001 is one such event. Some names are tied to places. One such name in the gospel is Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene comes to my mind, when I seek to manage the past in relation to September 11, 2001.

Gospel spotlight on managing the past
Mary Magdalene comes from a town called Magdala, a cosmopolitan city, a trade center on an international route. People from all walks of life, varied cultures, several customs and many different religious backgrounds gathered together on a common ground in that city.

While other Resurrection Women in the gospel are identified by their marital status, either as wife of someone or mother of someone, Mary Magdalene is identified by the city she came from: Mary of Magdala. Mary Magdalene.

While many interpreters of the Bible and several fiction writers have been concerned only about this Mary’s sexuality, it is worthwhile to dissociate her from this kind of ill-equipped, interpretive approach, and look at her as a caring woman in light of the life-giving role given to her by the risen Jesus.

The gospel narrative presents her as one of the handful of women who come to Jesus’ tomb bearing spices. When she sees the empty tomb, she thinks the thieves have stolen the body of Jesus and she starts weeping. On looking at this inconsolable, weeping woman, Jesus may have thought to himself, “It is time to help my disciples manage their past.”

Mary mistakes Jesus to be the gardener, and asks him whether he has displaced Jesus’ dead body in some other burial site. Jesus calls her by her name, “Mary!” There is an immediate voice recognition. She turns around and cries out in Hebrew, “Rabbouni” or Teacher.

The gospel writer continues to shine the spotlight on Mary Magdalene. In the garden of the empty tomb, Mary clings to Jesus. He tells her, “Do not cling to me” or “Noli me tanger.” Then Jesus gives an assignment to Mary to go and tell the disciples that he is risen. Mary runs back to the disciples and cries out in ecstatic joy, “I have seen the Lord!”

“Do not cling to me” is Jesus’ injunction to Mary Magdalene about managing her past, her seared memories of violence. Mary Magdalene has been with Jesus for quite some time, and she has seen him subjected to the terrorist act of crucifixion as a criminal. She has seen him buried in a borrowed tomb and has come to the garden early in the morning to make sure memory outlasts premature death by violence.

Appearing to Mary in his risen body, Jesus tells her to stop clinging to a recent violence-filled past, and asks her to live in a redeemable present and a transformative future. In other words, Jesus tells Mary, “Grow up!”

Managing the past: An apostolic mission
Jesus seeks to mold the imagination of Mary Magdalene with new hope. First he addresses her grief by calling her name. He reveals himself. He gives her a message of hope to deliver to others, including the disciples.

Jesus leads Mary Magdalene:

  • From her twilight of loneliness into community-making efforts.
  • From the fear of the unfamiliar and the strange into a hope-building mission.
  • From insurmountable barriers of the past into new horizons of life.
  • From a dead end, grief-stricken present into a revitalized imagination.

Transformation of one’s imagination is a pre-condition to forging new ways of living as communities of peace, justice and harmony. In his book, Texts Under Negotiation: Bible and Post-Modern Imagination, Walter Brueggeman says, “We shall fund, feed, nurture, nourish a counter-imagination of the world.”

Under a renegotiated present, Mary Magdalene is in solidarity with a hope-filled band of Resurrection People. They re-tool their imaginations in order to live into a newly sprouted alternative world of hope made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ubuntu: Being human enough in a human place
What happened on September 11, 2001 is a tragedy -- a tragedy tied forever to places such as New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

There have been other terrorist acts before and after September 11, 2001.

Today, in addressing the tragedy of September 11, by means of military action in Iraq, a place not directly connected to the terrorist acts of September 11,2001, almost 5,000 U.S. troops have been killed. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed. Such a disproportionate military attack makes one wonder whether we, in the United States are becoming the evil we hate. It is time to be part of those who are working on transforming initiatives and refuse to become the evil we hate.

Immediately after the birth of a new South Africa, a new theology emerged. Playing a key role, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu called for a new understanding to end the culture of violence and oppression. He pleaded for the need for an “understanding and not for vengeance,” and “a need for ubuntu not for victimization.” For Arch Bishop Tutu, ubuntu means being human enough to be open oneself to community, freedom, creativity and nurture.

Arch Bishop Tutu is one of the leaders who developed the model of “Truth and Reconciliation,” which is built on the possibilities of restorative justice rather than punitive justice. God’s people are called to be truth-tellers and reconcilers after the model of Christ, the one who came as truth and reconciliation.

Managing the past into a transformative future
God runs an intervention with our past with peace-making options for the present in order to offer a transformative future.

Let us take part in peace initiatives:

  • Engage in interfaith dialogue.
  • Pray for peace.
  • Monitor current legislation and contact members of Congress to express views on peace.
  • Organize or participate in local community peace vigils and in regional and national peace demonstrations.
  • Advocate for increased funding for veterans’ benefits, including adequate health care, war-related injuries and mental health care for posttraumatic stress syndrome.
  • Take part in the International Day of Peace on September 21. Look for additional information in the United Methodist Women’s On-Line Community on Faith Exploration: www.UMWOnline.org.
  • Study peace options such as the possible creation of a U.S. Department of Peace that can help cultivate a culture of peace by addressing the root causes of the interrelated, systemic connections among domestic violence, violence in the communities and international violence. In short, a Department of Peace that would work with existing government agencies and structures to help ensure that conflict, when it occurs, does not boil over into life-destroying behavior. A peace agency would train civilian peacekeepers and work with the military in the latest nonviolent resolution strategies and approaches. Visit www.thepeacealliance.org to learn more about pro-active peace initiatives.

Living across the barriers of the past
There are many more ways of engaging in peace, justice and harmony in our communities. Another imagination is possible therefore another world is possible.

For Christ’s sake, let us turn our imagination God-ward, in the name of the one who died a premature death by violence, even Jesus the Christ. In the name of the risen Savior, let us retool ourselves with peace, justice and relationships that foster community and family in this human place which calls for peace, justice, and reconciliation.

Living across the barriers of the past into a transformative future is an incremental calling for the faith community. It is time to “fund, feed, nurture, nourish a counter-imagination” to the present-day world, which is characterized by violence, retribution and wars. It is time to place ourselves into the God-intended, alternative world of shalom and work hard at it, as partners with God, in order to achieve a transformative future.

*Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is director of spiritual formation and mission theology in the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Last Updated: 04/09/2010

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