Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
What do you think of when you hear the word “faith”?
It might be a more complex question than it at first seems.
Sometimes we use it to talk about religion in a more-or-less generic way. We talk about “people of faith”, “people of all faiths and none”, we talk about “the faith” as a shorthand for the Christian religion.
Sometimes we use it in the sense of intellectual assent, we use it in the sense of accepting a certain set of propositions to be true. We sometimes use it more-or-less interchangeably with the word belief, although to say that we believe in God and to say that we have faith in God do I think mean significantly different things. To have faith in someone expresses confidence and trust.
And sometimes we use it in the sense of loyalty. We might talk about a faithful friend, or a faithful companion, which usually means a dog. We might talk about “keeping faith” with a person or an idea, we might sing the words of the great hymn based on the Lamentations of Jeremiah, “Great is thy faithfulness”, describing God’s faithfulness to us.
It seems to me that in the Resurrection account we have heard this morning, The Beloved Disciple and Mary Magdalene reveal two different sorts of faith.
In the Beloved Disciple, it is faith as belief that comes first: he sees the empty tomb, he sees the linen wrappings and the cloth, and he believes; he accepts that this thing must be true, even though as yet there is much that he does not understand.
But Mary Magdalene does not at first believe. She sees the empty tomb, but she is stuck on the thought of the missing body. And yet she nevertheless exhibits a sort of faith in her waiting in the garden. It is I think the loyalty sort of faith rather than the belief sort of faith. She does not believe, and although she is loving and she is loyal, she does not really even understand who Jesus is. Even after she has encountered the risen Christ, she addresses Him as “teacher”, when at this point it is surely clear that He is so much more. And yet she waits lovingly in the garden, she is loyal to Jesus, she keeps faith with Jesus as far as her understanding allows.
I suspect that at least in a church context we tend to regard faith as belief as being in some way superior to faith as loyalty, as faithfulness, as keeping faith. Whatever our thoughts about that, I would draw your attention to the fact that it is the faithfulness of Mary Magdalene, it is the patient waiting, even though she is waiting for the wrong thing, even though she is waiting for the recovery of a dead body when she should be waiting for the discovery of the living Lord, it is her faith as patient waiting rather than the Beloved Disciple’s faith as belief that is first rewarded with the sight of the risen Christ.
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
For Mary, it is the faithfulness sort of faith that comes first; she is rewarded with the first sight of the Risen Christ, and the other sort of faith, the belief sort of faith, the intellectual assent, this will follow in its own good time.
This Eastertide, may we be faithful like Mary Magdalene. She waits loyally and patiently and lovingly in the garden, and we certainly have learned a lot about waiting over this past year. There is much that we do not understand, much that we misunderstand, much in which we struggle to discern God’s loving purposes in the world. Faith in the sense of belief is important, but it is not always easy. But when faith in the sense of belief falters or even fails, as sometimes it will, faith in the sense of faithfulness is also looked on lovingly by the Lord Jesus.
So let us be faithful, let us keep faith: with the Church, with each other, with Jesus. Let us wait expectantly, let us wait faithfully, let us wait lovingly, and we may like Mary be blessed with an encounter with the Risen Christ, that our belief may be restored, strengthened, deepened: may we discern Him in the beauty of the springtime; may we find Him in the joy of reconnecting with friends and family; may we recognise Him in those we have secretly been quite glad to have the chance to avoid; may we know Him in the words of the holy scriptures; may we receive Him in the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood; and may we feel His presence in our hearts, who suffered and died and is risen and ascended and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Alleluia! Amen.