At sundown on Saturday, the Sabbath finally over, Mary Magdalene and the other women who loved Jesus began to prepare spices to pour over his body to honor him and say a final farewell. They were up all night, cooking and talking, and remembering his life. Then, as dawn began to break, they packed up the spices and headed to the tomb to pay respects to their friend and teacher. In their grief, they held hands for strength, and took turns holding each other up as they walked, their feet dampened by the morning dew.
When they finally arrived, the women stopped at the entrance to the tomb, steeling themselves before going in. After a few deep breaths, they finally stepped in, ready to say goodbye. But... a body is not a person, and they didn’t find Jesus in the tomb. They cried, desolate at their loss. Broken, hopeless, in despair. Then they remembered.
They remembered that Jesus’ life had been all about transformation; about taking what seemed hopeless and transforming it into abundance. Only five loaves of bread—but somehow five thousand people had enough to eat. Vats empty of wine and nothing to drink but water, full of bacteria, but Jesus—they laughed through their tears as they remembered the way he had made more wine appear. It had seemed almost magical. Jesus met and touched those untouchables: people tormented by madness, suffering from diseases and the deep loneliness of being outcast. Somehow, he had managed to cast out the demons of despair and give people back communities of belonging and hope for their lives. In a temple defiled by swindlers, Jesus swept away the injustice—”Oh, he was so MAD,” Mary remembered, laughing again. “I still can't believe he FLIPPED THE TABLES OVER!” They all agreed that his methods were... unorthodox, but it had worked. The temple was cleaned out , transformed back into a house of worship and inspiration for justice.
Scripture sums up this scene inside the tomb, a moment of realization and remembrance, with this simple line, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
In this version of the story, Mary the mother of James, her laughter drying up, is distraught once again over the scene in front of her. How could this have happened to Jesus? How could someone who had been so full of life and love and righteous anger be lying there so broken and cold and… empty?
Magdalena crouches down, her hands on the shoulders of her weeping friend. “Mary,” she says. “Mary, that’s not him. Jesus, our teacher, our friend, is not there anymore. Yes, this body was broken by the State, but he knew that was going to happen, remember? He knew what he was getting into, and he believed that the cause he was fighting for was worth the cost. Jesus knew that if he kept speaking up for the oppressed, if he refused to back down, that eventually it would come to this. You can’t challenge the status quo, challenge the rich and powerful, the lawmakers and enforcers, challenge them over and over again without getting hurt. But he knew, Mary, he knew he had to do it anyway.”
James’ mother shakes her head: it doesn't matter. It's not worth it. She would gladly bear everything Jesus had fought against if only things would go back to how they were before. If only he would be not dead.
Mary Magdalene puts her hands on her friend’s face, looking into her eyes now. “Mary,” she says gently. “We are honoring this body—this body that is not Jesus—with oils and tears. But we can honor the person that is Jesus if we take up his cause. We can keep his spirit alive by fighting for justice and liberation, as he did, by continuing his work. We promised we would, remember?”
Mary sighs, and together, they remember the days before the crucifixion, when James and John had told Jesus they wanted a place of honor in the new and better world Jesus was trying to create. “You don’t know what you’re asking me,” Jesus had said. The Marys understood, now, that when Jesus had asked, “Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?” what he meant was, “Can you follow in my footsteps, all the way to the cross? Are you willing to die for the cause of justice?” They had all agreed at the time that yes, of course they were willing. Jesus had nodded, “You will drink my cup, you will suffer as I am about to suffer, but I can’t promise you that you’ll see justice done in your day. That’s a question bigger than any one of us.” They were all a little angry, then, but when Passover came and Jesus reminded them of their promise, they knew they had to keep it.
While they were eating the Passover meal, Jesus took the bread in his hands and began to speak. “I am working to create infinite Justice, and I will never stop as long as I live.” He looked around at them. “But you know as well as I do that ‘as long as I live’ isn’t going to be very long. Even now there is a price on my head. Should I stop then? Should I cave to the threats against my body?” Some of them wanted to shout “YES, STOP and stay safe!”, but they didn't dare. Jesus could see their fear and spoke deliberately, breaking the bread as he went on. “I. Will. Never. Stop. Just as this bread is broken so that the hungry may eat and be nourished, so my body will be broken because of my efforts toward the liberation of everyone marginalized and oppressed.” He passed the bread around. “Eat. And whenever you share bread, share in the work of my body, in my life. Work for justice and remember me.”
And he took the cup after supper and said, “They may break my body but they cannot break my spirit, because you have promised to continue my work even when I am gone.” He looked at them, each in turn. “Do you remember your promise? ...My blood is about to be poured out because I refuse to stop fighting for Justice.” He passed the cup around. “Drink from it, all of you, and remember that you promised to drink of my cup, to follow in my footsteps, to keep challenging oppression and to carry on fighting for the liberation of those marginalized among you, just as I have done, no matter what. This cause is bigger than my life, and it’s bigger than yours. There are no guarantees of success here, but you promised to keep fighting, to share in my work, no matter the cost. Whenever you drink this cup, renew that promise in your heart. Renew your commitment to justice, live in hope, and remember me.”
Days later, Jesus was crucified. It could have been just another execution of a fanatical rebel... the victory of fear... the death of hope for a better world. But Jesus’ disciples took his words to heart, and they remembered. Every time they ate and drank, the bread nourished the work of their bodies, the wine reminded them of their promise, and gave them enough hope to return to the world and continue their struggle for liberation and justice. The meal, the intentional remembrance, and the continuation of the work helped transform the execution of this man’s body into the resurrection of a spirit of justice--turned the death that is despair into the resurrection of hope. And that spirit of justice, that life in hope spread over many continents and among many people.
Some people engaged in the struggle for justice today call themselves Christians, in his honor, as another way to remember their promise. Others have different identities, different memories, different sources of hope, yet their struggle is no less. Jesus’ cup and cause was not his alone, wasn't even his first. The work of liberation had millennia of history before he ever showed up, and he, too, was carrying on someone else’s legacy. Still, no matter what name we call ourselves, no matter which stories we hold sacred, we, too drink the cup that Jesus drank when the cost of Justice is no barrier to our work toward liberation.