So come out, you have been waiting long enough
You’re done with all the talk, talk, talk with nothing on the table
It’s time to come on out; there will be no sign from above
You’ll only hear the knock, knock, knock of your own heart, a signal
The artist Vienna Teng released her song Level Up in 2013. The music video for this remarkable piece begins with a couple embracing in front of their home, which is in ruins. It transitions to a man with a prosthetic leg standing at a set of parallel bars, with a physical therapist standing at the other end, then to a person sitting on the ground in a dark alleyway, then to a couple (one of whom is Teng) in a bedroom, who look like they’ve just had a fight. Teng slowly rises, goes to stand before her partner, and they begin to dance, mirroring each other’s movements. The walls of the room then fold back and show all of the other locations – the alleyway, the room with the parallel bars, the destroyed home – and Teng walks through, engaging each of the other characters in dance.
After a moment, a brilliant white portal opens up before each of them, and they walk forward with reverence.
If you are afraid, come out
If you are awake, come out
Come out and level up.
Mary Magdalene, the home of her heart in ruins, feeling the earth-shattering loss of her teacher, totally alone and spent after a quarrel with the state where she and her people all came out the losers, went looking for a dead man, in the dark of early morning.
Afraid, because now what was she supposed to do with her life? Awake, because she surely didn’t sleep.
There was no sign from above. She went to weep, went to anoint, knowing she only had so many chances to be with him before the dear body would no longer be recognizable.
Little did she know, her entire worldview was about to level up.
Because the stone’s been rolled away.
She could not have imagined a good or joyful reason for this state of affairs. What could possibly be at work here but the most brutal mischief? She runs to her friends, panicking, and they come with her and find the shattered remains of Love’s great Exodus, but only one of them gets it, and seems not to want to explain it to the others.
Why? The text has no clues. If we’re going to take this metaphor all the way, maybe for this unnamed Beloved disciple, the little rainbow ball is still spinning, the little hourglass is still turning, the loading screen is still doing its silent work: Leveling up. Please stand by.
Takes time to level up from “Everything dies and everything dies for good” to “Your experience may differ.”
So they go back home, leaving Mary behind in a white-hot fury of grief, but suddenly…something changes. The tomb which was empty now has two figures in it, who speak to her, but she can’t make heads or tails of them.
Begin again; dynamite the dam on the flow
Your body feels the tock, tock, tock of time as it hammers
Lord, we are all cinders from a fire burning long ago
But here it is the knock, knock, knock of your own heart that matters
And she turns, and here is someone else…someone who asks her a loaded question: “Who are you looking for?”
This means so much more than what’s on the surface. This is a question for a disciple – or, in this case, an Apostle.
Who are you looking for?
A Teacher. A Beloved. A Conqueror of the Grave. A Resurrected One.
But Mary is still grappling with that end boss, that old worldview. Death is final. I’m looking for a Beloved, but he’s a corpse. I’m looking for him so I can provide his husk with the proper rituals. It’s what we do. What else is left? I care for him because his work is over. I thought, I prayed, I hoped that it would never end – but it did, horribly.
I’m here with the bitter herbs of my sorrow. I’m here with the salt of my pain, and all there is to do is anoint and cry because it is over.
And he speaks her name: Mary.
She stares, stares for a thousand years. Here comes the loading screen.
If you are afraid, come forth
If you are alone, come forth now
Everybody here has loved and lost
So level up, and love again
He’s here, but he’s also not here. She calls him Teacher, and that is what he is – as he said only a few days ago. But he’s also not that, not anymore. That’s why he says, “Don’t hold onto me.”
He has become what Rumi, Hafez, and Attar call The Friend, capital F. And Mary emerges, leveled up, and goes to do her business.
Call it any name you need
Call it your 2.0, your rebirth, whatever
So long as you can feel it all
So long as all your doors are flung wide
Call it your day #1 in the rest of forever
Day #1 in the rest of forever is sharing with the others. But it appears like they need time to level up too, which we’ll get into next week when we tell the story of Thomas. We don’t know what happens to Mary after she makes her proclamation to the disciples. Our ancestors had many stories of the people she met and the things she did, including miraculous deeds of power, even resurrection. But perhaps like so many mystics and lovers before her she just disappeared in the glory of what she had witnessed. Perhaps, through Love, all division between her and the Beloved was erased. This, after all, seems to have been what happened to Mary of Bethany, who washed Jesus’s feet.
And it is we, like her brothers, who are left – we who have not seen, but have come to believe. We who remain after generations of storytellers and believers, workers of good and evil, all ages, all colours, all genders, all bodies, all orientations, builders of an upside-down kingdom.
If you are afraid, give more
If you are alive, give more now
Everybody here has seams and scars
So what? Level up!
The legacy Mary Magdalene leaves to us is not one of unquenchable faith, or matchless strength, or boundless patience, or the gift of powerful speech. It’s a legacy of solidarity with the suffering – standing at the foot of the Cross, alongside all those who are still being crucified, day after day.
It’s a legacy of seeking: inelegant, desperate, blubbering seeking.
It’s a legacy of accepting when the old way no longer fits, and leveling up.
It’s a legacy of filling up with love until you’re empty, of letting love rewrite the story not just of you but of everything.
Even the things you were told were non-negotiable like who’s allowed to have power over you, like who you’re allowed to love, like who you’re allowed to be.
Let your faith die
Bring your wonder
Yes, you are only one
No, it is not enough
But if you lift your eyes, I am your brother
I am. In this kingdom, I belong to you and you belong to me. We’re siblings in that we didn’t choose each other – Jesus did. We’re friends in that our bond is deeper than one shared by blood.
And now that we have found each other, what shall we do? Our master carpenter took a sledgehammer to the gates of death. The work is done. Whether your faith is an oak tree or a mustardseed, you are counted among those who stand in the rubble of all that’s been burned away in the fire of new life to dance. To sing. To shout, “Alleluia.”
What else can we do?
We are the lovers. We are the resurrected.
And this is all we need
And this is where we start
This is the day we greet
This is the day, no other