By Name Only

It was all disaster, that morning, until she heard her name.
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source:

           Have you ever been in an unfamiliar place while waiting for someone?  Sometimes strange surroundings can be disconcerting.  A moment of relief happens, though, when you hear it, there it is again, your name!  When someone calls your name, who really knows you, there is an instant comfort.  It seems that no matter what the distraction around you, the utterance of your name trumps everything else.  The sound makes you stop in your tracks!  It must have been that way with Mary Magdalene on that morning when all seemed lost.  In the scriptures that describe the scene at the tomb Mary is clearly located as facing into the tomb and staring at the place where His body used to be.  As a matter of fact she sees two angels, one at the head and one at the foot.  Her state of shock is so profound that she doesn’t really care about the angels but just wants to know where He is.  She is distracted by the “gardener” and is still so focused on the disaster that she does not recognize his presence.  All she can think of is: “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”  (Jn 20: 14)  Her aim is intense, she’s lost Him once, and now he is lost a second time!  Even though she can’t see him or locate him, he is still present right there within arm’s reach, but her focus remains centered in the fact that he is gone, even  though she is looking right at him.  Mired in grief, distracted by pain, overwhelmed by loss these are all things that every human has experienced at one time or another.   But then the transforming moment arrives in a blink. He speaks her name and everything changes!  She immediately responds with an affection and relief that is not recorded anywhere else, “Rabbouuni”, which means Teacher.  Although she was looking right at him in the midst of her panic nothing registered until she heard her name, it was the key that tossed everything on its head, and turned disaster upside down.  

            Mary was no shrinking violet.  She did not shy away from trouble, ridicule, judgment and the possibility of being killed herself.  She was tough.  In scripture she is never identified as having a husband, family or home to retreat to.  She was on the battle line with no one to protect her and courageously remained visible as a follower of Jesus up to and including her public presence at the crucifixion. Her total panic at the tomb is simply stunning and the fact that she was snapped out of her state of total despair by the sound of her name is equally so. Can you remember a time when your grief or despair was so profound that you couldn’t even see straight?  Everyone has been there. You know, that place when you were sure that God was not present and could not be reached, no matter what?  He simply left you with no plans to return!  

            One of the amazing things about what is recorded in scripture is the way that it is always divine and profane at the same time.   The scene of Jesus’ resurrection is the most divine occurrence in all of human history, yet included in the scene is the very human experience of Jesus’ dearest friend and most staunch follower.  Remember that she is the only female of all his followers who did not dessert in the face of the terror.  This astounding scene at the tomb includes her experience in full detail.  So what lessons are we mere humans to take from this account?  We see that even Mary Magdalene in all her courage and chutzpah had a breakdown, a very human occurrence when all seems lost and nothing to be ashamed of.   When we panic it is not a sin or failing of our faith or flaw of our character, it is simply human.  Next, it is clear, that as many theologians have taught, there is never a time when God is not present and near us, so near that we could reach out and touch him.  Mary was sure that he was gone even though he was right behind her all the time.  How many times have we believed that God has left the building?  We need to resist that thinking even if it seems like that is the only reality that is available.  God never leaves no matter how intense our suffering is.  When we begin to believe that he has, it is only a thinly veiled temptation meant to sidetrack us.   Last, we need to remember the power of naming.   When we call someone by name it is a holy and healing act.  We are affirmed every time we hear our name pronounced from someone else’s lips.  When we approach others we give respect and blessing when we correctly call their name.  When a friend is in grief or trouble one of the most healing things we can do is speak their name with love.  Sometimes nothing else is needed.  One of the most powerful prayers that we can make is to call Jesus name and remember the miracle in the Garden the next time you hear someone call yours.  To call someone’s name or to hear your name called is a powerful reminder that we belong to God and he belongs to us as Mary experienced in the Garden on Easter morning. “I have called you by name, you are mine. … For I am Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.” (Is 43:2-3) 

Copyright © Easter 2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved 


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