Without any doubt I can say that Easter is my favorite time of the year. Besides Fanny May Eggs, Peeps, and my birthday, I have other reasons for my choice. The reasons hover around the form of the liturgy at the Vigil as well as richness of the Gospels throughout the season and its promise. It is true that the stories about the empty tomb and the folded wraps are thrilling as well as tantalizing to our curiosity. But there are other details in the readings that simply reflect and appeal to our humanity in an equal balance with Jesus’ divinity. One more example of how much God loves us simply for being ourselves, flawed humans. The scene at the Tomb on Easter morning is my favorite, not for the hint of the resurrection, but for the story of Mary Magdalene and her personal struggle on that morning of mornings.
Although our attention in the John 20 reading goes immediately to the fact that Jesus is risen, if we pay closer attention to the details we can find great teaching for our flawed human condition. In the reading we see that Mary Magdalene has arrived at the tomb, alone, to anoint his body. She immediately flies into a panic when she clearly discovers that he is not where they laid him. She literally encounters two angels and is not even fazed as she expands her inquiry as to his whereabouts. It’s almost as if she does not even hear the figure behind her as he asks: “Why are you weeping?” Turning from the tomb she questions “the gardener”, face to face. She demands to know where the body has been taken so she can get it back. Her only focus is Jesus’ location as she insists that this unknown man tell her where they have taken him. She is obviously in a state of mind where she is not thinking or seeing clearly. She is close enough to touch him and yet asking where he is.
My personal opinion of Mary Magdalene is one of deep respect and awe. She is not recorded as being attached to a husband, family or tribe. She really was “out there” all alone. Yet she is one of the lone survivors of that awful scenario of betrayal, arrest and murder. She did not hide like almost everyone else. She was present till the end and determined to care for Jesus despite any threat to herself. Remember she is at the tomb alone. The soldiers had been given orders to arrest anyone who even came near the tomb by the Pharisees because of their fear of political upheaval. Going to the tomb was to place one’s self in danger all over again. So Mary was determined, tough and courageous. Her obvious stress and expression of blind panic, then, is more monumental than maybe any of us could imagine. Or maybe it is the record of a truly human experience that is in touch with the deepest form of despair that ay person could possibly have? Whatever the case may be, this part of the scripture shows that even the truest followers of Jesus can have a moment when all of our faith, past and present simply leaves us. Mary’s experience at the Tomb clearly illustrates that.
As is typical of scripture, this incident carries with it much more information than first meets the eye. It is, in many ways a clear example of how we, as humans, really live our daily lives while present in two worlds at the same time, the world we can see and the one that we can’t. At her moment of despair Mary Magdalene was overwhelmed by what she saw, the concrete, the Lord was simply not there. In a stroke of irony we see that what she saw and was reacting to was not the truth at all, in fact what she saw was the lie. Jesus was present all along, even speaking to her and asking about her distress: “Why are you weeping”? He was never not there, but she was sure that all was lost and her reaction so overwhelmed her thinking and perception that she simply did not even recognize the Lord’s presence. He was literally close enough to touch. He is never out of touch and we would do well to burn that reality deep into our spirit. This is our fortification for tough times. The reality of Jesus is that he is ever present and even closer to us when it seems that all is disaster. All we have to do is reach out or listen for our name. The fact that the astoundingly courageous Mary had this weak moment gives me hope and consolation. Unlike Mary, my weak faith moments are many. In her despair, though, her focus never wavered from trying to find her savior. Even when she was not thinking clearly, this never changed. The reality is that she was looking at him the entire time!
When has your despair overwhelmed you so that you couldn’t think straight? Mary’s experience teaches us how to use a powerful spiritual tool; never stop seeking and do not always believe what you see. One could also contemplate the times when despair was the only emotion in your soul. Who was it that called your name, or brought you around? Could that person have been your “teacher” and you just didn’t recognize them? Pay attention the next time you think someone is “just the gardener”. Life is not always what it appears to be. Ask Mary Magdalene to teach you about that!
Copyright©2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, all Rights Reserved
Sample more of Kathryn’s Easter Thinking at: www.atravelersview.org
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