“But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there,and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, 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, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them,‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.”
John 20. 11-18 (NKJV)
Before church on Sunday I sat to pray and read the lectionary. I found myself wonderfully caught up with my past heritage in God and my future expectation in Him. I found myself reading the Bible like an Evangelical but seeing the saint’s life like an Orthodox.
And a few days later when I finally got round to talking to Andy about how I felt he said he felt it too. Not just being in a place between the two worlds but learning to enjoy and accept it. This is who I am: a Christian who has lived thirty years of her life totally immersed in one Christian world, now immersed in another. I often wonder what the two world have to say to one another and hardly dare follow those thoughts too far. I often wonder what is to be made of a life lived across such divergent faith traditions and how I can ever hold the two things together in me, let alone together in the world, across history and continents and amongst so many conflicting views.
I played a favourite worship song and let the swell and hum of the tune take me to old places where my charismatic heart was at home and I wrote out my thoughts on the passage I had read, the story of Mary who comes to the tomb whilst it is still dark and all that happens to her there.
Firstly, consider place and space and Mary therein. She is outside the tomb, she stoops, she looks. She turns twice: once to face a Christ she does not recognise, then again to to face a Christ she does recognise. He says, “Who do you seek?” later when she knows she answers, “Rabbi!” She weeps, she looks, she is spoken to and she speaks. In the garden it is still dark. As the morning rises, Christ rise and so does Mary. Dawn lights the sky by degrees – she moves from one degree of knowing to another.
The passage invites me, in my thoughts, and then in prayer, to consider the places where I am and the places I have been: the times I have wept, the times I have been spoken to, the times I have spoken, the times I have stooped to see, the times I have turned to see and what I have seen. My story converges and diverges with the story of Mary but the words of the scripture and the tone of the story are very strong and help me know God at each turn and pain and distress takes a form, and the form is a story, a little like Mary’s but mainly just my own.
Secondly consider her loss, “they have taken away” and then the not knowing “I do not know where they have laid him.” Weigh the sorrow of it. Ask yourself which is worse, to have lost or to not know? Consider all the ways in which loss and not knowing have complicated your life. Consider the burden of all that you have lost and how you have suffered for it. Consider the burden of living daily in a world that seems to yield more problems than answers. Bring out into the open the unanswered questions, those related to God and those related to situations. This is not to be rushed. Rest a little where it is raw and consider how the pain of loss compares to the pain of not knowing. Which is speaking most clearly to you now as you pray?
Thirdly, imagine that the ending to this story was different. Mary left her home before the night had properly ended, before the dawn had come. She was not afraid of the worst possible ending to this story. Unafraid of the dark, unafraid of her loss and her unresolved questions she came. If she was afraid she would have stayed away. We know that there is a radically positive ending to the story that Mary is entrenched in – she does not know. At some point in her night of grief she decided to get up, get dressed and walk out to face the worst. Consider how in your own circumstances and problems you too can find the courage to rise like Mary whilst it is still dark and face the circumstances of a story you don’t yet know the ending of.