by Jamie Wallace
For us the sight of an empty tomb on Easter morning is a sign that it's time to shout, "Alleluia! Christ is Risen!" For Mary Magdalene it must have been like experiencing the crucifixion all over again. As if it weren't enough to have Jesus taken by death on the cross can you imagine how Mary must have felt on that dark morning to find he had been taken again? "They have taken the Lord," she laments, "and we do not know where they have laid him."
All she can do is weep. Weep and try to figure out where she might begin looking for the body of her Lord. Her despair is so bitter that two angels, neatly folded burial cloths and an encounter with Jesus himself aren't enough to convince her that something more miraculous than grave robbers were at the heart of the mystery of the empty tomb.
Two Easters ago I got a taste of this kind of bitter despair that could cause somebody to miss the resurrection. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around that year I had spent almost four months in constant migraine hell. I almost couldn't remember what it felt like not to be in pain.
On the day after Easter I found myself laying in a hospital bed at the beginning of what was to be a week long stay. The sound of "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" still echoed in my ears and finally I had some hope that spending a week in the care of the best headache doctors in the world would rid me of the hell I was in.
But hope was short lived that day. The nurse's words burned into my brain just as crushingly as I would imagine that first sight of the empty tomb was in Mary's brain. All she said was, "You're still going to have a headache when you leave this place. There's no way to tell when it might go away. It could be months." Imagine what it would feel like if someone decided to hit you in the head with a hammer. Not too hard, just a gentle tap from a 16 pound sledgehammer. Now imagine multiplying that kind of pain by several months and not knowing when its going to end!
The previous day's alleluias no longer meant a thing. The hope that had finally began to glimmer was gone. I spent the rest of the day wondering how I had missed the Resurrection. All the signs had been there but for me, like Mary, the resurrection was not yet a reality.
At the end of the week I left the hospital. The pain had lessened a bit but showed no signs of ending. That was when I learned to start hiding behind sunglasses so that I could at least function in a world where I was the only one who saw light as an enemy.
My encounter with Jesus, though, didn't come for another couple weeks. I was preparing to preach in preaching lab and wondering how in the heck I was supposed to preach good news of the Lord Jesus Christ when for all I knew Jesus was still missing. I wish I could say that the encounter was some sort of miraculous healing but it wasn't. But as I wrestled with the text and the sermon and most importantly with my own feelings of abandonment I finally realized that another voice was beginning to speak. (Not literally, so don't go telling any bishops they need to redo my psych evals.) It took a few minutes but I finally figured out what that voice was saying. "Jamie! I'm right here with you! I've been right here with you the whole time!" Jesus found a way to penetrate the pain and anger that had kept me from recognizing him for so long.
Finally God brought the resurrection to life in me. It wasn't a lie, he really had been there the whole time, I just couldn't recognize him, but looking back, I don't know how I could have missed him. The whole time I had been asking where Jesus I was, in fact, asking Jesus himself where he was. Duh!
Thankfully for her, Mary wasn't quite as dense as I was. It didn't take her quite as long to figure out what was going on. All it took for her was to hear her name one time. "Mary!" And somehow, in that moment, in the time it took Jesus to say that one word, God brought the Resurrection to life in her as well.
For Mary, Resurrection coming to life meant she could wrap her arms around her Lord as tears of unfathomable despair became tears of miraculous joy. For me, it meant I finally had some good news to remind me that no matter how bad the pain gets nothing is going to prevent God from leading me into the ministry I have been called to do.
We all face darkness and despair but it doesn't have to blind us from the new life God has called us to live. God didn't just defeat darkness and death for God's own sake. Christ rose from the grave so that we all would know the power of the resurrection. So we all could hear the risen Lord call our name and bring the resurrection to life in us. So we all can boldly proclaim, "We have seen the Lord." So we all can shout, "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Amen.
John 20: 1-18