How must it have been for the close followers of Jesus to come to grips with his death, to endure hours, watching his agony on the cross or their own agony at being too fearful to be anywhere near the site of the crucifixion? I myself have never lost someone in such a cruel, abrupt, and particularly heinous manner. I imagine that there would be a sense of stunned disbelief, anguish, helpless anger, and a myriad of emotions too deep and visceral to name. I can thus imagine how then it must have been for Mary Magdalene, who had loved him deeply, to gather up oils and spices to go to his tomb to once again touch and anoint his body. It would be in some ways a final gift, a last expression of love and honor to the one who had meant so much to so many.
I remember as I stood looking at my father’s body a few minutes after he had died, I felt like I should do something for him, he looked slumped and awkward. In our modern times we leave all that attending to the body to others. Some part of me wanted to reach out and do something for him, but I restrained myself. As each of us who had been there left the room, we each in our own way touched him in farewell: kissed his head, touched his beautiful hands which had helped and touched so many people, took mental images to store and retrieve later. I would not see him again until he rested in the casket, as sharply dressed in death as he had always been in life.
Weighed down with sorrow, Mary took herself to the place they had lain Jesus only to discover that the stone that had been blocking the doorway to the crypt was missing. I think I would have stood there for a while, were I in her place, somewhat uncertain as to what I might find inside, torn between wanting to do what I had come to do but fearful that all might not be as it should. Still, she stepped in and looking to the place where Jesus’s body he should have been found instead saw a beautiful being sitting in the empty space where the body had been. “He isn’t here,” the being answered her unspoken question, “Why are you here seeking the living in this place of the dead?”
Different accounts say different things. Some say Mary Magdalene was alone and the first to discover that Jesus’ body was missing. Others say she was with other women, including Jesus’ mother Mary. All four gospel accounts consistently indicate that it was Mary–either alone or in company–that first learned the news that Jesus was missing and had in fact risen from the dead and came to tell the others. I will make no particular commentary about how in the various widespread translations and interpretations of biblical writings before and after the time Jesus walked the earth women have largely been rendered marginal at best, invisible at worst, from the texts now widely in circulation. It isn’t lost upon me, therefore, that Jesus chose to first give the news of his return to women. I will make no particular judgment on why that is the case, but simply note it as “interesting.”
In current times, Christians and believers around the world greet Resurrection Day with great celebration and joy, particularly after the long solemnity of the preceding 40-plus days in between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. We party before Lent (Mardi Gras) and we party afterward, glad to be able to once again have sweets and chocolate, eat meat on Fridays, and say “alleluia” (or “hallelujah”) as much as we want. But imagine how the “eleven” and others who had been closest to Jesus must have reacted–some with joy, others with disbelief (“You must have been seeing things, Mary,”), and others likely somewhere in between (“Do we dare believe that this is true?”)
Why is it that often our first reaction when something really good happens is disbelief–that it’s too good to be true? Particularly when something has been predicted and told to us in advance that there was a possibility that this really good thing not only could happen, but in fact would. Jesus told his followers repeatedly that he was going to be turned over to the authorities and would be tried, tortured, and killed and that after a three days would rise again from the dead, walk the earth for a period of time before ascending to the heavens and disappearing for good (or for a really, really long time.) He told them. And yet when it happened, they could not wrap their minds around it, they could not believe.
When something phenomenally good happens to people and they are interviewed on the news, often the first thing they say is, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” I understand that disbelief is perhaps essentially part of human nature. We are so wired to prepare for bad things to happen–and are constantly bombarded by all kinds of evidence that they do–that we have few if any tools to be able to respond when good things happen. Our predisposition for negativity almost precludes us from seeing that we are surrounded by beautiful, wonderful, miraculous, and unbelievable things. We are trained to seek the living among the dead, to find the ugliness and death around us, to wrest sadness and angst from the jaws of joy and peace.
On this Resurrection Sunday and the last reflection on these 40 days, I urge you to seek and expand beauty, love, joy, happiness, and the many good things that bless us in our everyday world. A great disservice has been and is being done to us that causes us to believe that everything around us is scary, negative, and hopeless. Those without scruples or morals prey on and expand those things that would have us believe that there is little of light, love, and hope in the world, when in truth the world is a beautiful place. We must change our perspective in order to see it, and in this case know this: believing is seeing, not the other way around. When we dare to believe the unbelievable, we will see it all around us and know the truth.
It has been a deep honor to share my reflections with you over these 40 days. I do not yet know what the next theme will emerge on this blogsite. I have no doubt that one will. Please do stay tuned to see what’s next and join me again on the journey. Until then,
May you be filled with lovingkindness and compassion. May you be peaceful and happy. May you be safe and protected from harm. May you be healthy and strong in body, mind, and spirit. May you live with joy, ease, and wellbeing. May all your sorrows, grief, and suffering be held with great compassion. May your good fortune continue and grow. May you learn to see and hold the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.
May it be so for us all!