I was reading the other day in Luke 20, when Mary Magdalene went to the Tomb that morning they discovered Jesus’ body wasn’t there.
Mary and the other disciples find the body missing, and the men leave. There is this point in the story where Mary stays put. She’s not over it. She’s hanging on, weeping and wondering. When she looks in the tomb, she sees two Angels, who ask her what’s wrong.
With her grief undaunted by the presence of Angels, she doesn’t stop crying–she explains her hurt and fury about the body that was moved when it shouldn’t have been. I can hear the hiccups and see the tear-soaked clothes from the ugly-crying. She wants him back so much she’s indignant: He wasn’t supposed to die. They didn’t have to crucify Him. And they sure as hell didn’t have to move the body–is nothing sacred?
She’s railing against all that hurts when she gets interrupted by this guy she mistakes for the gardener.
She’s so wrapped up in her own hurt and anger, disillusionment and grief, defeat and longing, she almost missed it. She’s pleading to that very same living person for the dead body of her resignations.
Just as she’s making demands, “Tell me where you put him and I’ll go get him myself”…
Jesus says, “Mary.”
The “gardner” has to call her by name before she realizes Who it is. And she loses it: “Teacher!…” She’s so overcome, Jesus has to back her up a little bit.
I wonder what it would be like to find that the thing I’m mourning had actually returned, risen and glorious. There’s a good chance I, too, would only know it when I was unmistakably, undeniably called by Name.
The thing is, it’s completely reasonable to assume that the dead stay dead.
She has every right to be astonished when He reappears, or to conclude that her eyes deceive her–That she’s making things up. How was she supposed to know that was going to happen?
Except she did.
She was told, time and again about the impending Death, Burial, and–wait for it–Resurrection. Someone that close to Jesus had heard the prophecies, heard the words about the future and seen the signs and wonders to back it up. She had everything she needed to know it was coming.
She mistook Him for the gardener because she saw what she expected to see–that the dead stay dead.
What would it have taken for her to hold fast to His promises of an impossible future?
How much different would the experience of death and burial have been if she had known–deeply, experientially, gut-level known–that this was not the end?
What else would He have had to do to get her to wield that Hope as a shield against the despair?
I moved, but that isn’t why I’ve been having trouble with the Post Office lately.
For some reason, the old blue-and-gray have been holding my parcels hostage. Their demands are simple: stand in line for an hour, plead for your parcel face-to-face, endure our confusion, and then maybe you can have that which someone paid us to bring to your house.
It took me a month to get my Christmas present from my sister. She kept texting and calling and checking to see if I had gotten it. She was so excited, I thought it must be something really special.
I had a strange Christmas list this year, and on it was a watch. My sister and I had talked about a few from Kate Spade, so, given her enthusiasm, I thought that’s what was in the box. I was so stressed about the difficulty of getting my present because I was afraid something really expensive was just sitting at the post office. The worry that the box was more than I could handle took over the anticipation of the present.
But it wasn’t a watch in the box. It was a hand-crafted coffee mug, which was honestly more exciting.
In July, when I visited my sister and brother-in-law (and their absurd pet Monster), we visited the Pewabic Tile workshop. It was terrific–even more because it was such a sweet effort on Ben’s and Beth’s part to find me artsy, local, historical things in Detroit.
At the workshop, there was a piece of pottery that looked very Art Nouveau (1890-1914), which is my thing. I loved it, but couldn’t justify buying another coffee cup, especially not at that price. I spent an hour deliberating, and when I went back to buy it after all, it was gone. I look up to see Ben sneaking it to the register. I saw him, but it was clear he didn’t want me to. I never said a word about it.
In fact, I forgot about it. Completely.
My birthday came and went in October, and so did Christmas. I never even wondered what happened to the mug.
That day, my future gift was unequivocally revealed to me.
And I still got it wrong.
I forgot what I had seen, and I spent a month anxiously trying to get my hands on that watch– something that wasn’t even there, wasn’t mine to have.
I knew that mug was coming. I saw it secured for me. My sister and Ben always send the best presents, and I knew that. I trust them. I have years of experience unwrapping my favorite things marked from those two.
But when it finally arrived, I was still shocked to see it.
Somehow, in spite of what I’d seen, I expected something different.
A friend of mine is doing some hard work on his church, and he’s swamped by waves of difficulty, one after the next. It feels relentless.
We commiserated about that feeling of rowing against the current, where the rough seas and waves threaten to sink the boat.
We were talking about pleading with God, “Lord, if we could just. see. what you’re doing here–it would make it a lot easier to hang on. Father, please just show me what you’re doing and what you need me to do.”
I pray that, but my hope there is based on the fallacy that more information will relieve struggle and suffering.
More seeing means I have to trust less, and I miss a blessing.
“Blessed are those who believe and have not seen.”
Then again, maybe I have already seen, and I just need to believe in what I saw. Maybe my eyes need opened to the blessing that’s already here.
I wrote a while back about how much trouble I have “reading the signs”. I was frustrated, then, by what comes of mistaking a sign for the thing itself.
I don’t know if something is a sign or a coincidence, but my need to tell them apart–and probably my inability to do it–is based on grasping at a future that isn’t mine.
I get into trouble when watching for signs is a function of chasing the future. Signs shouldn’t be data in a test of God’s “goodness”–of whether He’s going to give me what I’m asking for. They shouldn’t be the things that sustain me in the now-but-not-yet way Christ-followers live. Signs should only bring us peace because they are a mark of God’s presence, yesterday, today, and forever.
Fixating on the Future takes me out of the Presence.
And it’s only in the Present where I can experience God.
Jesus, help me to become present to your Presence. Open my eyes to signs of your Love in this day. Help me let go of my need to secure the future. Let your love and your Presence be enough for me today.
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