In this world, the old always co-exists with the new, death with the springing of new life.
I hear it in the story of the travelers on the road to Emmaus—how their grief over what had been might have been part of what kept them from seeing the living truth walking right beside them.
I see it again in the story of Mary at the tomb—how her mind, shaped by life’s traumas, leads her to assume that unexpected equals bad. A stone rolled away means the body of her beloved Lord has been stolen (John 20:1-18).
It’s still dark when she goes to the tomb—dark not just around her but within her too, her ability to see clouded by grief, hopelessness, and a brain wired to assume the worst.
The stone has been removed. Her neurons fire in their usual pattern. The conclusion is reached without so much as a glance in the tomb: the body of her beloved Lord has been stolen.
She runs to find Peter and John. Maybe they’ll know what to do. At least she won’t be alone in the terrible knowing.
They come and stoop and see and believe and leave again, and Mary still stands outside the tomb crying.
Finally she bends, too, and looks into the tomb, and sees two angels dressed in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been.
(How often have I, like Mary, seen angels marking the place of a miracle, heard their voice, “Woman, why are you crying?”, and missed the miracle in front of me?)
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him” (v. 13).
Mary turns, not waiting for an answer, but being given it anyway. The living, breathing answer stands right in front of her. And she still can’t recognize the answer for who he is.
“At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus” (v. 14).
(How often do I, too, fail to recognize even the living Jesus standing right in front of me?)
But here is another layer of grace, for this time Jesus himself speaks to her, undeterred by her slowness to see. “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” It’s the same question the angel had asked, and Mary’s second answer is not far different than her first.
“Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him’” (v. 15).
The questions may be the same, the answers similar, her heart still unable to see. But none of this process has been wasted. With each question asked, each grief expressed, Mary has been getting closer and closer to Jesus. She is no longer turning away from the tomb, running off to recruit the help of other disciples. She has stooped and looked in, spoken (unknowingly) with angels, and now, though still blinded by her grief, she is speaking directly with the living Jesus.
And as she answers the same question again and asks the unknown gardener for what she wants, Jesus gives her the response she really needs. It’s a response far more profound and beautiful and freeing than she could have imagined, and all with a single word.
He gives her an answer that goes far beyond the surface question she has been asking, “Where have you laid him?”
He gives her the answer to her heart’s deepest longings: Himself. Alive! And right there speaking to her.
And he gives her herself and a new vocation, too, naming her and then sending her back to the other disciples, no longer a woman blinded by grief and fear, but a woman who has encountered the living Jesus and has been given both beautiful truth to share and the freedom to share it.