Sweeter Far Thy Face to See: An Easter Reflection, John 20.1-18

Rembrandt_-_The_Risen_Christ_Appearing_to_Mary_Magdalen_-_WGA19094

The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, Rembrandt

Oh Jesus! To collapse in grief, in the sense of utter hopelessness that the death of any beloved—but oh, your death, you who have given us the light of a new life, the hope of the unquenchable love of God, the vision of something beyond the horizons of this world—to fall flat in the effort to breathe because of sorrow.

Oh Jesus! To long to touch you one more time, to wipe your cold face, to wrap you again in sweeter linens, to cling to you and weep.

Oh Jesus! To stumble toward the tomb in the dark and find the stone gone, your body gone, my beloved friend and Lord, gone—gone in death, and now doubly gone. Oh Jesus, after I told the others I trailed them back to the tomb, the early morning light creeping over the hill as they bravely walked into the cave of death. But you are gone, and I have nothing left.

Oh Jesus! My tears blur my eyes, my throat is raw from sobbing, but when the men leave, I need to see where you were, to see if there is anything at all to cling to, anything at all I can hold to my wounded heart. Those men in white, their faces so aglow, have they taken your body? One sits near your head linens, the other at the far end, where I last saw your bloodied, impaled feet. Angels? Not even heavenly beings can ease my sorrow—where is my Lord?

***

The morning light is so bright now, and Mary blinks away more tears as another person approaches. He stands near Mary, gently asking about her groaning grief. His voice is kind, concerned, compassionate. Was it that the light was behind him, his face in shadow? Was it the mental fog in Mary’s mind that comes with great trauma and anguish? Who speaks with her? The gardener?

Yes, the Gardener, the One who walked in the cool of Eden’s evening and called out for Eve and Adam. The Gardener, the One who imagined a Garden and made it so; the One who posted a glorious and frightful angel to block access to the Garden; the One who makes even our east-of-Eden deserts and hard scrabble existence fruitful; the One who is the luscious Vine of the new and glorious Garden of Paradise and whose Father tends it, grafting his beloveds onto the Vine so that there he can tend them too; the One who in dying, became the Tree of Life and bids us come and eat; the Gardener of the New Creation.

***

Mary. Just her name, spoken as it was spoken so many times in years past—gentle, joyful, inviting. Only One could speak her name like that.

***

Oh Jesus! How can it be? Have I lost my mind? Is it possible? Can all the horror of the past days vanish in the morning light like a bad dream? I saw—your face with the thorns piercing your cheeks, blood trickling into your eyes; your back soaked in blood; your stumbling way carrying the cross post. I saw—they laid you down on the rough wood and without a moment’s hesitation hammered spikes through your feet and your hands; they grunted as they raised up the cross and left you hanging there, gasping for breath. I saw—your last sigh, your last prayer, your last glance at those of us who hovered near by in paralyzed agony. I saw—Joseph and Nicodemus wrench out those spikes and lower your body to the ground, to Mary’s lap. Oh Jesus! Can it be, can it be that you have come out of the darkness of violent death into the new day, free from the hatred and viciousness and ruin of this world’s worst?

Oh Jesus! It is you, it is really you. Your voice, so true. Your feet, scarred but warm. Your eyes, smiling and tender and alive! Oh Jesus! It really is you! Oh God, you have given him back to us.

***

Enter into Mary’s confusion and grief, suddenly pierced with the shock of reversal, the Great Renewal—life conquering death. Perhaps Mary recalled the words he spoke just a few days earlier: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” That day, that morning, Mary began to live, really live. When we encounter the Risen Christ, we can dither in disbelief—generating a million explanations for what seems to have happened—or we can fall at his feet, cling, and begin to live.

  • When have you been in a place of utter despair and sorrow as Mary was, a place of death and tombs and lostness? What does her decision to go to the tomb, twice that morning, suggest about how to move through those times?
  • Imagine the Risen Christ standing near you. The light is perhaps too bright to see him clearly, but then he says your name—no explanations, no clarifications—nothing but your name. Why is that enough?
  • The Risen Christ sends you on your way with a message. Mary’s message was for the disciples; who is your message for? In what ways can you testify to the Risen Christ?
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