Breaking the lock

  • June 26, 2009
Lee felt the familiar exasperation, defeat and desolation. He didn’t stop to list these feelings; they remained in the background of the all-too-foreground argument with his wife. 

“Nothing ever changes,” he said to himself, and eventually he said it out loud, in just that contemptuous tone Julia had been expecting, with dread. “You don’t change, and this so-called relationship doesn’t change,” she flashed back, as if from the script of one of those plays that run 35 years, the same dialogue repeated night after night. Theirs had run only 12 years, but both were feeling ready to shut it down forever.

What was the point? Every time you felt like you were getting somewhere, a dead end. You were back again stunned, then horrified, achingly sad, angry, enraged.

Our circumstances may differ from Lee and Julia’s, but the questions lurk: Are we getting anywhere? Is there any meaning in all this? Sometimes we’re aware of the wondering; more often, we’re disconnected from the part of our soul that is asking. If there’s no answer, or the answer is no, then what? 

We might ask the same of Christianity. Christianity says Christ’s presence wrought redemption. Where’s the change, then, the better world? “There is a God,” the new bus ad says. That statement isn’t helpful unless God cares about us and has power for us.

“They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where to find Him.” Mary Magdalene’s cry echoes in our lives. Our hearts may whisper: “I thought I was following God, but I’ve come to the place and He’s not here.”  “I thought love would remain, but it is fled and I am desolate.” 

Mary Magdalene, standing in the garden before dawn at the empty tomb, is an icon for us. After meeting Jesus, it seemed there would be forgiveness for her, a real work to do, companions along the way. Now she is alone after the two darkest nights in history, the nights of Death Triumphant, hope dashed beyond hope. Nights such as our hearts have known. Lee and Julia knew them; sometimes each thought the other was causing this night, but down deep each was sure the fault was his or her own.

And beyond the dark nights, and more terrifying: emptiness. Not simply that the Lord is dead, but that He’s disappeared completely. It’s the wringing emptiness that topples us when we’ve followed as best we can, suffered and died, and love has vanished, apparently powerless.

Mary’s cry brings two apostles to the tomb. They see but don’t understand and return home. Mary stays, past the end of hope. Through her tears Mary sees, as there was emptiness beyond darkness, that there’s something beyond emptiness, too. A joy that breaks the past, breaks the heart, breaks death itself, re-creates her life and all lives. 

It’s a window for us, this moment when Jesus speaks Mary’s name and she recognizes Him: life raised from death, hope fulfilled, love triumphant, flesh and spirit united, God and human at one. We learn that salvation comes to us. The garden where Mary stands is at once the Eden which was lost, the Gethsemane of Jesus’ agonized yes, and the awaiting garden of paradise. She understands the power of God’s love and work, accomplished but not yet completed.

We may feel stuck back at the beginning, in our relationships, our lives, our church, our world. It’s not a matter of getting out of here and finding life. It’s a matter of life coming where we are. Mary finds an empty tomb with a broken lock and discarded cloths. Beside this tomb she meets another human, and though death stands between them it cannot separate them, for in this human the living God has taken flesh.

It’s our story too, and if we allow, it can define the moments of our lives. It can remind us we’re never “right back where we were” as long as Christ is alive in us. For Mary, there’s no hope in her standing in the garden unless God acts in a way that can speak through her tears. We don’t have to simply accept whatever suffering comes our way and never attempt to change our lives. We must be ready to meet the risen Christ. 

The church is given us to help us meet and know and live Him. Mary Magdalene has for two millennia been named “equal to the apostles.” She witnessed the resurrection, as any and each of us can do. We don’t have to do it alone.

“He has risen from the dead and now is going before you…”  (Matthew 28:10).