Mary Magdalene is in the Garden of the Tomb – mourning the loss of the person who turned her life around. The one who loved her when no one else did. The one who brought her healing when she was filled with demons and mentally disturbed. The one who gave her dignity. The one who made her feel loved and accepted. But now he was gone, Jesus is gone, he is dead. Nothing can bring him back.
And what makes it worse for Mary is that someone has removed his body, stolen his body. She no longer has somewhere to go, somewhere to express her grief, somewhere to place her memories. For her, this theft, this desecration, is the greatest of cruelty – it brings despair.
At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. So easily, we rush past Good Friday and the long hours of Saturday, we rush past the pain of death and mourning and move as quickly as possible to the resurrection. It is uncomfortable to stay too long with death, with the cross – we prefer to think about new life, new hope – about resurrection.
The story of Mary in the Garden of the Tomb reminds us of the pain of grief, but it also of the need to allow grief to run its course. However much we long for the darkness to pass, for the feelings of anger, of guilt, of despair to go away, we cannot just brush them under a carpet of false hope. Nor can we talk glibly of the Christian hope of resurrection without experiencing the reality of loss.
If we are not careful, as Christians, we become so concerned to emphasise resurrection hope that we forget that it has always been a hope borne through the pain of death and loss. Resurrection can only follow death and loss – just as it did on that first Easter morning. Our resurrection hope is not just a general hope of resurrection, nor is it just about heaven, nor is it a denial of the reality and power of death,.
Christian hope of resurrection is specific and personal it relates to me and those I love. It is not an abstract, general, hope of resurrection.
Christian resurrection hope does not deny the reality and power of death. It is, in fact, is born in the midst of death, Calvary precedes Easter, and in a very real sense over this Easter season we are called to feel something of the power of death, to struggle with the disciples through death, through the uncertainty and fear for the future that Jesus’ death left them with. It is, in a very real way, intended to be a struggle for us to move through Good Friday into Easter Saturday and then on to Easter Day and ultimately, finally, resurrection hope. Hope born out of death.
Christian hope is for now as much as for the future, the impossible is possible with God, new things can be born out of the shell of the old, new things can spring to life, the phoenix can rise from the ashes of despair. We can be renewed, made new, have new life now, as individuals and as communities. This too is resurrection hope.
Mary Magdalene discovered resurrection hope not through dismissing her grief and putting on a brave face, but rather in her grief – Jesus himself drew alongside her, he reached out to her with one word of comfort – “Mary.” Hope, real hope, was born from the darkness of despair. This was no false dawn that would fade, this was a new day in which the brightness of the sun would warm Mary’s heart.
In some words that have at times been very special for Jo and me. Isaiah promised Israel:
“When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through rivers they shall not overwhelm you.” ‘I will stand with you’ says Isaiah, speaking for God, ‘I will stand with you in the pain, … you are not alone’.
For Mary, resurrection still meant loss – Mary could never have Jesus back as she had known him. “Do not hold on to me,” he says. “Do not keep clinging onto me.” Mourning and grief are about letting go – letting go because we have confidence that we can trust our loved ones to God – letting go because we cannot hold on to them, letting go because we also trust in God’s love for us.
Jesus resurrection does not deny death, it fulfils it. Jesus resurrection assures us of all God=s promises not to leave us or forsake us – neither in life nor in death will he let us go. He draws near to us in darkness and despair, he speaks our name and gently draws us to himself where true hope begins.