I have written here before about how the Exodus story speaks into my life a powerful lesson of trusting God in the face of fear. Last week marked the beginning of Lent, and the scriptures again had me reflecting on what it means to trust God when circumstances are challenging.
At the Ash Wednesday service, we did a reflection on John 20:11-18, the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene at the tomb. The passage begins with a devastated and grieving Mary weeping outside the tomb where Jesus has been laid to rest after his crucifixion. She has come to dress his body — to give him one final gift of dignity and to give herself the peace of closure. But closure will be difficult to find because Jesus’ body is gone. In its place, two angels sit in the tomb, waiting for Mary. “Woman,” they ask her, “why are you weeping?” She tells them she is grieving because she doesn’t know where the body of her Lord has been taken and she is unable to pay him the honor of dressing his corpse.
How confused and terrified Mary must feel in that moment. For all Jesus’ attempts to prepare his followers for his death, they never seem to understand his warnings fully (remember the “Get behind me Satan!” incident with Peter?) I imagine that Mary and the other disciples feel defeated, lost, and even betrayed by Jesus’ execution. Perhaps they feel they have put their faith in the wrong place, now that Jesus has been lost. Perhaps they feel something like the Israelites felt facing the Reed Sea with the pursuing Egyptians at their back, crying, “We have been delivered only to die?! It would have been better for us to stay as slaves than to die in terror in the desert.” When Jesus died, his followers could have felt like they had come this far, only to be defeated in the end.
Then, at Mary’s lowest moment, she turns and sees Jesus standing, alive, outside the tomb. But because she is blinded by grief, because she does not expect him to be alive, she doesn’t recognize him! He asks her, as the angels did, why she weeps. And he adds, “For whom are you looking?” Certainly Jesus knows that Mary is looking for him! Perhaps it is Mary who does not realize that she is looking for a dead Christ when she should be looking for a risen Christ. But Mary still does not recognize him. Only when Jesus speaks her name does she cry in recognition, “Rabbi!”
He tells her not to hold on to him but to spread the good news. Before Mary can start imagining a life with Jesus around, he reminds her that there is a greater plan that requires him to leave again. I feel for Mary in this moment. How easy it is to hold onto things in my life, even after they have “died,” when it is truly time to let go. How often I let my own plan for what comes next eclipse my commitment to God’s surprising and beautiful plan. And how often I mistake the obstacles in my life for the end, only because I cannot imagine the possibility of moving beyond them.
When the Israelites encountered a seemingly impassable obstacle, Red Sea, they felt they faced their defeat. Instead, they were facing the very moment of their deliverance! When Jesus was killed on the cross, his followers thought they were seeing the end of his mission, his death. Instead, they were witnessing the moment of his victory, his resurrection. Moments that seem like the end can truly be the beginning.
How many times in my own life have a I failed to see the miracles of God because my own grief and defeat cloud my vision? What would happen if, instead of losing faith at the obstacles that seem impossible, I made room for God to deliver me in unexpected ways? How would I live my faith differently if I set aside my expectations for what is possible in my life? Especially in this time of post-grad school transition, when I have no idea what my next steps will look like, these are questions that remind me to hold on, have faith, and imagine the impossible.