Note from the Editor: This piece originally appeared as the cover story for the March/April 2015 issue of Good News magazine, which offers practical resources for renewed and robust ministries, and which you can find here.
Though the Easter candy on store shelves has now reached the 90% off mark, Christians continue to celebrate the season of Easter as we move through spring. Have you felt the resurrection? How are you praying as we read of Christ’s appearances to his disciples and as our minds turn towards Pentecost?
I find myself walking in the semi-dark, friends clustered around me. Our hands are full, carrying materials to preserve a corpse.
It was a long Sabbath. We were supposed to rest, so we did. But there’s no rest from thoughts of despair and grief. They follow you into every room you enter.
Like we had followed Him. We saw the miracles – the joy in strangers’ faces when Jesus spoke them well, or touched them, or called them out of tombs.
Now I’m walking to a tomb. The sun is mocking me. It sets, it rises. He’s dead. Others may say he spoke blasphemy, claiming to be God. Maybe they didn’t have loved ones who had been blind and who could see the sunrise now. But we saw them kill Jesus, and we all stumbled as the earth shook when he died, like the universe itself was responding to what happened. Someone said there was damage in the temple. The earthquake shook some tombs open.
And now we’re walking. It feels like there’s been nothing but loss and evil at play for the past few days. What can we do? We weren’t the one calling a dead man out of a tomb; that was him.
I shift my spices. We’re getting nearer, and I feel the dread of anticipation ripple through the group. We want to do this for Jesus; there’s so little we’ve been able to do the past few days, and sitting through the Sabbath gave little outlet for grief.
We can’t heal his body the way he healed so many, but we can honor it. I saw where the wealthy man buried him. He began the care. We’re here to continue it. It’s all we have left.
I lead the others through the garden. We’re close now and I’m hearing birds when the earth begins to shake again. Again? I’m on my hands and knees again for the second time in three days. The myrrh is dropped and I smell it’s strong scent while my eyes are squeezed shut, waiting for the shaking to stop, to cease and let me be still.
My hands are clasped over my head and I hear voices around me, the other women are standing up and looking around.
I open my eyes.
There it is – only, I must be in the wrong place. It’s the tomb, I’m sure it is, but the rock has been moved. Only no one’s looking at the rock.
I’m shaking again, my knees are weak because I don’t know what I’m seeing – lightning with hands and feet? A thousand stars looking at me, blinking? I’m shaking all over, and then the light begins to speak, and it sounds like the voice is coming from the night sky, from the farthest stars, and from right next to me, at the same time.
I hear words, comforting words that calm and soothe and my hands stop shaking so badly. And then the lightning figure speaks again only this time I hear the voice but I can’t understand how the words make sense.
How does this face of fire know we were looking for Jesus? It’s telling me Jesus isn’t here, and my mind is numb as the lightning’s voice says Jesus is risen. My thoughts are stuck, I don’t understand and a quick glance shows me my friends’ shocked faces and I know I’m not alone in my daze.
Then the face turns and it’s like a prism and the figure shining so bright points into the tomb and I hear that voice echoing and close telling us to look and see where Jesus had been.
My hand still smell like myrrh. Am I still holding it? I look down at my hands and see they’re empty. I must have dropped it.
The lightning voice is speaking again and I hear it telling us to go, to go, quickly, and tell the others. I feel friends’ movement at my side and hear their feet running, running through the garden. My body’s not responding. I look down and realize my hands are clutching my head.
Look. Don’t look for the myrrh. I’m supposed to look in the tomb. Only I can’t move, and when I lower my arms, I discover my face is wet. I’m heaving sobs and can’t stop; I’m not sure why. I’m terrified, but this hope now living inside me, it won’t die. I will my legs to move, and I look down into the cavern. And then the figure wearing lightning asks me why I’m crying and my brain is stuck again. All I know is that I came with myrrh to this tomb and it’s empty and what do I say?
“They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
And I turn away from the tomb that doesn’t make sense and I’m still crying into my hands that smell like myrrh, when I see someone standing nearby. It must be the gardener.
That must be it. He saw something, he can tell me what happened. But I can’t ask. Instead, he asks me why I’m crying and who I’m looking for.
Please, I say. If the tomb was broken into, or that earthquake damaged it, and you carried him away, please, just tell me where. I brought myrrh. I have friends, they’re coming back, we’ll take him. Please, just tell me where.
But the gardener’s voice is different now, and he says my name – Mary.
And the world turns upside-down, only this time there’s no earthquake, because I don’t need to look for Jesus, or for my myrrh.
I’m looking at him. I hear my voice say “teacher?!” And I kneel at his feet, the feet we were going to wrap, the feet that were supposed to be still and now, with nail holes, are wriggling in front of my eyes.
And then Jesus – not in the tomb, not breathless and lifeless and cold – then Jesus tells me to go to the others with a message.
Suddenly my shaking has stopped. My feet are ready to run.
I whirl around and begin to run.
I don’t look back.