The angels said to her ‘Woman why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
That was a day Mary would never forget. She and the other women had come to Jesus’ tomb to finish His burial anointing. They had worried about how they would get the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, but when they arrived it was already rolled away and Jesus was not in the tomb.
They did exactly what I would have done. They ran out in fear and confusion to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty. Later when she returned to the empty tomb she met two angels and finally the Lord Himself. But she did not recognize Him at first. She was not expecting to see angels and she surely wasn’t expecting to see a living breathing Jesus. Her fear and her tears may have been part of the problem she had in not recognizing him, but there he was alive. It was only when Jesus called her by name that she recognized it was her Lord. At that moment she was joyfully surprised in the midst of her grief. Her sorrow and her fear turned into joy in one brief moment.
I recall when my husband passed away in the early morning hours of Ash Wednesday, 2002. When I discovered that he could not respond when I called his name, I called 911 and while the EMTs were on the way I gave him CPR, but to no avail. I still recall those fearful waiting moments at the hospital when the doctors finally called me in to tell me that they could not revive him.
That day, and all of the events up to his burial service are still fresh in my memory. Friends came to sit with me, and brought food for my family. Pastor friends came to pray with me, and one volunteered to conduct the Ash Wednesday service for my congregation that evening. He also preached for me the following Sunday.
In the days that followed I was in a state of shock, grief, uncertainty and functioning somehow by remote control. I called two of my close pastor friends to conduct the burial service, contacted the musicians with the music, met with the funeral home director, wrote the obituary, and prepared the bulletin for the burial and Holy Communion service to give to the church secretary. It wasn’t until I sat in that service and listened to the scriptures, the words of remembrance, the sermon, the singing of the hymns, the prayers, and then one of the pastors, who led the worship service, took me by the hand and led me out in front of my husband’s casket at the end of service that I felt the power of all the love that had been poured out on me and my family during that whole week following my husband’s death.
The joy of God’s love seemed to flood over me in a powerful way during that worship as I said goodbye to my husband, and dearest friend of almost 50 years. The joy of resurrection filled me as we walked to the church cemetery that day. The power of the Resurrection seemed to overpower all of my fear and sorrow.
In our grief, worry, fear and times of great loss sometimes we cannot recognize the powerful love of God that is all around us, just as Mary was that morning when she went to anoint Jesus body. Then when he called her name her grief, her worry, her fear all turned into joy. The Resurrection was Real!
It is because Jesus rose from the dead that the joy of resurrection also belongs to those who He has called by name. Our grief, fear, and pain are all natural because death is a reality in this world. But, thanks be to God they are turned into joy as we begin to realize that Jesus is alive and we will live eternally with all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God for Jesus rising from the dead!
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.