A reflection that draws from John 20 and Isaiah 56. Happy Easter, all.
As Mary Magdalene sits alone in the predawn stillness, she weeps — but her tears are not only grief: they are tears of frustration. Tears with questions. Tears that demand something of Divinity.
Mary is not passive in her weeping: she is wrestling the divine.
Rev. Dr. Rachel Wrenn of the First Reading podcast calls what Mary is experiencing “exasperated hope.” She parallels Mary in the garden to God of Isaiah 65, who is “ready to be sought out” by Her people who “sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places” (vv. 1, 4a). Magdalene reverses the image of Divinity waiting exasperatedly for humanity — now the human awaits the Divine.
God of Isaiah 65 says, ‘I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name.’
Magdalene too is saying, “Here I am,” to a God who WILL call her name, soon — but not yet.
First, she must endure the excruciating in-between space.
And she endures that space alone. Peter and the Beloved Disciple enter it for a moment, as first light tentatively touches the tomb’s rolled-back stone.
They sprint into it — that pregnant space between question and answer, death and rebirth — past Mary weeping without a word to her.
They enter the empty tomb and they see the burial cloths that God has stripped off and left behind. They see and the beloved, at least, “believes” (John 20:8). Believes that Jesus is risen — does he also believe that Jesus will return? That they will all see Jesus again, and soon?
If he does, his action is not to hunker down with Mary into the waiting space. He and Peter “return to where they were staying” (v. 10).
They cannot bear the waiting space. Most of us can’t. Who would choose to settle down in hospital halls with figures hunched and haggard, to wait with them for whatever news there may be?
Most of us wouldn’t. Magdalene might.
We can’t skip past the waiting, though. So Mary waits — waits for whatever will come, whenever it comes — and as she waits, she weeps. Her tears are not despair — they are lament.
In This Here Flesh, Cole Arthur Riley describes the power and purpose of lament:
“Lament is not anti-hope. It’s not even a stepping-stone to hope. Lament itself is a form of hope. It’s an innate awareness that what is should not be. As if something is written on our hearts that tells us exactly what we are meant for, and whenever confronted with something contrary to this, we experience a crumbling. And in the rubble, we say, God, you promised.”
Mary believes in the promises of her teacher, his proclamations of a world turned on its head, a new creation born where the poor are lifted from the ashes.
Her hope in that world has crumbled, but she doesn’t abandon the rubble: she settles into it. Makes her home there to wait and see what rises from the ruins.
Mary is crying, “God, you promised!” And she in turn promises God, “here I am — whenever you come, you will find me. I’m not going anywhere.”
In her describing of lament, Cole continues, “Our hope can be only as deep as our lament is. And our lament as deep as our hope.” Mary’s lament is long, because her hope is deep.
Mary Magdalene does not sit in the garden in despair. Her lament expects response — demands it. Like God of Isaiah 56, she is waiting to be sought — waiting for her call to be met with response…and it will be! Her God WILL call her name — “Mary!” — and she will know the joy of lament answered, of hope fulfilled.
Magdalene is actively waiting for what she KNOWS will come. And she’s not going anywhere till it does.
Thank God for those who wrestle blessing out of pain; who brave the liminal lament and don’t let go.
Mary, your waiting is not in vain. Joy comes with the morning. Hallelujah!
I originally posted this as a twitter thread, which you can see here.