My favorite holiday is Easter. I know that seems random since I’m writing this almost in August and Easter is a holiday that you may or may not even celebrate. But I like Easter – for all the obvious Christian reasons. It’s a pretty big deal when your God is raised back to life and it’s the event that the entire Bible points forward and backward to. With that obvious bit aside, there’s another reason I like Easter. Because it’s got my favorite Bible person in a co-starring role.
Her name is Mary Magdalene.
Now we all know, about Mary the Virgin Mother. Her story is a great one. She’s just doing normal Jewish workaday chores, maybe thinking about her fiancee and this angle comes and tells her that she’s going to carry the Son of God. And she answers, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord.” She stands strong, bears under the swirling rumors, and a fiance that’s about to dump her for betraying him before the same angle goes and tells him she’s not lying. She travels on a donkey, gives birth in a crowded Jewish home in the part where the animals are kept and raises Jesus, keeping all the events in her heart and mind.
Mary is amazing. And I absolutely cannot relate to her. At all.
Maybe I’m alone in this but my brain interprets childbirth in the fear category that’s somewhere above death and below living through something like the Holocaust. It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells me something like, “You just haven’t met the right person” or “it’s different when it’s your own” or “everyone’s scared of it. That’s why you’ve got nine months to get used to the idea.”
I am not Mary. I would not be calm even if the promised baby wasn’t the child of God and you couldn’t stone me to death for being pregnant before I was married and I didn’t have to explain to a fiancee with some story about an angel talking to me. If a pregnancy test told me I was going to have a baby, I’d probably run screaming for the hills. Now we can go into when, whys, and hows I feel that way, as well as the argument of whether or not I should but that’s beside the point. The point is, I’m no Mary.
Except, I am. There’s lots of Mary’s in the Bible. There’s a prostitute Mary that Jesus casts out a bunch of demons from. There’s a Mary that gets mad because some religious guys invite Jesus to their home, then insult him by leaving out the whole foot washing custom to see how he responses to it. So this Mary takes circumstances into her own hands and since there’s been nothing provided for use, she uses her hair and tears. And there’s a Mary that sits at Jesus’s feet as a devoted disciple. Which of these stories are the same Mary as Mary Magaline is a little fuzzy – at least in my brain and research. But here’s a Mary and we know that she’s a disciple of Jesus, she supports him, she follows him, she listens to him.
This Mary I can relate to. Especially the part where she thinks Jesus is going to come overthrow the Roman government, lead them all into freedom where they can live in physical and earthly lives in bliss. She’s found her savior, her lord, her teacher.
And then they up and kill the dude, leaving her standing shell-shocked going, “…. wait a minute. That wasn’t supposed to happen…. it’s not supposed to be like this… what about all his promises? What about the part where he’s the son of God…. what about….what about me???!!”
Eleven of his closest friends are hiding out, scared out of their minds, feeling confused. One of his friends has already hung himself. The whole world went black for hours. There have been earthquakes. For all they know they’re going to go after all Jesus’s people and start killing them too. Ain’t nobody happy.
And then Mary rallies herself. It’s done and no matter what she’s feeling, she’s still hoping, still loyal… still clinging onto – something. So she gets her spices together and decides there’s nothing she can do except give a proper burial – but she’s got her bit and she’s going to do it.
And she creeps back to the grave of this man – or god – that turned out so differently than she’d expected him to be. And somebody already beat her there – somebody already stole the body and the last shred of her mental image of this savior is gone. Yet, she still searches for him. When the gardener comes up and asks what she’s looking for, she’s still hoping, still trying to find him.
They’ve taken My Lord and I don’t know where.
And then he says her name.
And there he is. The real deal. The man she knew, the God she loved, the same features – but completely different than what she’d expected him to be. She didn’t find him. He found her.
But I love that it’s Mary that Jesus went to first. Because this Mary – This Mary, I can totally relate to. I’ve lived her story. I’ve had wrong ideas about God. I’ve found myself floundering, wondering if he lied, worried he wasn’t coming back, piecing together shattered visions of what I thought or was taught that He’d look like. I’ve searched for him in different places, walked out of churches that felt empty and hollow, groped my way through the darkness, clung onto bits of hope when everything around me screamed, “This is all a lie.” And I’ve had days when I’ve sat down in defeat, figuring maybe they were right. Maybe He was never there in the first place.
I didn’t find God in the places you would expect. I didn’t find him in a church or from a super good person. I glimpsed him in nature when he whispered to me, teaching me about himself through what I was experiencing. I heard him during long car trips when I was alone with my thoughts. I saw him, subtly working, in the eyes and lives of shattered people around me. I’ve lived through days when my most earnest prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling when I selfishly demand that my life must look a certain way, that he ought to keep his promises. But in the end, I’m scoping out empty places where there’s nothing but death, too wrapped up in feelings of betrayal, delusion and more than a little fear. Too busy searching to see.
And that’s when I turn around, like my favorite Bible woman, and find that he’s there. I didn’t have to find him.
He found me.