Between Here and Heaven
by Robin Jones Gunn
The feeling of being in suspense between here and heaven is very real. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, born in 1881, explained this season this way:
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages . . . Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
I wonder if this intrinsic sense of feeling in suspense and incomplete propelled Mary Magdalene to be among the first of Jesus’ followers to venture to the garden tomb early in the morning on the third day after the crucifixion.
Mary had lingered at the foot of the cross and watched her Savior die. After Christ’s body was buried she waited by the sealed tomb long after the others left. Now, just before the hint of first light on the third day, Mary made her way to the garden and found that the stone had been rolled away. The tomb was empty. An angel appeared saying, “Do not be afraid. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said he would.”
Whether that announcement confounded or comforted the few who were gathered there, Peter and John left. They went home. The last time Jesus had spoken to them, he told them that he was the vine and they were the branches; they needed to abide in him. He had called them his “friends,” since a servant didn’t know what his master was doing.
Yet they didn’t know what he was doing. They were severed from the True Vine and now an angel had told them he was risen. But where was he? They didn’t know what to do, so they went home.
Mary Magdalene didn’t leave. She stayed just as she had stayed at the foot of the cross. Just as she had lingered in the garden after the stone had sealed the tomb. And now, just like Eve, Mary was a woman in suspense, incomplete, waiting in a garden for God to make his next move.
I love this glimpse of Mary, a relentless woman longing for her Savior. Nothing made sense, but she wasn’t giving up. She wasn’t moving.
Thousands had followed Jesus. He fed them, healed them, forgave them, and wept over them. But now that their hopes were shattered, all of them had gone home.
All but Mary, the woman from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. She knew what it was like to be separated from God. She knew pain, sorrow, emptiness, torture, and the very face of evil. She also knew love. God’s perfect and complete love made flesh in his only Son.
That morning at the empty tomb Mary lingered, weeping. Her emotions were spent; her vision was blurred. All she knew was that she wanted Jesus back.
In the opening scenes of God’s Great Story it was the Lord God, the First Gardener who tarried in the cool of the day. He knew all that had been shattered in the fall. His first love had been taken from him. Yet he didn’t give up and go home. Like a Relentless Lover he came to the garden and made it clear that he wanted them back when he called out, “Where are you?”
Now Mary is the one waiting in the garden. Jesus was right there. He came to her but she thought he was the gardener. All she knew was that her relationship with Christ had been broken and she wanted him back. Deep calls to deep when Mary cries out, “Where is he?”
How many centuries God had waited to hear the echo of his words from Eden! How many millions of his children had he pursued with his unfailing love and mercy? How few of those free-will-infused children had ever responded in kind and turned to him with their whole hearts, calling out, “Where are you, God? I want you back!” How tiny is the number of those who have lingered long after all the other devoted followers have gone home.
Jesus spoke one word to Mary. She had been hunched down, peering into the tomb and sobbing when he spoke that one word. When she heard it, she pulled herself together and turned fully toward him. The one word Jesus spoke was her name: “Mary.”
What if you believed that in the midst of your most devastating tragedy, Jesus was right there, even if you didn’t recognize him? What if, in your most painful, hunched-over, sobbing moments, you believed that he knew you by name? Would you turn fully toward him as Mary did?
I want to be one who lingers. One who waits passionately even though I am in suspense and incomplete. I want Jesus.