The previous two Easters we've gathered with friends to read the Book of John aloud. Our black chair with multicolored circles serves as the designated reading chair. We alternate reading a chapter at a time aloud. John wrote 21 chapters so we take a brief break after chapters 7 and 14. Altogether we experience three hours of stunning oration. The oration isn't stunning because James Earl Jones or Meryl Streep has joined us. It's stunning because our little group, our common community of everyday voices, speak the profound story of mercy, suffering and life of God.
Hearing the word read in a plethora of voices impacts my soul. To hear the Gospel in both feminine and masculine voice reaches new and uncharted waters inside me. Also, readers remark how their chapter (rather Jesus through the chapter) tenderly touches his or her soul.
I am impacted by Jesus’ own tender dealings with those deemed less than throughout the reading. He heals the lame and blind, reveals his true self to an outcast woman at a well, protects and speaks words of life to a woman caught in adultery, and provides meaning for his friends with regards to his life on earth and his death on the cross.
Ultimately, the cross gets me. As the evening progresses, a slow-motion dread builds within, hearing the dogged, inexorable march of Jesus to his crucifixion on the cross. I grow fond of Jesus as his narrative, the narrative of God on earth, rests on our room and my heart. I don't want him, so loving and courageous, to die.
But die he does. His death tears at my scalp and back, vibrates in my wrists and shins, and pounds my chest, where my grief tends to physically reside. Even though I know the story isn't over, I ache and ache and wish there was another way the story could go than persistently and unavoidably through the dead center of the cross.
The Book of John records the burial of Jesus but doesn't say much about his followers during that terrible 36 hours or so while he is in the tomb. Tomb time - that's what I call most of affair recovery. The great trauma has happened, and the resurrection isn't yet known to be true. It's a mysterious, painful time.
After John and Peter take note of the absence of Jesus' body in the tomb, they leave, yet Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb weeping. She weeps just as Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. Staying in her grief leads her to an encounter with Jesus. I believe his approaching a woman - a woman in tears - holds meaning.
Always the question asker, He asks, "Why do you weep? Whom do you seek?" It almost seems playful. He then speaks her name, “Mary,” and she recognizes him. He is risen!
Grief provides a pathway from our story to the larger story of God. His life and interaction with others touches our deepest longings to be seen and loved. His death rips at our hearts touching the part that was ripped by the revelation of an affair.
In tomb time, we reside in mystery. The ache becomes a real part of our lives and we get somewhat used to it, though we are most always ready for it to leave.
With his resurrection and the speaking of our names we know God sees us in our grief. He comes toward us with good intentions for our hearts, even though he allowed great pain. He comes in peace.
Reflect for yourself on the same questions Jesus asks Mary: Why do you weep? Whom (and what) do you seek?