There are mornings when you wake up and it doesn’t feel like the sun is going to rise. And even when it does, it feels like it shouldn’t. That’s because for you, everything has changed – the job was over; or the relationship had ended; or the phone call had come; the diagnosis had been confirmed. Your life, as you knew it, had been turned upside down, and yet…
And yet the world just keeps moving around you. You pass people in the car or the street who are laughing or talking or just going about their day, and it’s hard to believe that your personal world has been overturned and yet everything else is pretty much the same. The sun still comes up, just like it does every day.
Perhaps that was what Mary felt like, as recorded in John 20, when she went to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning. Everything she thought she knew had been upended in the past couple of days, and yet there was the sun. Coming up again as if nothing had happened. And so to the tomb she went, only to find that her shock and awe from the previous weekend was only beginning.
The stone had been removed. The tomb was empty. And Mary found a reserve of energy she did not realize she had – enough to run and inform Peter and John that the body of Jesus had been stolen. And while the two disciples ventured into the darkness of the tomb, Mary stayed outside and wept. She had already been in and she knew what they would find. What was bad had somehow, unbelievably, unfathomably, gotten worse. And then this:
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him” (John 20:11-15).
There He was. In the midst of her pain, darkness, and confusion – Jesus was there. And in reflecting upon this encounter with Jesus, there are at least two things we can learn about our own encounters with the Lord:
1. Encounters with Jesus come in the midst of the ordinary.
How could Mary have not recognized Jesus? The simplest answer is that she wasn’t looking for Him. Not there. Not in the midst of sorrow and grief. Not right in the place where everything seemed to be going so terribly wrong. And yet there He was.
But she did see someone – but she mistook that someone for the gardener. For an ordinary, run of the mill, non-spectacular person. And there is a great truth for us because in a day when we are obsessed with the spectacular, we translate that obsession over to our encounters with Jesus.
Surely we would never encounter Jesus in the midst of an ordinary day. At an ordinary job. Or doing the ordinary stuff of parenting like making dinner or playing catch in the yard. And yet those are precisely the times when we meet with Jesus. He is not restricted to the spectacular; indeed, Jesus has always made it His pattern to come to us in the most ordinary way imaginable. We would do well to recognize that every single moment of every single ordinary day is an opportunity to experience the presence and see the work of Jesus Christ.
2. We often don’t recognize the presence of Jesus until later.
In the moment, Mary was confused. Grief-stricken. Sorrowful. And it was not until later – granted, just a bit later – that she recognized the presence of Jesus. And so it is with us.
During days of pain and difficulty, we are prone to throw up our hands and ask the Lord where He is and what He is doing. And yet He is there. We don’t recognize Him, but He is there. It is only often with the benefit of time and reflection that we are able to recognize an encounter with Jesus. It’s only after the fact that we can see, at least in part, that He was indeed with us, and not only with us, but right in the middle of what was happening in the moment, working for our good and our continued formation into His own image.
So it was with Mary, and so it was with us. So let us not neglect the ordinary, because it’s in the ordinary that we will see Jesus. And let us be patient during seasons of sorrow, knowing that with the benefit of time we will be able to look back and see at least a glimpse of the abiding presence and purpose of Jesus with us in the middle of it.
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