I woke up this morning with these words from the gospel account of John:
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” – John 20:13
These words of Mary Magdalene are couched in one of the most wonderful recorded events in history; and yet there’s something…pathetic…about Mary’s initial experience. I hope I have chosen carefully the right word to describe what I mean. Perhaps if you read the verses you’ll grasp I am trying to convey.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. 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.”
Like many of Jesus’ followers, Mary loved Jesus dearly. From the moment she first encountered His compassionate and powerful embrace on her life which released her from dark spiritual oppression, she surrendered her life to the Lordship of Jesus. Wherever He would go, she would follow. Whatever He would ask of her, she would do – no matter how difficult. That’s what people do when Jesus truly is their Lord.
But the hardest day of Mary’s life, she had to face without her Lord by her side.
One of Jesus’ close friends exchanged Mary’s Lord for silver and a lie. Soliders arrested her Lord and took Him away. Religious leaders had her Lord interrogated, bound and beaten. Roman authorities handed Him over to the crowds who exchanged her Lord for a criminal. They nailed her Lord to the cross as she watched in horror and confusion, perhaps wondering how He could have power over demons, power over storms, power over death and sickness and yet appear powerless before the authority of men in an unjust trial, resulting in her Lord hanging helplessly on a cross of wood, bleeding and dying.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. – Luke 23:47-49
What seems particularly pathetic is the way that Mary still insists on referring to Jesus as her Lord – even while (as far as she was concerned) He still lay lifeless in the grave. Watching and listening to Mary at the grave you might say “Wow, that’s a sorry looking sight right there!” It seems pathetic that she would have to take responsibility and care of her Master. What a spectacle that her ‘Lord’ was so powerless that even an unknown gardener might have some control over Him! What kind of Lord could a lifeless, speechless, powerless corpse be to anyone?
And yet amid the pathetic, Mary was moments away from the profound – the wonderfully profound.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. – John 20:16-18
I arrived at the hospice this morning to find a very weak and very sorry looking, Annie. She had barely slept, she threw up three times in the night, she was in pain and had the added struggle of flu-like symptoms that were forewarned before she had the Pamidronate infusion to help suppress her high calcium levels. I have just recovered from a bad cold and I appreciate, even with full health, how simple cold symptoms really make you feel pathetic. What Annie was experiencing was beyond that. As we entered the room she was suffering such a bad headache that she painfully insisted we whispered. The nurses are trying to control the amount of co-codamol painkiller she takes because too much is bad on her liver which is already showing early signs of the reach of cancer.
We sat down quietly besides Annie for an hour or so as she tossed and turned, whined and moaned and groaned, unable to grasp a handful of undisturbed minutes rest. I am the last person to sensationalise our prayer life but on this occasion, as Annie’s pain and restlessness progressed further I laid my hands on her and asked the Lord to give Annie rest and He did so immediately. After a good hour of rest she awoke and looked very different to the way we found her this morning.
The Lord lead us out of the pathetic and into something quite profound.
A team of about four doctors came into the room and asked to spend some time with us. Three of the doctors sat around the bed while the other took the lead. He asked Annie a series of questions about how she was feeling and what her diet was like. He then moved on to ask a series of questions about her faith. I was quite surprised as in our experience, people in the medical profession – like other professionals – often treat personal faith and religion as the sacred cow which you don’t touch. When we’ve mentioned our faith those folks usually nod, hum and smile emphatically, some daring to respond “That’s good for you,” but usually the conversation is moved swiftly on before it gets awkward – not for us, mind.
Some people do get very upset, defensive or even indignant when you probe into their personal beliefs – let alone asking more probing questions in a place and at a time when they are facing their own mortality. Again, I add that this is not true of us. For the record you can ask any question you like of us about our faith at any time. Please feel free to use the comments box in our posts or email us.
The doctor asked about what we believed and how it helped. He asked about healing and what it would look like. Annie simply and sincerely declared her faith in the gospel. He then phrased a rather long and complicated question which was the only time the doctor looked over to me for assistance in unravelling and answering. My attempt at unravelling the question was “How does your faith in God help you in the process of suffering?” to which the doctor responded enthusiastically “Yes, that’s what I mean!” (much to my relief and joy.) Rather than give my answer, I just testified what it was like to be a husband watching his wife suffer all manner of pain and nausea and yet still hear her say: “Ry, don’t worry. I know my Redeemer lives!”
We didn’t need many words, we simply testified to the supernatural peace that transcends all understanding when you belong to Jesus.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, – 1 Peter 3:15
As the doctors left, hindsight kicked in and Annie and I wondered if we could have given a better account of our faith in our Lord – we just want to give Him our best! In retrospect we could have given the doctor our blog address but that didn’t come to mind at the time. We knew that our enemy would love to make us feel pathetic about missed opportunity. And so while we talked together about that unexpected opportunity we had, we thanked God that He had given us a testimony of His goodness – not in theoretical theology but practical and real, in the face of the worst and most bitter of life. The treasure in jars of clay as the Apostle Paul puts it,
Sometimes circumstances in life make us feel pathetic. But as followers of Jesus, it’s always in the context of something wonderfully profound. Jesus is alive today. We are all pathetic without Him. Rich, poor, healthy, sick, young and old alike. My prayer this afternoon as I walked Milo was that whoever comes to read this blog or meet us, would not just know that Jesus is our Lord. Knowing Jesus is our Lord will not ultimately be of any value to you if you don’t come to know Jesus as your Lord; that you surrender your life to Him and receive Him as God’s gift to a pathetic, broken and sinful world.
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-22
Praying for you,