Easter 2018 – Mary Madgalene

#biblestudy #easter #hesalive #marymagdalene

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

 

Mary Magdalene has just been to the tomb and seen the stone rolled away (v. 1). She does not understand. Would any of us have understood? Of course not. The only explanation that makes sense is that someone has taken his body and moved it somewhere else. Why would anyone do that? Who knows, but how else do you explain the empty tomb?

Imagine how she must feel. She is already in terrible grief because her teacher, her friend, Jesus has died in a horrific and humiliating way. Now even the one last comfort of visiting the place of his burial has been taken away. So she runs to tell two of the disciples, Simon Peter and the “beloved disciple” we assume to be John. They are the first disciples to investigate, but they don’t understand any better than Mary (v. 9).

Did she know Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had placed him in this tomb and completed the Jewish rituals of burial on the body? I don’t think so, because she never looks for them. It would make sense to ask them if they knew what happened. Maybe they had to move the body for some reason.

Instead, she goes back to the tomb looking for answers to the questions that must be swirling in her mind. When she looks in the tomb, two angels are sitting where the body had been. All the burial cloths are there, but she is too grief-stricken to be impressed.

 

13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

 

Then for some reason, she turns around and there’s a man she thinks must be the gardener. She asks him if he took the body, and if so, where? He speaks her name, and finally she recognizes him as Jesus (v. 16).

It intrigues me that she did not recognize Jesus when she saw him. She did not recognize him when she first heard him. But when he called her by name, she knew. Her heart must have leapt straight up to heaven where Jesus was about to go. For some reason, Jesus tells her she cannot embrace him for the moment. Wouldn’t you want to if you had just received someone you love back from the dead? But he does tell her to go to the disciples and deliver this message:

 

17b  ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

 

In doing this, he commissioned her to be “the apostle to the apostles.”

Until the moment she recognizes Jesus, she is in a state of grief, questioning, and disorientation, almost to the point of despair. The mystics called this the Dark Night of the Soul. This occurs after you have encountered God in a personal way, and then you sense God’s absence. You are disoriented and maybe even despairing. But as the saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Mary Magdalene was the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus because she persevered through the grief, questioning, and everything that came with her dark night.

I feel like that has been what my journey of faith has been about, persevering through the dark night. Several times, I have felt the disorientation and questioning Mary went through. And so I find encouragement in her persevering. And now I have reached a place where some of those questions are starting to be answered. I can see the first rays of the dawn. The only thing that brought me here was perseverance. I didn’t know how to get out of those dark nights and into the light, so I persevered, because it was the only thing I knew how to do.

If you are struggling with grief, questions about God and your purpose in life, or any kind of darkness and disorientation, persevere through it. Like Mary Magdalene, you just might encounter the resurrected Christ.

And now, here’s another woman of faith to deliver the Good News more powerfully than I ever could.

 

And Evening and Morning Were the First Day… Or Was It the Fourth?

The Foothills Writers Guild has started something called the First Draft Society (FDS). It is strictly in-house. Members can submit short pieces to be distributed to everyone in the guild through email for a first reading and feedback. Most of these submissions come in response to challenges from the president. Of course, last month there was an Eclipse Challenge. There were at least half a dozen submissions before the eclipse. I started mine on the day and just submitted it. Since it took this long, you probably already guessed it’s not really a first draft. So sue me.

Still, I understand it’s pretty late for this topic. So if you can take one more commentary on Eclipse 8-21-17, I really appreciate you stopping by and reading this, my first FDS submission.

*****

I bet when Bonnie Tyler recorded “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” she had no idea it would be the biggest hit of 1983. Even more so, I bet she had no idea that 34 years later, it would become number 1 again, and everyone would be talking about it. Or that a cruise ship would hire her to sing it as they sailed into the path of a Solar Eclipse. I didn’t make it to that cruise, but I was one of the lucky ones who only had to step into my back yard to see it. I didn’t really want to get caught up in Eclipse-mania, but when a wonder of the heavens is observable right where you live, you know you will never forgive yourself if you miss it.

imperfect image of solar eclipse of 2017
I tried to photograph the eclipse. But without the protective lenses, you don’t actually see the moon starting to block the sun. But you can see one star.

The sun is the very model of consistency and dependability. The earth keeps spinning on its axis, and the sun holds its position, so every part of the globe experiences daytime and nighttime. Sunrise and sunset happen at totally predictable times each and every day. You can literally set your calendar and watch by it. It shines on everyone on the face of the earth… except during a total eclipse.

The newspapers said Greenville (South Carolina) got 2 minutes, 10 seconds of totality, while Anderson got 2 minutes, 34 seconds. I couldn’t watch the event and start a timer, so I wasn’t able to track the timing. Thanks to the website www.eclipse2017.org, I found out the eclipse I watched started at 1:09:15 PM. I saw totality for 2 minutes, 35 seconds, starting at 2:37:57 PM. And “total” is important. The difference between 99% and 100% is never more striking than when you are watching an eclipse.

It amazes me how today, scientists can calculate exactly where the path of totality will travel, and based on your location, tell you exactly when the eclipse will begin, exactly when and for how long you will see totality, and exactly when it will end, down to the second. But what if you were living at a time before that kind of mathematical precision? What if you were a caveman, and you saw a total eclipse for the first time? You know it’s supposed to be day, and then all of a sudden it’s night. You look up, and it looks like the sun has been swallowed by the moon, which now has this fiery halo all around it. Day has turned to night. Nocturnal birds are waking up. Crickets and cicadas are chirping. What’s happening??? But after about two and a half minutes, the sun returns, and you’ve learned an important lesson. The sun can be hidden, but it is always where it should be in the sky.

The sun, moon, and stars, were created on the fourth day of Creation. I thought about this, because the only time you can see the sun, moon, and stars all together is during a total eclipse. Unfortunately, when it turned dark, the automatic streetlights in my neighborhood turned on. The ambient light hid all but a handful of stars. Still, it was enough to make me marvel that for the first time in my life, I could see all the heavenly bodies represented at once. It made me appreciate that fourth day of creation in a new way.

Fourth Day vs. First Day

Did you notice that in Genesis, light was created before the sun, moon, and stars? Light was created on the first day, but then God waited three more days to create the sun, moon and stars. I’m not arguing for a literal 6-day creation here, but I do believe the author of that particular passage did this deliberately. Whether the author was Moses (as tradition says) or the unknown author known as the Elohist (as scholars say), by separating the creation of light from the familiar lights in the sky, he wanted to tell us something much more profound than how old the heavens and earth are, or how many days did it all come together, and were they actually the 24-hour days we know, or were they 1000 years as the Psalmist said, “A thousand years are but a day in Thy sight”? Or were they billions of years, as evidence now indicates the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old? I find all this fascinating to study. But at the end of the day, I don’t know, and I don’t care.

What the author was trying to tell us is this. It is not the sun, moon, and stars that are the source of light. It is God, who made all of them. Most people at that time worshiped the sun, moon, and stars as gods. The account of creation says those bodies we see in the sky give light for only one reason. God said it, and it was so. And so they are not gods. They are natural phenomena that operate under the sovereignty of God. God is light and the source of all light. God’s light pre-existed and is independent of the light we see with our eyes.

But sometimes even that light may be blocked from our vision. Many saints of old said they experienced a few dark nights of the soul. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that hide God’s light like the moon hides the sun during an eclipse. I’ve experienced a few times in life when God’s clear light of day suddenly turned to night, and they lasted a lot longer than the roughly two and a half minutes I experienced under a total eclipse. If Bonnie Tyler’s song was called “Total Eclipse of the Soul,” would you have known what she meant? I would.

Maybe you have experienced some of your own dark nights. Maybe you are going through one now. If so, one bit of good news I can offer is you are not alone. Name any Biblical hero (and in some cases, I use that term loosely), and I guarantee you the Bible includes accounts of their dark nights of the soul. God’s light was hidden, and it was as strange for them as that caveman I mentioned seeing day turn to night. All the caveman had to do was wait, and the sun would reappear again. God, however, does not move as predictably as the sun, moon, and stars. No one can give you a timetable for when your dark night will end, but it will end.

The moon appears to swallow and devour the sun, but really the sun is still there all along. In the same way, no matter how long God’s light remains hidden from you, it is always there. Neither life nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come can destroy it. They can only hide it for a time.

When the moon moves, as it always will, the light you see will most likely look different than before. Don’t worry. That is a good thing. Our dark nights of the soul remove our illusions and delusions we once held so dear, so that we can see the true light more clearly.

References

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Anderson_1401.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Greenville_1483.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/West%20Pelzer_1654.htm