The empty tomb makes all the difference, doesn’t it? I admit I am profoundly uncomfortable with Holy Week. I couldn’t bear to watch the movie The Passion of the Christ, and the Stations of the Cross are unnerving. It’s too achingly painful. Too much. Of course it is – that’s the whole point of Jesus’ death! The world’s evil, my evil, is too much, and only a too much sacrifice would suffice.
I’m always relieved when Easter’s dawn arrives. The red or purple vestments are replaced with pure white to symbolize the Risen Christ. The scent of lilies fills houses of worship and the brutal cross is transformed with flowers. Christians everywhere sing Hallelujah! and lean into the promise of redemption.
Early this Easter morning I was sitting alone in the growing light and read John’s account of the empty tomb (John 20:1-18). The story is familiar, of course, but this time I was struck by Mary Magdalene’s experience at the burial place. Mary was weeping because the body of her friend was missing, and she asked a man she presumed was the gardener where it had been moved.
The man quietly spoke only one word – her name – and Mary immediately recognized him as the once-dead Jesus. Leaving the garden, she found the disciples and proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!” Among the dozens of excellent lessons I have heard extrapolated from that simple encounter, this Easter morning I was struck by one of the most obvious. A grieving, despairing woman found the face of Jesus in who she thought was the most ordinary person.
I have seen the Lord! Quickly, a long list of Jesus-faces flashed through my memory. Starting in childhood with the faces of dear family members like Mama Bess and my brothers, dozens of faces clicked past like the images of a celestial slideshow. Special teachers, lifelong friends, mentors and confidants, guides professional and personal, my husband, children, children-in-love and grandchildren, colleagues, an incredible circle of women, and scores of fellow journeyers in the rooms of recovery. In different ways each one was the face of Christ, many of them multiple times over. Each one made it possible for me to keep moving forward in the light of resurrection. Many today are doing that still.
Who has been the face of Jesus to you? Who has spoken your name as you wept outside a tomb of despair? To turn the image, today who needs to see in you the hopeful face of Christ? You may feel like only a simple gardener, yet after a seemingly ordinary encounter, someone may say, “I have seen the Lord.”