(This is a real time conversation in my head that began on Good Friday and continues inconveniently and honestly, into the Easter season).
A wise woman I know leads Advent retreats in which she invites retreatants to imagine the role that they might play in the nativity story and anything is fair game-- people, livestock, and inanimate objects. The point of the exercise is to imagine yourself in the story. I love it. I especially love it because I find that it changes for me each year. This year, I decided to enter into the passion narrative to find which experience I find myself most closely relating to. I continually found myself circling around the empty tomb of Jesus.
What do I mean?
The tomb is a unique part of the story. In some ways it is a small detail, an unnecessary place for burial as it turns out. Then again, it provides the punchline of the story; had there been no tomb to lay the crucified Lord in, or no need of a tomb, the entire story changes. Without the empty tomb, how would we understand resurrection?
Depending on how you look at it, the tomb is indirectly involved in the experience of the passion, or (if we’re imagining its participation) perhaps it was satisfied to have been given a role—any role--at all. If stones could speak, I wonder if they might have grieved for having lost the identity as a place of resting for the Word made flesh (if even in so doing, the Paschal mystery was revealed to the world)? Jesus’ resurrection changed everything, and at the end of the day the tomb that may have felt itself very honored to have had any role to perform in service to the King of Kings, is left un-necessary, discarded...empty.
Recently our family began to share the news that we were expecting, which is a joyful proclamation in this season of new life, I can tell you. Not long after, our first ultrasound images revealed a baby with no heartbeat. Our follow-up ultrasound was scheduled for 3:00 on Good Friday; the irony of this situation was not lost on us. I knew what we would find even as they wrote up our appointment reminder cards, hopeful as I wanted to be. The appointment revealed that I, too, am empty. No longer filling the role I understood myself to have filled weeks earlier.
Grief has landed in my lap and I am grappling with how to make meaning of it. How in these moments of emptiness and frustration and this season of resurrection, do I bear the truth of circumstantial woundedness and choose joy? How do I sit with the story of Lazarus or Mary & Jesus’ garden chat when my own cries feel as though they have been given little response?
One gift that has come out of a particularly somber Triduum celebration is that I have found a collection of voices that have helped to name at least a portion of this journey that I’ve admittedly paid little attention to before this year: The terrifying and valuable fruit of entering into the grief and sadness of Good Friday with my own reality. (See also, this, and this and this, and most of all, this:
“But for those of you hunkered down on Good Friday, identifying with the loss of this day in agonizing ways, ways that you did not want to understand the cross, I am your sister this year. When too many things still feel dead and resurrection feels as unlikely and impossible as it must have on this day all those years ago, I can’t help but believe Jesus has his eye on us specifically. Who can better understand the cross than the man who chose it? Who better to hold us close in our loneliness than the man who was left to suffer all alone? Nobody, not one human being on this earth understands a dark Friday more than Jesus, well before anyone thought to put a ‘Good’ in front of it.”
The wisdom of those who are mixed up in suffering and carrying it with them to the foot of the cross--How could I have missed this detail before? I don’t just mean those whose suffering coincides with Holy week, but those whose lived experience has been filled with suffering, who perservere in faith alongside of Christ in his passion, as long as that may take.
I recognize that it is the Easter season, and I don’t want to stay mired down in the weary tones of Good Friday. I, too, celebrate that Christ won the victory over the grave, particularly as it is this very resurrection that gives me the solace this mama heart is seeking. Someone recently shared with me an insight that "‘Good Fridays' don’t always happen on Good Friday and 'Easters' don’t always happen on Easter Sunday" (or something to that effect); and there is a great deal of peace in hearing this.
We read in today's Gospel that Mary Magdalene, too, is focused on the empty tomb. Even when the risen Lord calls her by name, she cannot recognize him but believes him to be a gardener instead. It would seem that Mary's witness is a much closer match to my experience than that of the empty tomb itself. I can identify with Mary whose experiences blinded her to the reality that was standing before her and I do not want to stay there. In a new way, I hope alongside of Mary Magdalene that the risen Christ might be revealed to me at a time when I am able to hear him more clearly calling my name.