My mom tells me I was in church within mere days after my birth. Many of my earliest memories are of little country churches and the good, kind people who filled them. My Dad was the Pastor, so church was my second home. It was the place where I tasted my first stick of Juicy Fruit gum, and was lulled to sleep on worn wooden pews to the sweet sound of “Just As I Am”.
I have been to more church services than I could possibly count, and not just the ones my father officiated. There were regular revival meetings, and weeks spent away at church camp too. Over the years, the sermons built up in my head in a great collage of stories and character sketches from 2,000 years before my birth. In my childish processing of great truths I divided men and women, who possessed all the complexities of flesh and bone, into teams. There were the good and the bad, the Saints and the Screw-ups.
The truth is, it is tempting to judge the men and women of the Bible harshly, isn’t it? We are armchair quarterbacks to the Super Bowl of history, pontificating at length as to just how we would have done it better.
Peter gets slammed for his denial. Thomas for his doubt. Judas for his betrayal. All the while, we conveniently forget our own tendencies to walk in their faltering footsteps. As I’ve grown older and come face to face with my own cowardice, faithlessness, and treachery (among other failings) I have developed soft spots for Team Screw-up.
And when I quit judging them, I realized I could learn from them.
Take Mary Magdalene for instance. She has been terribly maligned by history. She has been painted as a woman of ill-repute with no evidence to back up the claim. Others have claimed she was the lover or wife of Jesus, again without a shred of credible evidence to back their theory.
I am deeply offended by the cheapening of Mary’s love for Jesus, because here is the reality- Mary loved Christ as her Savior because he had delivered her from absolute torment. Mark 16:9 tells us Jesus delivered Mary from seven demons.
His deliverance birthed a devotion in her that others could only hope to imitate. Mary’s love for Christ took her to the foot of his cross, to the tomb to watch his burial from a distance (the only place as a woman she could be), and then back to the tomb as soon as she was able with spices in hand to grace him with proper burial.
When she found he was not there, her love took her further. It carried her back to the disciples with the news, then to the garden once again. When Peter and John left her there with no explanation, she collapsed under the weight of her grief and God granted her an audience with angels the men had been denied.
When she turned in the tomb to find a man who she thought was a gardener standing in the doorway, she begged for the body of Christ. Her love took her past social constraints of the time which prohibited a woman from speaking to a man who was a stranger. Her love even convinced her that she could in and of herself carry Jesus’ body to safety if only she knew where it was.
This love, broken in grief, was so strong that it did what none other that morning had done, it called to the risen Savior to reveal himself.
“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.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” John 20:15-16 (NIV)
Alfred Edersheim says that though Mary did not recognize Christ in his resurrected body, she could never mistake his voice, not when he who had once delivered her from seven demons called her name. (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah)
And so it is with us. At times, we are blinded to Christ’s presence by loss and grief. We struggle to know he is near when we cry bitter tears with Peter over our cowardice, wrestle doubt beside Thomas, and contemplate our next step in the aftermath of treachery.
But though we may not see him in the dim light of our devastation, we cannot mistake his voice when he tenderly calls us by name.