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Posts Tagged ‘the garden tomb’

As an eighteen-year-old in my first year at university, I remember studying a play called Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett for our English course. I can still recall where I was sitting in the sloping lecture theatre, the day we all watched a live performance of this play. And I can well remember how confused and ignorant I felt. What was I missing? Did everyone else understand what was happening—or not happening?

I looked around and, to my relief, many others seemed bemused too. We were all wriggling in our seats. And we were bored, oh so bored, as we waited and waited for the person who seemed to be expected to turn up in the play. But even more, we were waiting for that performance to end! If nothing else, Samuel Beckett clearly conveyed to us the hopeless feeling we can get when we have to wait forever for something.

There are different sorts of waiting, it seems to me. I remember what it was like to wait for exam results at school and university. I would be filled with excitement as I anticipated those good marks for the subjects I loved. Yet I felt distinctly nervous at the prospect of seeing a big ‘F’ for ‘Fail’ beside those subjects I did not care for.

And I well remember waiting for our three children to be born, each one of them overdue by around a week. We were so excited to welcome them into the world. Would we have a boy or a girl? Who would they look like? Yet I dreaded the thought of those hours of labour that I knew awaited me. I was not looking forward to that, yet it was part of what needed to happen for the baby to arrive.

These various waiting experiences came to mind this past Easter as I read again what happened after Jesus was crucified.

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Luke 23:50-51

The phrase ‘waiting for the kingdom of God’ caught my attention. Joseph, it seems, was a just and godly man—but he was more than that too. John’s Gospel tells us he was actually ‘a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.’ (John 19:38) Yet at this point, he found the courage to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body, along with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had earlier visited Jesus at night. Joseph was looking for the coming Messiah. He was expectant. He was ready and waiting to believe and follow him. And, despite his fear and the danger he and Nicodemus might face from their fellow Jews, he acted, treating Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, with true dignity and reverence (19:39-42).

I wonder if that is how I am treating Jesus right now. Am I focussed on living for the Messiah who died for me? Am I filled with hope and expectancy, as I wait for that day when I will see him face to face?

I hope I, like Joseph of Arimathea, am waiting well for Jesus in a way that honours him.

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Jo 17I wonder if you like the sound of your name. Perhaps it depends on who is saying it or the context in which it is being said! If it’s someone such as a cross schoolteacher singling you out for some misdemeanour, as I well remember happening to me, your name might grate on you a little. But if it’s a good friend greeting you after not seeing or hearing from you for some time, then that might be a different matter.

I look forward to hearing my name spoken whenever I call a dear older friend. ‘Hello, Jo-Anne—how lovely to hear your voice! How are you?’ she always says, with such unfeigned joy and delight that my heart feels as if it is melting. And I remember how, many years ago, a young minister at our church went to the trouble of asking me whether I preferred to be called ‘Jo’ or ‘Jo-Anne’. Now I don’t really mind being called ‘Jo’—after all, that is what my husband and almost everyone else has called me for years! But I told him I preferred ‘Jo-Anne’, because it seems just that bit softer and more feminine to me. From then on, he tried hard to remember to call me that. And when he did, I was touched and felt respected.

I thought of this again recently when I read the story of the resurrection in John 20. As I often try to do, I imagined myself right in the middle of that scene at the tomb when Mary Magdalene discovers Jesus is no longer there. She is devastated because she believes someone has taken his body and, in her distress, does not immediately recognise Jesus when he speaks to her. But what a moment that must have been when she hears him say that one word that must have said so much to her—Mary (20:16)! Can you imagine it?

I wonder what tone of voice Jesus used when he said her name. Was it soft and tender? Was it loud and commanding, concerned to make her realise who he actually was? Did it convey joy and delight that she had come, wanting to attend to his body? Did it show something of his pride in her that she was faithful to the end? Perhaps it conveyed trust as well, because as soon as Mary realises who he is, Jesus goes on to give her a message for the other disciples:

Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

One thing I know for sure. Jesus spoke Mary’s name with amazing love. And today, two thousand years later, Jesus continues to speak our names with that same love, calling us back into relationship with our heavenly Father and into his own family, the family of God. How privileged we are that he knows our names and that we too can hear our Shepherd’s voice, speaking to us by his Spirit, guiding and strengthening us day by day!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28

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Most of us have experienced those moments in our lives when, for one reason or another, something wonderful we have looked forward to so much doesn’t eventuate. Perhaps we had false expectations all along and it was only a pipedream. Perhaps it was something we had worked hard for, but in the end it turned out to be beyond our reach. Or perhaps someone else let us down badly. Whatever the situation, the disappointment cuts deep, doesn’t it? And sometimes it takes a long time to recover. God is still there, we know. And we also know these things happen—that this is part of life and of our messed up world. But it can certainly knock the stuffing out of us.

I have seen such events occur in the lives of friends and family. I remember a wedding that was called off at the last moment. I remember a job loss that had been a large part of someone’s reason for being. I remember miscarriages and a longed for but stillborn baby. And even now in my writing world, I see authors’ hopes dashed as manuscripts they were sure would be accepted for publication are not—sometimes after several similar rejections. Yet I wonder if, despite their devastating nature, any of these rates one little bit beside the huge disappointment Jesus’ followers experienced at his death.

This Easter, I have been reading the last few chapters of John’s Gospel and trying to put myself in the very shoes of Mary Magdalene, one of the women who came to Jesus’ burial place early on the morning of that first day of the week (John 20). In this particular account, Mary finds the stone removed from the entrance of the tomb and Jesus’ body gone, then runs and gets Peter and ‘the other disciple’. These two return home, we are told, but Mary stays there, weeping.

As I try to relate to her, it’s no surprise to me she responds that way. After all, the man she believed was the Messiah, the Son of God—moreover, the one who had delivered her from demons and accepted and believed in her—had not only died a horrible death but was now even to be denied the decent burial he had been given.

And then she has a conversation with two angels in the tomb and with someone she believes to be the gardener. This man gently speaks her name—and everything changes.

Can you imagine the utter joy you might feel if that hardest moment in your life were to be reversed—if when you felt the light had gone out of your world, the very thing you had longed and worked hard for happened or the very thing you dreaded the most did not? What an amazing, amazing experience! Right now I am imagining that myself—and trying to allow that to give me insight into Mary’s deep, overwhelming joy as she races to tell the disciples she has seen the risen Lord.

It’s like in an instant, the world is put right again for her and for us. Yet not as it was—even better. In fact, everything is put right. Forever. At that moment when Mary hears her name, a hope and a future open up for her that are beyond compare and beyond anyone’s imagination.

This Easter, Jesus has spoken my name again. He has spoken yours too. Did you hear him?

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