“Live like Jesus died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming back tomorrow.”
– Martin Luther
At the beginning of March, I got to see my Granddaddy for the last time on this side of heaven. His eighty-seven years had seen pneumonia before, but this time his body was weak and raising the white flag. I knew I was saying “Goodbye” when I saw his chest struggling up and down in the hospital bed. He was diagnosed with Parkinsons Dementia a couple years back, so his true self has been gone for a while. And he certainly seemed different ever since my Grandmom passed away twelve years ago. Yet, his passing presented that final reality that he is no longer here with us. Death is a pronounced end for which none of us can really be ready. Our minds understand death much like babies understand Calculus. It’s just impossible to really understand. We all experience death and decay to varying degrees, so we “get” it, but do we really comprehend it? I can celebrate his life, that he knew Jesus, and that this end was really his beginning. But all my senses are telling me are that my sharp, funny, and handsome grandad is gone. What has always been, no longer is on this Earth.
Easter tells us that death is not the end or doesn’t have to be. It’s a time to celebrate that Jesus came, died, and rose from the dead. I hate to say it but sometimes, I live like Jesus never died for me and as if He isn’t coming back. Rarely can I focus on how He has risen and conquered death. I try to make my own restitution for my sin. I don’t trust that full redemption is coming and that He will make all things new. In this “already not yet” world, it feels like death is more of a final reality and victor over His resurrection. Death is hard to understand, and death made alive is even harder.
I can resonate with Mary Magdalene when she saw the empty tomb. In John 20:11-16, we read of her seeing the empty tomb and asking two angels where they have laid Him. She is distraught, and her tears are evidence of the fact that she is fixated on her grief and Jesus’ absence to the point where she cannot even recognize Him. She mistakes Him for the gardener and asks Him to tell her where he has laid Him. She says in verse 15, “Tell me where you have put Him and I will find Him.” In her search for Him, Jesus finds her and calls her by name. He tells her He is alive and ascending to His Father and her God. She then goes telling others that she “has seen the Lord!” Her deepest grief turned to her greatest joy.
The unthinkable happened and she was stricken with grief. Yet, the unthinkable that happened wasn’t what she thought. What seemed grim, dead, hopeless and final was really just the beginning of good, good news. As Henri Nouwen wrote, “Where God’s absence was most loudly expressed, His presence was most profoundly revealed.” It took His leaving in order for Him to be ever-present, Emanuel, God with us.
There are many times I’ve mistaken Jesus for the gardener. My eyes frantically dart around, searching for answers, resolution, and understanding. I want to hang onto what I’ve known and can’t conceive of something different. Staring Him straight in the face with blurry eyes, I ask “Where is Jesus?” I’m thankful that He delights in revealing Himself to us by calling us by name. It’s His presence along with knowing and loving us that invites hope, relationship, and a plan far greater than our eyes can see and minds can grasp.
Mollie Johnston is a Counselor for The Barnabas Center. She finished her year of Residency with the Barnabas Model and is now seeing clients weekly. She has her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tennessee where she majored in Spanish. She is especially passionate about helping individuals who are working through grief, doubts, anxiety, depression, self-esteem/identity issues, seasons of loneliness, family of origin issues, and divorce.