In this post I will focus on two Gospel encounters with the Risen Christ: Mary Magdalene at the tomb (ref. John 20) and the road to Emmaus (ref. Luke 24). I absolutely love Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus at the tomb. Warning: I may take some liberties using my sometimes quite vivid imagination, so if some things don't sound like they're straight from Scripture, they are probably just from my brain. Praying I don't become heretical in this approach! ;)
Finding the tomb empty, Mary becomes distraught, and weeping, throws herself on the ground. Her beloved Christ (the one who had healed her), had not only died a gruesome death just a few days prior, but was now missing. Imagine if you went to visit the grave of someone close to you and found it dug up and empty? Quickly, you can begin to feel those intense emotions. At this point, you've begun to give up all hope of ever seeing them again (at least in a physical sense); where their body once laid, no trace of them exists. You would do anything to get them back. Since I'm an art historian (of sorts. Does a BA actually qualify me?), I'm going to add some art into the mix. Often, paintings or other images spark my meditation, or become a part of it. It is such a wonderful thing to place yourself in a painting - hear the sounds, the conversations, look at the surroundings, and feel the mood.
|Detail, Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, Rembrandt, 1638|
This painting is a wonderful work. I have included just a detail of the larger work, which shows the Risen Christ approaching Mary outside of the tomb. Kneeling before the sepulcher, she holds a cloth- perhaps a piece of the burial cloth left after Jesus had arisen. She looks behind her shoulder as she hears a man ask her why is she crying, but does not recognize him immediately. In Rembrandt's painting, Jesus is seen in the garb of a gardener, wearing a hat and holding a spade which points to Mary Magdalene's initial confusion. The viewer, knowing the end of the story, can feel the momentum building towards Mary's recognition of Christ. How happy will that moment be! Rembrandt has painted Mary with her body facing the empty tomb, with which she is currently preoccupied. She is slowly turning toward Christ, approaching that pivotal moment of realization.
So, at this point in the story, a distraught Mary Magdalene has placed herself on the garden floor outside the entrance of the tomb. Suddenly, she hears a voice, asking her why she is weeping. Assuming it is the gardener - the groundskeeper- she asks him to bring back the body of her Lord if he knows where it is. I was always struck by the thought that after following Christ for years, Mary fails to recognize his voice. How can that be?!? And yet, how often do I do that in my own life? I know that Jesus is with me at all times, and yet I quickly disregard that. Instead of letting him live in me, I often try to take control. Sometimes, I will admit that I like to sulk; I like to have things to complain about (similar to the Israelites in the desert!). I forget that God is with me, so I try to take control of things, and I ultimately fail miserably. I am left feeling unhappy, and can do nothing else but return to God. When does Mary finally recognize that this man is the Lord, the Risen Christ? It is when he calls out her name. How beautiful! The Lord calls each of us individually, in a special way. Personally, I can tell you that the few times I have heard the Lord speak to me in prayer, he has begun with my name. And what a tender way to begin! The Lord, our Creator, is recognized in the unique utterance of the name of his beloved creation (yes, that is you, too!). When Mary realizes who is standing before her, she throws herself onto him, wanting to keep him as close to her as possible. Yet, Jesus does not let her get too comfortable; He quickly sends her out to tell the world what has just happened. Again, the Lord does this to all of us. We are not to keep him to ourselves, but we are called to live out our faith and share him with the world. While I'd like to stay in Adoration all day long sometimes, I know this is not what I am called to be doing. At this time, I am called to live in the world and be the best witness to the faith that I can be. Sometimes I am not successful, but if I continue to return to the Lord, He will give me the grace to do his work.
I know this post is quickly becoming a long one, so I will only quickly share on the Road to Emmaus. Once again, Jesus appears to two disciples outside Jerusalem but they fail to recognize him. Even after they have spent hours together and he has explained the Scriptures to them, they do not put two and two together. It is only when they sit down to a meal together and Christ blesses the bread that they realize who they have spent so much time with! Once again, we can meet our Lord in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. What a beautiful way to encounter him! If you are struggling with your faith or trying to grow in your faith, I encourage you to spend time with our Lord in the Eucharist. Again, the few times that I have heard Christ speak to me in prayer were all in front of the Eucharist. Further, Jesus once again does not stay long with his followers once they have recognized him. He immediately disappears, and the two disciples go out to proclaim this marvelous story. Are you seeing a pattern?: I think God is trying to teach us something! ;)
Thanks for taking the time to read this! Feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions, questions, etc. Have a blessed week!
In His grip,