Finding Faith Where We Least Expect It

Scripture: John 20:11-18

This past week one of my friends asked in lieu of people posting “Happy Birthday” on her Facebook page, if they would consider posting one thing that gives them hope. It was an unexpected gift. I had gone to her page to type out the usual birthday greetings and encountered an unusual challenge. I sat with the question all day. You see recently a shared friend of ours died unexpectedly and we are both still walking with that grief.

Grief and loss do strange things to our everyday experiences. Sometimes they are heavy companions shrouding us with loneliness, regret, and sorrow. Other times grief seems to subside and you might go a whole hour or afternoon without feeling its presence. And then something in your life brushes up against your tender grief and brings the pain back into full focus. Grief is a strange companion reminding us of the finitude of our own lives. It reminds us that we too are like a mist easily blown away. It can be unsettling.

It seems almost natural to me that in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is not at all fazed by her supernatural encounter with the angelic beings. She does not display the same fear or awe we have come to expect in the biblical witness. They ask her about her crying and she cannot focus on this atypical encounter with divine messengers. Her grief seems to rivet her on only what is absent, the missing body of Jesus. Grief can give us all tunnel vision like that. In any other instance she might be filled with wonder or holy fear, but now she knows only her grief.

So when she encounters Jesus, she mistakes him for a gardener. Our minds might go racing back to the first garden in Eden, but Mary, like most of us, struggles to see Jesus for who he is. She’s encountering divine hope and healing, but she doesn’t recognize it yet. That’s often how I’ve found relief and hope for my struggles. I’m halfway through the conversation or task before I realize I’m glimpsing something of the risen Christ reaching out to me in these people or situations.