When Pain Opens Us To Divine Transformation

Scripture: John 20:1-2, 11-18

Mary Magdalene, this faithful follower of Jesus, was attending to the duties of a disciple. None of the Twelve got up with her that morning to attend to their Teacher’s body. Paralyzed by grief, disillusionment, shame, or fear… they did not make the trip. It was a trip faithful disciples were expected to make. 

Lest we misconstrue Mary Magdalene as immune to the disorienting event of Jesus’ execution, the Gospel of John records how she broke down crying at his tomb. This was her second trip that early morning to the place of her deepest pain. This time she was accompanied by a couple of Jesus’ disciples who wanted to see the empty tomb Mary Magdalene had discovered. The men go into the tomb, while Mary remains outside. Though they have returned to the most probable spot to explore, they do not find the body, dead or alive, of their Master Teacher. Instead, they are left to baffle over some burial cloths and garments. The only clues Jesus had ever been there. Sparks of belief are ignited, but they have yet to encounter Jesus. Though these men raced to the tomb after Mary Magdalene’s report, they have missed their Master Teacher. 

When Mary Magdalene peers into the tomb through weeping eyes she glimpses God’s messengers. Pain and suffering have a way of opening up places within us to encounter the Divine. Seemingly, the vision of these two angelic messengers does not faze her in this moment. Grief also has a way of riveting our attention. Her concern is only for her missing Master Teacher. In this state, even heavenly servants barely register with her internally. 

The next encounter for Mary is with her Master Teacher. Jesus is now before her, but she does not recognize him at first. She assumes the man before her, One who was present at creation, is the gardener. Jesus asks her the same question the heavenly messengers just asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” But he goes just a bit further, “Who is it you are looking for?” God is always reaching out to us in our pain, trauma, and challenges. Not to magically erase our pain or hardship, but to be present to us and with us in those trials. 

If Jesus had sent one of us, then we might have been tempted to try and cheer her up. Our response to others inner suffering is often to try and distract them from it or fix it. Jesus does not tell any jokes or quote any well meaning religious platitudes to her. The Master Teacher, One who has just gone through unbelievable suffering, and passed through the mystery of death back into life, seeks to transform her suffering. He doesn’t push her grief away, but seeks to help her see the deeper pain beyond a missing corpse. She misses her Master Teacher. Her life has fallen apart. All she had sought after has unravelled. 

It is in this moment, the moment of the unveiling of her deeper pain, that Jesus calls out to her by name. Upon hearing her name a new faith is born in her. She has not merely seen an empty tomb. The Eternally Wounded Messiah has addressed her deepest pain, and allowed her to release it. She has not merely encountered the Divine, she has been transformed by it. Jesus’ resurrection is not merely an objective fact she has seen, but is also a reality she has experienced, and witnessed happening in her own life. And so Mary Magdalene will go forward and witness to the world of the power of Jesus, the One who lived, died, and rose. She is no mere reporter. Her transformed life is a testimonial to the new resurrection  life of Jesus the Messiah!