By Andrea Lingle
A woman stood at the mouth of a cave. Any beauty her face would hold tomorrow had turned to gray, stern grief overnight. Her hair lay raggedly on her shoulders; her feet were dusty. She felt dry and limp—too exhausted to scrape together enough spirit to form tears, but, unbelievably, she could feel them soaking into the neck of her cloak.
It was the second morning, and she had come to begin letting go. Her people were good at letting go. Death was a commoner in this place. She had often felt its shadow melding with her own.
It wasn’t death that she couldn’t face. It was his death. She knew what to do. Had done it many times. But she had never done it for him. Tradition, acceptance, and tomorrow lay in the basket she carried, but she walked slowly.
The tomb was behind a scrim of gnarled olive trees, the carpet of gray green leaves, scattered on the ground like palm branches, were scuffed from the recent passage of his broken body.
Through the leaves, partially hidden like a whispered secret, she could see that the tomb was open. She set her basket down and ran. Back. To the room, to the disciples. And the basket lay waiting, fragrantly, holding its own secret.
Peter and John had come and gone. Running, shouting, making plans. But she could not face this moment. She had come with a basket she had woven herself while listening to his preaching. She had come, reluctant, but certain. Now she was shattered. A shaft of light spilled into the basket still sitting on the ground, full of dust and wonder.
“Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Even though we have just entered the journey of Lent—the before—I can’t get this picture out of my head. Mary, frantically searching for her misplaced Messiah, bumping into the Divine, and not realizing it.
Why tell the story that way?
In the past I have assumed that she didn’t recognize Jesus because she wasn’t present to what was happening. She let the cares of the world distract her. She needed to be present to the moment.
But that seems unlikely, doesn’t it. How could she have had a conversation with Jesus and not recognize him? She knew him well. She had traveled with him. She had passed the baskets of bread around that he had blessed and broken. She had seen him heal and been healed. Mary knew Jesus.
So, perhaps there is something else happening here.
What does it mean to step into Lent? For me, Lent is a time of untying all that is certain, of realizing that we do not know what we know. Lent is a time when we commit to unmasking, not only ourselves but God, knowing that it is just possible that when we do, we will not recognize either of us.
She did not recognize him…
Because he was not the same…
And neither was she.