In the worldwide battle against the ravages of the Coronavirus, a. k. a. Covid-19, we thank God for those persons who are working selflessly and tirelessly to make positive differences. Glimpses of light in the midst of the darkness; these men, women, and children can be found expending their time and energy to better our lives. In the news and real time, we see these heroes and heroines busily at work in so many differing capacities.
A Nurse In The Family
As the daughter of a Registered Nurse; Donna has not only secondhand knowledge, but also great appreciation of the responsibilities the field of nursing entails. In the midst of this present pandemic, she and I have become even more aware of the risks and demands of the nursing profession. Most likely, you have, too.
After graduating from Saint Vincent’s School of Nursing in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most-challenging nursing positions Donna’s mother held was as supervisor of surgery at Doctors Hospital in Bessemer, Alabama.
More often than not, she was on call twenty-four/seven. Her many duties included maintaining a sterile environment in the operating room and supplying each surgeon with the specific instruments needed for each surgery. After completion of the surgeries, she also ensured that the instruments were counted, cleaned, sterilized in the autoclave, and properly stored for future use.
Over the years, her nursing career transitioned from hands-on service to teaching. She spent several years instructing Nurses Aides at Career Training Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. She excelled in all aspects of nursing, but came to the realization that teaching was her first love.
There is one rather humorous story she shared on numerous occasions. As her class was beginning their study of post-mortem care of the body, a female student expressed her uneasiness at the thought of administering care to the dead. In an attempt to set her at ease, Donna’s mother commented:
There is no reason to be afraid. The dead can’t hurt you.
The student’s comeback was genuine and priceless:
Yes, ma’am, but they can sure make you hurt yourself!
Dawn With The Dead
Our Scripture text opens, on Sunday morning, with Mary Magdalene arriving at the garden cemetery, which is still blanketed in darkness. Mary fully expects to find Jesus’ body still sealed inside the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea.
John 20:1-18 (King James Version)
1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Mary is surprised to find the great stone, which had sealed the tomb, a distance from the opening. Some great force of unknown origin had lifted the massive stone out of its track and tossed it aside. Now, the misplaced stone is laying, as mute testimony that some major disturbance happened here, nestled in the grass.
Imagine that you, setting out before sunrise, are going to visit the grave of a recently interred loved-one. You arrive expecting to see a fresh grave at the cemetery. Instead, you find an open grave with all the dirt piled over to the side. Most of us would not run over and inspect the grave to discover if the casket is still there. No, most of us would run like scared jackrabbits. Well, that is exactly what Mary did.
He Is Gone!
Sorting through the evidence at hand; Mary jumped to the logical, but wrong conclusion that someone had taken Jesus’ body from the tomb. She hurried to tell Simon Peter and John, who often referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, the disturbing news. Simon Peter and John take off running to the tomb, and John informs us that he outran Simon Peter and got there first. We see a bit of disciple rivalry here!
At the mouth of the tomb, John hesitates. He is not quite ready to enter the foreboding darkness of the crypt. Simon Peter rushes impetuously past John, enters the tomb, and begins to investigate.
Simon Peter immediately notices the linen strips that had wrapped Jesus’ torso are still intact atop the slab on which Jesus’ body had rested. The body, however, has disappeared. Next to the linens and neatly folded is the napkin, which had covered Jesus’ face.
John cautiously follows Simon Peter into the tomb. As John looks at the evidence, he begins to believe. John, however, does not enlighten us as to exactly what he believes. Does John believe that Jesus has risen from the dead; or does John believe that someone took Jesus’ body?
Simon Peter and John exit the tomb. Mary Magdalene, who had followed Simon Peter and John to the tomb, is standing just outside the entrance. Simon Peter and John do not pause, but depart straightaway for home. Mary, however, stays behind. The sound of her weeping can be heard as the early light slowly begins to envelope the garden. Mary timidly bends down and gazes inside the tomb. She is apprehensive about what she might see, yet anxious for any clue as to where Jesus’ body might be.
Two Angels And A Gardener
Mary is surprised to see two men, who John references as angels, inside the tomb. Mary, however, does not immediately grasp the fact that these men are heavenly beings. Wearing white garments, one angel is at the foot of the slab on which Jesus’ body had rested; and the other angel is at the head. In unison, the two angels ask Mary:
Woman, why weepest thou?
Because they have taken away My Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.
As Mary turns around, Jesus is standing just behind her. She cannot, however, recognize Him for the fogging of tears in her eyes and shadows still lingering as dusk relinquishes to dawn.
She deduces that this man must be the gardener, the groundskeeper, who has addressed her. The man then repeats the question previously asked her by the angels:
Woman, why weepest thou?
He, however, takes the question a step farther:
Whom seekest thou?
Through her sobs, she replies:
Sir, if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.
Her love and devotion for Jesus is evident in her, a woman alone, volunteering to physically retrieve Jesus’ body from wherever it had been taken.
He Is Risen!
Then, the man speaks one word:
At the sound of her name, her entire being reacts. Recognition fills her eyes as she hears her Master’s voice, her Rabboni’s voice, that she has heard so many times before. Overcome with joy and relief, she shouts:
As she stretches forth her arms to Jesus, He stops her with a smile and softly instructs:
Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and Your God.
An Easter Sonnet
The word, sonnet, is derived from the Italian word, sonetto, which means a little song or lyric. Sonnets consist of fourteen lines. The first eight lines, the octave, present a problem or dilemma. The last six lines, the sestet, offer a solution. In the ninth line of the sestet; we find the volta, the turning point.
I would like to share a sonnet written by Malcolm Guite of Cambridge Theological Federation in the United Kingdom:
Sonnet XV – Easter Dawn
The Octave (The Problem or Dilemma)
(1)He blesses every love which weeps and grieves,
(2)And now he blesses hers who stood and wept
(3)And would not be consoled or leave her love’s
(4)Last touching place, but watched as low light crept
(5)Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs,
(6)A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.
(7)She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,
(8)Or recognize the Gardener standing there.
The Sestet (The Solution)
(9)She hardly hears his gentle question, “Why,
(10)Why are you weeping?”, or sees the play of light
(11)That brightens as she chokes out her reply,
(12)”They took my love away, my day is night”,
(13)And then she hears her name, she hears Love say
(14)The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.
The Volta (The Turning Point)
In Line 9, Jesus addresses Mary and opens the lines of communication.
Let us revisit that moment when Mary first sees Jesus, but does not recognize Him. Jesus finds her bitterly weeping and asks her why. He, however, already knows that she is weeping for Him. He is aware that Mary’s mind is still shrouded by haunting images of His death on the cross and burial in the tomb. Thus, she had every reason to weep.
You notice that Jesus does not rebuke her for weeping. As a matter of fact; He honors Mary by choosing her as the first human to whom He would, following His resurrection, appear. In so doing, He gave her the full credentials to be the first witness to boldly proclaim:
I have seen the Lord!
Mary represents every person who has ever experienced the death of a loved one; who has ever wept at a hospital bed, funeral home, and/or burial site; who has ever experienced a dark time of feeling lost and alone.
Sooner or later; we all find ourselves in the octaves of life’s sonnets. We find ourselves searching and struggling to find solutions to what often seem to be insurmountable problems or dilemmas. What a blessing it is to know the octaves of life’s sonnets are followed by voltas and sestets—all because He is risen; yes, He is risen, indeed!
Yours in Christ,
Featured Image: James Tissot; Touch Me Not; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Brooklyn, New York; Circa 1884-1896; Watercolor and Gouache on Paperboard