Me and Mary Magdalene

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. (Mark 16:1)

I press my face against the pink, veined marble slab, smeared with a fragrant oil that lingers on my neck and hands.  As I push myself from the cold ground, a tension forms in my throat and my vision blurs, but I can’t explain why I’m crying.

Why do tears build above my lower lids, if I know that this rose-colored stone is not where Jesus’ body was washed and wrapped?  If I know that this black sepulcher, whose ashy walls rise into the shadows of the ancient church, is not its final resting place?

Wandering through the empty darkness, I find the chapel of Mary Magdalene situated next to the sepulcher, where a small group of priests, nuns, and brown-clad monks chant the Latin Mass.  The words are strange to my ear but the familiar intonation, which I haven’t heard in months, awakens the waters deep within the well of my chest and draws up buckets that slosh over my lap.  So I sit in Mary’s pews, crying, not wanting to leave the tomb.

And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. (Matthew 27:61)

~~~

Days later, I wander through a garden, the purple light of dawn rising over the rock-hewn tomb, and the breeze gently tapping the trees’ leaves.  I’ve imagined this place countless times before—even the red flowers that pop through the dirt and the boulders resting on their sides.

The worshippers packed in rows for the sunrise Easter service are only apparitions that float away like mist, and their loud songs of praise are muffled by the quiet coos of doves resting in the twisted arms of olive trees.

Like the woman with dark hair and a red shawl who waited in this garden many years ago, I too sit alone, waiting for a friend to call my name.

And just like he promised, there he is.  On the stone steps, under the green branches that dip and bend.

He pulls me in, my face pressed into the crevice of his shoulder.  Into the white, woven linen that smells of the oil I spread across the pink marble.

I am drawn in, sown in tightly like the threads that rub against my cheek.  I wonder if this embrace has lasted for eternity, and then realize that eternity itself is this embrace.

When he steps away, and when the mist condenses into human forms once again, the scent of oil lingers in my hair.

I feel a flutter of white wings, splashing around in the waters of my chest.  The wind slips across my neck and drags a trail of clear water down my face.

I now realize why I cried in the dark church.  It’s because I, like Mary, desire to be close to Jesus.

And, I cry here, in the brightness of the sunrise, because I, like Mary, am so desired by God, and pulled into his warm embrace.

She turned around and saw Jesus there…[He] said to her, “Mary!” (John 20: 14, 16)

~~~

This piece describes my visits to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, which are both considered potential sites for the Jesus’ burial and resurrection.  My experience in the garden was shaped by my favorite resurrection account in the Gospel of John, which was read at the sunrise Easter service I attended there.   

I would like to thank a Georgetown Jesuit who introduced me to this story, which has greatly shaped the way I approach my life with God.

Last Easter, which was coincidentally one year ago today, I wrote about Mary Magdalene as well.  That reflection, Praying with Mary Magdalene, is closely linked to this one.

Outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

A pilgrim reverencing a stone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that commemorates the washing of Jesus' body before burial in the sepulchre. The slab was only placed in the church within the last two centuries, to replace a 12th century one that was there previously.

A sculpture in the chapel of Mary Magdalene in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jesus appears to Mary after the resurrection.

In the Garden Tomb at sunrise on Easter Sunday.

The red flowers that I'd always imagined in the Garden Tomb, without knowing they were actually there.

Midnight in Jerusalem (“Peeling Oranges” Series)

Jerusalem: Good Friday, and the first day of Passover.

Just before midnight, beneath a full moon and the shadow of the Western Wall, pigeons and crumpled prayers snuggle between cracks in bricks.  I sit nearly alone in the women’s section, except for a few Jewish ladies whose covered heads rest against the wall, their eyes pinched shut.  After blessing myself with the sign of the cross to conclude my own prayer, I run my hand along the cold stone, breathing in the silence that echoed through Jesus’ tomb and swept through the blood-smeared doorframes of anxious Hebrews along the Nile.

Kisses on Palm Sunday (“Peeling Oranges” series)

(My spring break spent in Jerusalem and Galilee provided me with many images that I hope to share through my Peeling Oranges series.)

Outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, I sulk in a mix of frustration and guilt, wanting to participate in the centuries-old traditions and services that originated in this city. On Palm Sunday, why can’t I find the leafy branches that laid across these stone roads two-thousand years ago?  Why can’t I find a Catholic Mass in this city of churches?

Momentarily distracted from my anxiety as I pass a group of young Palestinian children climbing on rocks, I wave as they yell, “Photo, photo!”

Discovering that I speak Arabic, they clamber down the ruins to shout out their names and ask mine.  The four girls pose for a photo, as the boy, Muhammad, stands shyly to the side.  In the clearest, highest Arabic I’ve ever heard, a girl with hair as blonde and eyes as blue as mine asks who my Arabic teacher is, and a girl with freckles on her forehead wonders if I pray.  I receive hugs and kisses on my cheek as I leave, waving goodbye to catch up with my friends.

But the blonde girl runs after me, calling, “Are you married?!”  I laugh at her question, which to her seems so important and to me so trivial.  After another round of embraces from the group, tears nearly slip down my cheek, where the coldness of their kisses lingers on my skin.

Once again, God is reminding me that it’s his people, not simply his traditions and rituals, where he can most easily found.  He has answered my prayer in a way I didn’t expect, substituting palms and incense with kisses and laughter.