In the purple light of the morning, sitting front of the empty, open tomb, Mary Magdalene weeps in the garden alone. ‘How could they have taken my Lord? Who did this?’ She pushes herself up off the rock, wiping under her eyes with her red scarf and wrapping it more tightly around her. Once again, she peers into the darkness of the cave and begins to climb in, knowing she won’t find her friend but hoping to sit in the place where he last rested. The scent of myrrh and burial spices mix with the aroma of red flowers outside.
“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’” (John 20:15) She pleads frantically, wanting nothing more than to know the whereabouts of her teacher.
The man peers down, looks into her eyes, and when he says her name, she recognizes him as her friend, her savior. In a mix of laughter and sobs, the friends embrace, as the pinkness of dawn creeps across the grass and seeps into boulders’ cracks.
In the Gospel of John, from which this resurrection account is adapted, Mary’s prayer is simple. She asks God, the gardener, about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body. All she wants is to find and protect his body, in order to honor his life and work.
God answers Mary’s prayer, but not as she expects. He doesn’t give her what she asks for, but something better.
Often our prayers are like Mary’s. Though we ask for one thing, God surprises us with another. This doesn’t mean that God isn’t answering our prayers. Rather, God’s answers are better than ones we could ever imagine for ourselves.
After she meets the resurrected Jesus, Mary runs into the city to tell the apostles. I imagine her running with a lightness in her chest, sniffing back happy tears, and praying a prayer like this one:I asked God for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn to obey. I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise I asked for power, that I might have praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given real life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hope for; Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am, among, all men, most richly blessed.
–A prayer found in the pocket of a dead Confederate soldier