stand watch and bear witness

Monday, March 9, 2015

3361295448_8cb4a06d56_oI’ve spent the first part of my year studying and spending time in the book of John for various reasons and in various formats. I loved spending those days enmeshed in the life of Jesus, learning to know Him as He was here in our messy world, but the person I found myself drawn to again and again and again was Mary Magdalene. We first meet her (in this particular gospel) at the side of her dying Savior. Standing watch at his crucifixion and death.

“…but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
John 19:25

I want to stand watch. No one really wants to do the death part. Not the dying. Not the witnessing of the dying. But it’s a sacred space. There is no resurrection without first a death.

“Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark…”
John 20:1

We next see Mary Magdalene at the tomb. She comes to see the grave. The place where the One she loved and served with her whole life was laid to rest. In fact, she came in the darkness. She was still standing watch in the darkest of hours. Not wanting to step back from the mess and the pain and the grief, she stepped into it.

The thing that happened next is just the very best part, though. She ran to get a couple other disciples when she realized the body was gone. They came to see, but then, again, they left. They didn’t stick there with the grief and confusion and tiny piece of hope, they went back to their homes. Not Mary. She’s still there in the midst of it. That dirty tomb that represented death and decay…she stayed to weep. Not fix it. Not go figure out the answer to this weird situation. Not count all the ways that this death wouldn’t have happened if Jesus had just made some different, better, decisions. She stayed with. She still stood watch.

And as a result, who is the very first person who got to see the resurrected Christ? It’s Mary Magdalene. Jesus appears to her FIRST. He could’ve seen his own mama, he could’ve gone to see John ‘the disciple He loved’, he could’ve appeared to larger group of disciples first, but he chose Mary.

“…she turned around and saw jesus standing…Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him, ‘[Teacher]’.”
John 20:14, 16

He called her name. She knew His voice. She stood watch for His death, and He granted her that great privilege of standing watch for His resurrection. Then, THEN, Jesus does the most upside-down, beautiful thing in His revolutionary way…he commissions Mary Magdalene, a woman, as the very first preacher of the gospel. He sent her to tell the disciples. The men. The one who stood watch got to witness the resurrected Christ and then? She got to bear witness.

”Jesus said to her, “…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ – and that he had said these things to her.”
John 20:17-18

I want to stand watch. This is my holiest calling. I might not be the person who suffers the worst death of a relationship or dreams or child. I might not always be the one sunk to depths in that way, but even if it’s not my story, I can stand by those for whom that has happened. I can stand watch and weep with them as everything they know and love dies. I can visit that grave. I can realize the sacredness of that space. When you stand watch in that way, you position yourself not just for the worst of pain, but you also position yourself to be on the front lines when Jesus’ story rises. The resurrection. Just like Mary, you get to see that part too! And then you’ll know, like Mary, that you can’t just run back home from the pain and confusion like the other disciples. You’ll know to stay because that’s when the beauty happens. That’s the story you can tell. The good news you have to share. I want to stand watch, yes, but oh, how I want to bear witness!!

“…He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…”
Galatians 1:15

As I go through the rest of this Lenten season (the season right before Easter where in the Christian church, we traditionally remember Jesus’ sacrifice and prepare ourselves to celebrate His resurrection), I plan to write down my resurrection stories. They aren’t all mine to tell all the details of, but I can bear witness to that which I know. There are stories I can tell. Resurrections that I’ve witnessed. It has been painful and messy to stand in those death-filled places, but now? I can preach the resurrection to the ones I love, the ones I know, the ones I don’t know. I can speak with authority of the God who works miracles, who brings life from the dead, who resurrects that which everyone else assumes is buried and gone. I can believe that there is no place too far gone, no person too ugly or sinful, no story that is past redemption. I can live and speak resurrection with passion, with truth, but only because I have stood watch during the death. This is my resurrection song.



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