I carry on extensive conversations with characters in books. Novels, histories, the Bible even. Some time back, I read a passage from the gospel of John in the Bible, and had the following conversation with Mary Magdalene. (It ended up being a dialogue with myself as well. I find this likely to happen when chatting with people in books.)
The bold italic text below is John 20:1-16, from The Message. The normal text is me, talking to Mary Magdalene.
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.
It was dark. That’s how the world looks when Jesus is in a box. It’s sad to see him so small, so powerless. You’ve seen with your own eyes the lid put on the box, the stone rolled against the entrance to the tomb. But you have this consolation in your grief. You know where you left him, and you know where to find him.
And so you’ve arrived to look at Jesus more closely, to gaze upon him, and lovingly to adorn him with sweet-smelling spices.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.”
But, what if, all of a sudden, you were to find the lid removed? What if the Jesus you’d seen placed in the box were no longer there? What if you’re in the very place where Jesus should be, and he’s not here?
And so you run to those you trust, to those who also love Jesus. And you say, “He’s gone!” Breathlessly, you try to explain: “I left him right here—see, in this box! And he’s not where he’s supposed to be. They’ve taken him away, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”
Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, out-running Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself.
They look intently into the box, your friends, and see signs that indeed, Jesus has been there. But yes, he seems to be gone now.
Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.
Your friends, however, do not join your panic. Rather, they take one look at the evidence and smile. Suspect that Jesus doesn’t like boxes so well. Suspect that big things, miraculous things, lie ahead.
But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”
Weeping. You can’t stop weeping in your heart. You weep because you cannot see what your friends see so clearly–the possibility of miracle in this seeming tomb you hold in your hands.
Weep because the Jesus you’ve known is gone. Weep because if he’s not in this box then you don’t know where he is–or who has taken him away.
“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.
You don’t recognize him. Through the tears, how could you hope to?
And Jesus—he doesn’t look like he did before. You never expected to see him so … well, so alive! Walking, talking, conquering death, vacating tombs, probing hearts.
Well, the probing hearts part he’s always done, asking questions that reveal the truth of the heart not to him, but to the one asked …
Jesus spoke to her. “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”
Who are you looking for? Looking for Jesus, the way you last saw him. Dead, wrapped up, contained. You wept earlier because your God fit in a box and looked so small, so powerless. You weep now because the box is empty, and so you have nothing.
She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Master, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.
Please, Jesus, get back into your wrappings, into your assigned spot. Confine yourself, please, into the place I know to find you. Plant yourself in the ground where I can tend to you, water you so that you will grow at my pace. Stay where I will know how to find you. Don’t move. Tell me where you will be so that I can care for you.
Jesus said, “Mary.”
Jesus says your name. Listen. He says it in a voice that cannot be contained. A voice that in its depths knows the depths of you. A voice that can truly say your name, for by this voice God called you into being, indeed Named you before time began.
And in the voice there is a chiding. A chiding that says, “Ah, my dear child, you have it all wrong. Not the looking for me, not the weeping when you do not see me. These things are good things, showing love that echoes my own.”
Again, you beg in your soul, “Then tell me where you are, so that I can care for you.”
“No,” he says gently (all this shimmering in the way he speaks your name, as if singing a delightful secret). “No, child: it is not you that must take care of me. Don’t you see? I am bigger than that. I cannot–will not–be contained in a tomb of any kind. I am alive. I am God. The important thing is this:
I know where you are.
I know where I have put you.
And I will care for you.”
Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”