“A Missionary Rises”
Mission Blog: Easter Orchid Series
“I have seen the Lord.” John 21:18
Naples, Day Three of the Easter Appearances. The two apostles Mary has brought with her to the empty tomb have left. Peter was astounded, confused. Something happened to John; he too left, with a different look on his face. Mary is heart-broken that the Lord is dead, and worse, that his body is now gone. She stays behind, not wanting to leave the empty tomb. She is alone.
Suddenly, someone appears. The gardener? Then, in simply the way he intones her name, she realizes, it is the Lord, risen. Mary, earlier in tears and in despair, cut off from Jesus, is now with him. She leaps towards him. Clings to his feet. And then, he commissions her, “Stop holding onto me.” It’s time to get to work. To build the Kingdom, to spread the Good News. Mary, in this Easter moment in the garden, experiences an even deeper conversion to the Lord. In a burst of light, she is changed forever. She had been a devoted disciple, a follower. Now, she’s a missionary. She runs from the garden to the apostles’ hiding place in the upper room. She announces the Resurrection. “I have seen the Lord!”
This conversion of Mary from disciple to apostle, from follower to missionary, is one of my favorite stories in the entire bible. Her template represents a path that all of us can follow to become missionaries for the Lord. And for some us, it’s particularly encouraging that Mary started her missionary career as a great sinner. This didn’t seem to disqualify her.
Mary knows she’s a sinner-- she’s had seven demons pulled from her by Jesus! She’s not in his league. She’s not even in the apostles’ league. She’s a loser. She needs Jesus. That’s why she’s in despair, now that he’s gone. And she knows she needs Jesus. And that knowledge gives her the key foundation to a missionary’s heart: humility.
Then there’s fervor, courage, thirst. Thirst so great that she was willing to risk the dark paths out to the tomb to be there at the first light that would end the Sabbath, and allow her to get back to mourning her loss, to be with Jesus just a little longer, even if he’s dead. Her fervor is so strong that even after the apostles have left, she stays behind. She thirsts.
And she listens. She listens in the silence of that morning in the garden. Not just with her ears. With her heart. Yes, it’s with her heart that she finally hears Jesus’ special way of speaking her name. That’s when she recognizes him. “Mary.”
And she loves. She loves the Lord with all her heart, all her soul, all her mind. She embraces him with her whole being. She lets him take over her soul. She communes with him. And when she does, fully and completely, she is transformed. From forlorn, despairing, pathetic disciple, into something greater than she could ever imagine, something greater than she could ever possibly be on her. She’s becomes a missionary.
Many years ago, after three days of spiritual exercises with one of our challenging, loving legionary priests and a small band of Regnum Christi disciples, I experienced a transformation something like this, albeit a faint echo of what Mary must have experienced outside the empty tomb that first Easter morning. I wrote a short prayer about the experience. I fished it out of my prayer book this morning.
“Outside the Tomb”
Lord, I am outside the tomb. The others have left. I am abandoned. I despair. You are gone, and I helped the world drive you away, nail you to the cross. My tears of sorrow drain now my face. I am standing in a pool of tears. The early chill of morning penetrates my bones.
I am alone. I weep.
Then, in the distance, I hear the pleasant chirp of a bird. The first ray of sun, of a new day, warms my cheeks. Your creation beckons. My heart stirs to life. I hear your voice calling me, “Steve.” “’Here I am Lord, send me.’ Isaiah 6:8”
A missionary April 14, 2020