I like to walk in solitude and pray. When we lived in Kansas City, there was a park near our home that was the perfect place to get away from the busyness of life and get alone with God.
One day in early summer, I was walking through a camping area usually closed to traffic. However that day, I had noticed that a gray car had gone through the gate just before I’d reached the area. As I walked back to the road, I noticed that several big trash barrels had been tipped over and an animal had been in them.
I didn’t give that more than a passing thought and went on.
Then I heard a deer jump up. There were a lot of deer in that area, so this was common. I looked toward the sound, expecting to see the white tail waving as the deer dashed for cover. The deer was in the trees, but I wanted to see if it was a buck.
When I looked, I instantly noticed something very odd. This deer wasn’t running away, it was actually running toward me. It was big, but didn’t seem to have antlers. In fact, instead of antlers, I saw fangs.
My mind began working in slow motion. Sometimes you think you see something, but the reality is very different than what you thought you saw.
“Wait,” I thought, “It’s the right color, but deer don’t have fangs. And why is it running toward me?”
Suddenly the picture came into focus. It wasn’t a deer at all. It was a giant dog, a huge mastiff. And it was galloping toward me at full speed, jowls flapping and razor-sharp teeth bared. It suddenly dawned on me that there is a big difference between a dog running toward you and a dog running at you.
My mind processed the situation. Fight or flight? I can’t defend myself against this massive beast and I’ll never outrun it.
Luckily, just behind me, perhaps 30 or 40 feet away, was a Port-A-John. I turned and ran for all I was worth, slamming the door shut just as the beast skidded to a halt outside it.
There I was in the woods, in a Port-A-John. I was without my cellphone and had no way to get help.
What was I going to do? I could spend hours in this stinky plastic shack before someone came looking for me. I didn’t know if or where that man-eating beast had gone, but I wasn’t ready to try to slip out of it.
Before long, however, the car I’d heard come in was on its way back out. As it passed by, I leapt from the Port-A-John.
Can you imagine a half-crazed grown man leaping out of a Port-A-John? Believe it or not, they actually gave me a ride out.
Sometimes we see or hear something and our minds fill in the blanks. We think we know what we’re seeing, but we’ve got it very wrong. That is what happened to Mary Magdalene as that first Easter dawned.
Filled with grief at the loss of her Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, crucified on Friday, she arrives at His tomb at dawn Sunday to prepare His body for burial, only to find the stone in front the tomb rolled away and the tomb empty.
Mary’s mind raced and panic set in. She rushed to get John and Peter, imagining the worst possible scenarios. They ran back to the tomb, and she followed. They went into the tomb and indeed, found it empty. Not understanding that Jesus had risen from the dead, Peter and John went back home, leaving Mary, alone, weeping at the tomb.
Mary stooped and looked into the tomb, seeing two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had lain. The angels asked Mary why she was weeping. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have laid him.” She evidently didn’t recognize them as angels, and she turned back toward the garden. Through tears she makes out a figure, whom she assumes is the gardener. It is Jesus, but Mary doesn’t recognize him. He speaks, “Woman, why are you crying? Whom are you looking for?”
Mary begs Him to tell her where Jesus’ body is, so she can prepare him for burial.
Then He said her name, “Mary,” and her eyes were opened and she recognized him. “Teacher!” she cried. Now her eyes could see the impossible. Jesus had risen from the dead.
Yes, He has risen, indeed.
This Easter may you, like Mary, hear Jesus whisper your name deep in that place where you know truth. May it cut through the fog and the confusion, and bring you clarity, joy, and hope.
The Rev. Jim Snyder is pastor of Blue Mountain Community Church. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.