Along with two billion Christians around the globe, I enter this Holy Week reverently, expectant, full of awe and hope. This season in the life of Christians is charged with meaning and mystery. It is a poignant time, a time of immense curiosity, a time of profound sadness and expansive joy. We reflect together on those improbable events that changed the world, events that transform our lives from despair to life-giving hope, from self-serving to self-sacrifice. How can it be that this brutal death on a Roman cross could change the world? How can we imagine the surprise and the delight as the resurrected Jesus walked in the garden on that first Easter morning?
In the midst of my own Holy Week reflections, I happened last night to run into some beautiful words by Marilynne Robinson from her new book When I Was a Child I Read Books. She is talking about old American hymns that “can move me so deeply that I have difficulty even speaking about them.” I happen to be one who experiences some of those same old hymns in just this way.
One of the hymns she talks about is “the old ballad in the voice of Mary Magdalene,” as she “‘walked in the garden alone.’” The hymn “imagines her ‘tarrying’ there with the newly risen Jesus, in the light of a dawn which was certainly the most remarkable daybreak since God said, ‘Let there be light.’” “The joy we share as we tarry there / None other has ever known”—“Who can imagine the joy she would have felt?” says Robinson, “and how lovely it is that the song tells us the joy of this encounter was Jesus’s as well as Mary’s. Epochal as the moment is, and inconceivable as Jesus’s passage from death to life must be, they meet as friends and rejoice together as friends. This seems to me as good a gloss as any on the text that tells us God so loved the world, this world, our world.”
Isn’t that beautiful? May we “tarry there” this Holy Week. May we share the joy that Jesus shares with us, this deep rejoicing as friends, together, in the garden. May we know anew, in this very walk in the garden, that God does indeed love “the world, this world, our world.” In the strong concreteness of the gospel texts, and in the poignant loveliness of this old hymn, may we break through the fog of mystery toward a new friendship that is full of love and sheer joy.