For the Afraid and Bewildered

“They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” Mark 16:18

When they discovered Jesus’s tomb empty and after the angel spoke to them, what did these women in Mark’s gospel do?

Did they just stand there in disbelief for a while? Did they hide in the rocks and try to sort things out in their minds?

John doesn’t tell it this way. In his account, it sounds as if they went right back to the disciples after seeing the angel. Luke doesn’t mention that they didn’t tell anyone right away either. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this before, but according to Mark, there had to be some time passing in between the good news and their announcement of this news to the disciples, who initially didn’t believe a word of it.

Can we even begin to imagine what was going through their minds? They saw Jesus die in the most horrible way possible, and like us all, they believed death is the end of a person’s story. What would you do if you found out otherwise? How long would it take for your mind to process it?

Each gospel tells it a little differently, so it’s a little hard to make out the exact sequence of events. Did Mary run back and tell Peter that they moved Jesus’ body and then go back to the tomb and see the angel or is it the other way around? I suspect that no one really remembered it the same, hence the seeming discrepancies.

When a traumatic event happens to you, the natural human reaction is to just shut down for a bit- to be stunned into immobility. Someone close to you dies, and you just cannot quite wrap your mind around it, so you sit in silence, or cry to God to help you make sense of what the world has become.

I think this country is full of people walking around in this state right now. The world’s gone crazy and we don’t have a clue what to do about it.

Mark says that the women were ” trembling and bewildered. ” They leave the tomb. It’s too much, too soon- perhaps they wander for a bit. We find out elsewhere that Jesus then appeared to Mary Magdalene in a garden. Why her? Why not his own mother? Perhaps this Mary was the one who needed his presence the most at this moment.

If I can be permitted to speculate on what Mary was experiencing: ” I’m lost inside my mind… the crucifixion keeps playing in there, on an endless loop of deep, dark, ugly emotions. Frankly, I’m angry. I’m angry at Jesus for leaving us, leaving me, and that anger brings guilt and shame. How can I be angry when he was the one who suffered, not me? How can I feel this way when I know how he loved us? But I also know he could have stopped this from happening. I saw his power. But he didn’t stop it. He let it happen. He died in the most violent way possible in front of me, and I could not look away, because looking away felt like abandoning him. And now…and now? I’m lost. Everything I thought was true doesn’t feel true any more. I feel abandoned myself, and so alone. Im so confused, but more than anything, I’m afraid. A future without him is no future at all.”

“Trembling and bewildered.” Isn’t that how many of us, here in 2021, feel about the state of things right now? We are right there with Mary, wandering in the garden. Totally lost in our own minds, because nothing seems to make sense anymore. We have already seen things we never wanted to see, things we didn’t think were possible. Not in America, we keep thinking, not here. We are supposed to be above all this. The endless confusion and violence and fear, and the inability of any of our leaders to fix it all. Yes, “trembling and bewildered,” that’s us.

Now, remember, Mary had already received the good news from the angel, she just didn’t believe it yet. Hope should have been already welling up in her heart, but no, to hope is to be disappointed. She had hoped before and she had believed. Oh, how she had believed! And it all been violently ripped away, taking her heart with it.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs13:6)

Do you have a sick heart? I think we all do. It’s ok. Wander the garden. Ask him the questions. He already knows the state of your heart anyway. Cry a little. Or a lot if you need to. But never forget that he’s already been in that same place, that dark garden of doubt. With drops of blood already streaming down his face. Before the thorns, before the nails. With all your questions swirling through his mind and the weight of the world on his shoulders.

So he knows. He knows exactly how you feel about the state of the world and the state of your oh so sick, desperate, and lonely heart.

All Mark’s gospel says is that he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, who he’d cast seven demons out of. Got any demons? Do they hound you night and day? The question is, are you going to listen to them? To those demons of fear and confusion and hate, or are you listening for his voice?

John tells us that she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. That’s a whole lot in one sentence. Turn around, turn away from the fear. He’s still there.

“Why are you crying” Jesus asks. As if he didn’t know- and she doesn’t recognize him. Of course she doesn’t. He’s dead. Her mind can’t see Jesus, because the mind can’t immediately process the impossible.

Can you see all of us frozen in time there? Because I believe that’s where many of us are. Searching hard for hope, but not recognizing it when we see it. Because we are still afraid. Afraid to reach for hope because we’ve seen it vanish like a puff of smoke too many times.

” Who is it you are looking for?” Jesus doesn’t rush her. He doesn’t get impatient. He just says her name. And realization dawns in her eyes. Hope is reborn in her heart, and she shouts “Rabbi!” and grabs onto him for dear life.

She goes from ‘I’m not going to tell anyone about this because it’s too crazy’ to yelling it out loud. What else can I say? You know the message. I know the message. But I forget. We have what one writer calls “Perpetual soul amnesia” We get bogged down with life, by anxiety, by fear. So I again write these words to myself and to you if you care to hear.

Turn around. Turn away from the fear and doubt. Hear him whisper your name again and let hope rise again in your weary heart. He’s not finished with us yet.

Shalom and happy New Year.

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2 thoughts on “For the Afraid and Bewildered

  1. TS00

    Thank you for that. I do feel a lot like Mary probably felt. I believe in God, and all that he has promised, but the ‘how can this possibly all work out?’ is where I find myself.

    I’ve felt like I don’t belong for most of my life, wanting to take the words of Jesus seriously, to escape the useless rat race, only to be told again and again that life doesn’t work that way. I’m a dreamer, an idealist, I need to deal with the real world.

    And now, now that no one knows how to deal with the real world, or what it is even going to look like at the rate it is being deconstructed . . . I feel that maybe it’s about time to turn around, in my hopelessness and lostness, and see Jesus. May he truly be there.

  2. Powerful writing. Thank you for the insight on many people feeling afraid and bewildered right now. Months before the election I chose a presidential candidate who would allow me to vote my conscience and, since he wasn’t a major political party nominee, I had plenty of time to accept that either a Democrat or Republican would win the election. I’ve been praying for my country, but wasn’t feeling anxious about anything. I haven’t been able to understand why there has been so much bitterness over political matters, but you’ve helped me understand that many people don’t know where to turn right now. I will continue to pray for my country, and for those who may be feeling lost and, perhaps, betrayed. I hope that everyone finds something — and Someone — to believe in.

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R. C. Svendsen

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