In this, our last post of the 2020 Easter Season, Betty Reinders tells of her very personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus. Thank you, Betty, for sharing your story so honestly.
I have been in a bit of a spiritual slump lately. I’m not sure how long it has been but it’s probably going on a few years now. I wouldn’t call it a “dark night of the soul,” but I have definitely felt “meh” about my relationship with Jesus and have been invited into doubt on a regular basis. So, when Doug asked me to consider contributing something on the theme of resurrection, I wasn’t sure what I would have to offer. My husband and I had recently been to Israel for a few weeks, so I hoped that there was something I could share from that special experience.
As you can imagine, the trip was amazing. We had an incredible Israeli archeologist as our guide who took us to so many fascinating places and taught us so many things – it was mind boggling. He was a secular Jew but kept confessing to us: “I have your Jesus in my head but not in my heart.” He was echoing a lot of what I was feeling.
At least once a day, our teacher (the amazing human, Darrell Johnson) found a place for us to sit and experience a gospel story in the place where it actually happened. Imagine sitting on the mountainside overlooking the Sea of Galilee listening to the Sermon on the Mount, or standing huddled together in the dark, cold, basement of Caiaphas’s house reading the account of Jesus’ last, lonely night before he died. We had beautiful experiences like this every day, and yet I would have to say that my heart remained unmoved. I loved everything, but I wasn’t experiencing a renewal of my faith like I had hoped I would.
On our last full day in Israel, we visited the Garden Tomb. Just outside the walls of Jerusalem, in the shadow of a rock face with a distinct pattern of a skull, is a beautiful little garden. In the garden is a tomb in the side of the wall in nearly perfect condition. The only thing that is missing is the stone. Many people believe this to be the actual tomb where Jesus was laid and where he was resurrected to life again. There’s compelling evidence but who fully knows? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter. We spent quite a bit of time in the garden and I found myself feeling grateful that I had seen it and that when I imagined that Easter morning, I could have a more accurate picture of the scene.
I took the opportunity to have a moment of quiet to contemplate one of my very favorite moments in the gospel story. When Mary went to the tomb on Easter morning, she found it empty, despairing that someone had taken Jesus’ body. According to the gospel story, she wasn’t thinking Jesus had come back to life; she came to anoint a dead body and seemed confident that the problem was his dead body had been moved. Even as Jesus approached her, she just assumed that he was the gardener. How long was Jesus there with her and she didn’t recognize him? How long has Jesus been with me and I haven’t recognized him?
It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name – Mary; only when she heard her personal name did she realize who was speaking to her. As I imagined that encounter unfolding, perhaps not far from where I was actually sitting, I saw Jesus turn to me, look into my eyes and say my name. Betty. There was so much love, so much knowing, so much forgiveness in that one word, that my heart was pierced.
While the resurrection of Jesus is a stubborn fact of history, my heart is not moved to faith by that fact alone. I need to hear the voice of Jesus calling my name. This garden tomb experience freshly reminded me that Jesus is alive, resurrected, glorious in his new creation body, the living Lord with whom I have a relationship.
But I don’t need to travel to the garden tomb in Jerusalem for this to happen. Every time I open the window of my heart to God’s voice of love, I can hear him calling my name and resurrecting faith in me.