I am not a big fan of surprises. In my ideal world things are tidy and predictable. I do well with routine. I am a creature of habit. Being on time and sticking to a schedule are the hidden neglected fruit of the Spirit. If my slippers are not in precisely the same place when my feet hit the ground every morning, my entire day may be thrown off kilter.
But I know life seldom follows reliable patterns. The unexpected is as routine in life as the fixed patterns that unfold in the same way day after day.
When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb following Jesus’ burial, it is hard to know exactly what she was expecting to find.
In Matthew’s account of the events following Jesus’ death we learn that the day after Jesus burial,
the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. (Matthew 27:62-66)
The tomb in which Jesus’ body had been placed would have been a cave hewn out rock, high enough to stand up in, long enough to lay a body flat. At the base of the entrance to the tomb a notch was carved in the stone and a large heavy boulder rolled into place across the entrance making it virtually impossible to dislodge by any human force. Body snatchers were going to have a difficult job removing Jesus’ final remains, even without a seal and a guard in place.
The people in power did not want any surprises. They had made sure everyone knew that this troublesome preacher from Galilee was dead and that this was the end of his story. There is no second chapter after a tomb, no room for light, no window of hope.
So, whatever Mary was expecting when she entered the garden to view the tomb where Jesus’ final remains had been lain, it is unlikely she expected what she found when she arrived,
and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. (John 20:1b)
All week, leading up to Easter in Jerusalem, there were forces of destiny, political intrigue, and personal psychology swirling around Jesus, powers no one could ever hope to confine or control.
Life seldom turns out exactly as we expect. There are forces at work in our lives that we know almost nothing about and over which we have almost no control.
If we cannot learn to live with the limitations of our power, the journey to Easter is going to be torturous.
My determination that life should meet my expectations leads to countless frustrations and endless pain. When I demand that all the stones be in their place, I risk missing the message the tomb may have for me when the stone has been rolled away.