Monthly Archives: May 2014

Tell me!

Someone I love is murdered or disappears. I don’t know where she is buried. I am consumed by a deep need to know what happened, where the body is. Ian Brady, the ‘moors murderer’ adds to the pain of his victims’ relatives by refusing ever to tell where he buried the bodies. Relatives of the missing Malaysian airliner may never know where that doomed plane and its passengers now lie. Not knowing can be the source of continuing grief and pain.

John’s Gospel tells the story of Mary of Magdala (chapter 20). There she stands outside an empty tomb: the body of the man she loved, Jesus of Nazareth, is missing. “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him,” she cries. Then, to someone she supposes to be the gardener she makes a grief-stricken plea:

“Tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

I published a post on April 20th about John Spong’s book, The Resurrection: Myth or Reality. He speculates that no one knew where the body of Jesus was buried. Executed criminals were tossed into a mass grave. The disciples had fled. They weren’t there to see it. Spong suggests that stories of an empty tomb were later inventions, trying to illuminate the life-changing experience the disciples called the Resurrection. Maybe there’s an echo of this reality in John’s story. Mary, wrapped in grief, desperately wants to know where the body is, so that she can give it a proper burial. TELL ME! I want to know! At least give me this crumb of certainty in my grief, then I’ll have some small ritual to do which might help.

But no one knows, and the garden is empty. Or is it? Does the gardener become the risen Christ only when we accept that we don’t know; only when we accept uncertainty? Standing here, not knowing, allowing that not-knowing simply to be the case for me; maybe then the place becomes vibrant with a Presence.

Of course it is good to know and to face the facts, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings in South Africa showed. I wish they would set up a similar process in Northern Ireland. But when no one knows, when there is no one able or willing to answer the question, ‘Tell me’, then accepting uncertainty is the only way forward. And think of the pain that can follow a refusal to accept uncertainty. Think of the pain caused by our zeal to promote certainty in the absence of facts. ‘Accept this dogma, this creed, because we KNOW and you don’t, or you have got it wrong’.

The Psalm doesn’t say, accept this set of beliefs or facts. It says, “Be still and know that I am God….”

Be still and know that I am…

Be still and know…

Be still…


Two Gardens.

There are two significant gardens in the Gospels. In Gethsemane you find Jesus agonising over the prospect of imminent death. John’s Gospel gives us the other garden: a place vibrantly alive with a vast, pregnant silence.

“I am deeply grieved,” says Jesus in Gethsemane, “Remain here, and keep awake,” he says to Peter, James and John.

There’s a lovely reflective Taize chant, ‘Stay with me; remain here with me. Watch and pray.” The words and the music have stayed with me since Easter. As I hear it in my head, the words become mine. It’s me saying, stay with me. As I try to watch and pray, the betrayer appears accompanied by a crowd armed with swords and clubs. My anxieties and fears crowd round, menacing, threatening. Betrayal! Judas! But deeper than this dark, crowded place in me is that other, silent, vibrant, spacious garden – Christ in me the hope of glory, as Paul puts it.

Re-discovering that ever present place of growth is only possible if I don’t try and fight that crowd of ruffian anxieties and fears. There’s nothing they like more than a fight. “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword,” says Jesus to Peter. Surrender is the only way to deal with this ruffian crowd. It’s not an abject cowardly surrender. It is a calm non-judgemental gaze at all that is going on in my head. Only thus do I suddenly find myself in that other, spacious, powerful place of Resurrection – Christ in me the hope of glory.