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May 8, 2020

Longing in a Time of Exile (Poetic Prose)

Taryn Watkins

“On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early while it was still dark.”

John 20:1

I neared the darkened door, afraid to find what I already dreaded. I reached toward the shimmering brass and pulled. Nothing moved. All was still. It was too much to take. I knelt down in grief and shock. This stone had not been taken away. This wooden stone hides the Lord.

“They have taken the Lord and we do not know where they have laid him.”

John 20:2

It is now well into the Easter season; the Octave has been celebrated, the Alleluia has been sung, yet COVID-19 has made this year’s remembering of Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the Risen One very strange. It seems to belong to Lent and the Cross rather than to the Resurrection. The churches are closed and the Lord seems far away. 

He is there, on the other side of the doors of the church. There was darkness outside and darkness inside, kneeling outside a locked church—in the dark and cold and rain—the rain mingling with tears, the cold stealing sobs, the dark covering everything, unable to control the grief and torment, the pain radiating from the cement through my body, the cold biting through skin. It is nothing. Nothing. The pain in my soul is so overwhelming it covers all that nothing. Peering through the window from dark into dark with one flickering spark of red to tell me that the Lord is still there. Begging him to “look through the lattice” and see me, look at me. But I can’t see his gaze and my own eyes are dark and dripping. “Open to me—my love—my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night” (Song of Solomon 5:2).

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”

John 20:11

“They went to the tomb when the sun had risen.”

Mark 16:2

The last few weeks have been gloriously dappled, the clouds—shining with their own brightness and shadows of azure—play with the gilded arrows of the sun. What is the point of such sunshine, such beauty,  without his light? Only a reminder of the darkness. What is life when the Risen One is in the tomb? And kneeling outside the tomb death is here too because the Lord of life is not here with me. The desire for him is so great, it is stronger than death, a desire so great it can kill. “Love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave” (Song of Solomon 8:6).

“’Woman why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.'”

John 20:13

“If you find my beloved, tell him, I am sick with love” (Song of Solomon 5:8)

Where can I go? How can I leave these steps where I kneel, knowing the Lord is just beyond these transparent panes. The sun is rising, the lights are turning on in the church for the priest to celebrate Mass. But it is still dark. The doors are still locked. “Upon my bed, by night I sought him whom my soul loves…. I will rise now … I will seek him whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:1-2).

Where should I go? The Lord has the words of eternal life, and he is in the tomb. There is nothing but Jesus.  “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat and wept” (Psalm 137:1). Let my whole life wither Lord, if I forget you, if I do not set you above all my joys. 

This is a great Holy Saturday.

What is there to do, what is there possibly to do on such a day that has lasted so many days? “On the sabbath day they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). I can’t even anoint the Lord. He is in the tomb. He hides himself. “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face” (Isaiah 8:17). I cannot see his eyes, his gaze. His eyes are closed, asleep on the boat, tossed in the storm, his head on a cushion. I can’t see him seeing me, does he see? He is asleep. What rest is this? What sabbath is this death? Enter into my rest. “I was asleep but my heart was awake within me” (Song of Solomon 5:2).

This is a great Holy Saturday…. Waiting. My heart beats. How? I do not know since the Heart of my life was pierced. I breathe. How? I do not know since the Breath and Spirit is still. it is hidden and apparently dead. “You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  This is a real death. 

We have this hope.

“When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”

Colossians 3:4

“Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (John 20:14). It is now already Easter. The Lord is risen, Alleluia. He is truly risen, Alleluia. “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11). The Lord is already risen. This is our sure hope, triumph, and victory. Jesus is here with us. Immanuel. God with us. 

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” (John 20:15). I seek you, Lord! You see my longing for you, you know why I weep. Where have you hidden, my beloved, and left me moaning?

He said to her, “Mary” She turned and recognized him. He is there. His voice is presence and promise and sight. “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). He is there, but he hides himself in the strangeness of his love, in the promise of a deeper union. He hides himself in a golden box. He hides himself in the Host. 

This is a time of particularly painful longing. A longing for the Lord’s presence… and union with him in the tiny white Host. This is a precious longing. A longing that expands our capacity of faith and trust. Let the Lord do this work in us. “Till the day breathes, and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved” (Song of Solomon 2:17). Turn your face toward us and we will be saved. Hide not your face, return to us. “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes” (Song of Solomon 2:8). Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus. 

You May Also Like:

Make Time for Adoration [Fr. Josh Johnson video]

Discovering God in Ordinary Places! [Jef Cavins podcast]

Divided Kingdom, Exile and Return

Pocket Guide to Adoration

Taryn Watkins is a consecrated virgin for the Diocese of Peoria, an artist, and an elementary school teacher. She grew up in a small town in northern Illinois, then studied Russian and obtained a degree in fine arts from Illinois State University, and spent time in a Carmelite Monastery.

Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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