"Woman, why are you weeping?"
These words of Christ to Mary Magdalen show the depth of encounter, and as we celebrate the feast of the Ascension today, this image of Christ’s appearance is something to ponder and take to prayer.
In this painting by Alexander Ivanov, light and dark is at an interplay, and Christ seems to be a source of radiance. Mary seems to be confused, shocked, and in awe of the reality before her. There is a beauty of movement in this image, as Mary goes to her knees and reaches out to Christ. And Christ, in response, is pointing out to her to not do so as He has not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17).
Encounter. On Easter Morning, Mary Magdalen was at a place of vulnerability as she experienced the feeling of the loss of Jesus. Not once, but twice in John’s Gospel, it mentions that Mary was asked why she was weeping (John 20:13-15). Mary was a woman who felt deeply the loss of Christ because she loved Him so deeply, and in this loss, she had one of the most profound encounters with the Risen Christ revealing Himself to her. It is as though there is this “beauty of empty” that is happening in this encounter.
In John’s Gospel, it points out that at first Mary did not recognize Jesus in her grief. Jesus asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" (John 20:15) Like Mary, we all probably have something precious that seems to have been taken away from us, and God wants to enter in if we let Him. What have I lost in which God is asking this of me? Whether it is in the loss of someone dear to me, a job, or most especially in something I have found my identity in, the loss of that particular thing is a call from God. It is a real opportunity to feel the pain of that lack to go deeper. These desires of your heart are pointing to the root of all your desires. Like Jesus responded to Mary, He presents the same question to you, “Whom do you seek?”
In this painting of the appearance of Christ, the gaze of Jesus and Mary Magdalen is remarkable. A woman in fear, shock, and confusion seems to find herself in this gaze. There is a radiance and a beauty to Mary as she looks upon Christ and He calms her fears. In the rawness of the many emotions she is experiencing, Jesus meets her and calls her by name. It is in this calling of her name, of being seen and noticed by Christ, that Mary recognizes Him.
As you take this image to prayer this week, like Mary Magdalen, Jesus presents the same question to you, “Whom do you seek?” Praying with this image, ask, “What is the situation in my life in which I feel an immense loss, and many of the same emotions, and yet, where God wants me to encounter Him most? Can I ask for the grace to encounter Him in these moments?”
On today’s feast of the Ascension, let us pray for the grace to be like Mary Magdalen, the apostle to the apostles. May we encounter the risen Lord to go forth and share the good news with those around us.
(The image, "Christ's appearance to Mary Magdalen after the Resurrection" by Alexander Ivanov is found at the website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexander_Ivanov_-_Christ%27s_Appearance_to_Mary_Magdalene_after_the_Resurrection_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg )