I have watched two people die. My grandmother and my mother-in-law each died in the past 10 years, both of cancer. I was in their rooms, with a sprinkling of other family members, with both women as their breathing slowed and the air grew still.
Never did I feel more like an adult than when I was welcomed into the hospice room of my grandmother with the understanding that I would stay once it “happened.” Never did I understand more the responsibility of a wife than when I held my husband’s hand as he watched his mother die and he whispered in my ear, “Do you think she knows I’m here?” She did. I am sure of it.
It is both a strange and bewildering experience to watch a person die. “What is happening? What is ACTUALLY happening?” I wondered. And the questions didn’t stop there: “How did it feel? Did she know what she was leaving behind? Did her life really flash before her eyes, and if it did what did she see?”
In the case of my grandmother her complicated relationship with her children (including my mother) made the occasion of her death mostly sorrowful. How do you feel a sense of peace about a woman who gave her children none? In the case of my mother-in-law the sadness came from an untimely death that robbed her of seeing what would have given her immeasurable joy— she would never hold her grandchildren and watch her only child become a father. Death is complicated and despite our hope in eternal life, the reality is that death separates us from those we love. Yet in death there is the promise of redemption. We are redeemed through death.
Jesus did not die in a hospital room but in a cruel and public space. He was beaten and mocked. His untimely death was brutal, humiliating and necessary. We rejoice that the story does not end there. We rejoice that the story does not end. Jesus’ death and resurrection is an explanation of true redemption—of Christ’s wholeness and power through his ability to conquer death. Yet, his redemption is confusing, even unrecognizable to those close to him.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Immediately, Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize her savior, her friend. He is redeemed. He is Jesus, but his broken body was transformed.
This transformation is what is promised to all of us. Death separates us, but it is not the end. Jesus’ resurrection is a glimpse into what it means to be redeemed and what it means to be restored. “I have seen the Lord!” she shouts. “I have seen the Lord.”
Elizabeth Smith Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA