Early Sunday morning, before the sun peeked over our neighbors’ house, I was up padding around the kitchen preparing to make an Easter potato salad. Ideally, I would have stayed up a little later the night before to make the side dish for our family pitch-in. But we’d had a busy day, and the Saturday Easter Vigil service at our church had run well past nine. By the time we made it home and into our pajamas, the last thing on my mind was potato salad.
The house was quiet as I stood peeling and dicing five pounds of spuds. The boys were with their mom, and Steve was still upstairs in bed. I had set the alarm for six, and after hitting snooze once, I woke to our dog Tilly dancing around the side of the bed and licking my face. Time to get up.
The sky grew brighter as the potatoes began to boil gently on the stove. I pulled celery, pickles, mayonnaise, and mustard from the fridge, and grabbed a small onion from the bag under the sink. I tossed the papery onion skin in the garbage, chopped the rest on the cutting board, and was just rinsing the stringy ribbed stalks of celery under the faucet when I remembered other women, up early on Easter, making preparations. These women–Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others–were preparing to give Jesus a proper burial.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)
The various gospel accounts help us piece together what happened that morning, which basically went something like this: The women found the tomb empty. Angels told them that Jesus had risen. The women ran and told the men, who didn’t actually believe them. Peter and John decided to check it out and ran ahead to find the tomb empty. Mary Magdalene, who had been at the empty tomb once already, arrived again just as John and Peter were heading back to confirm the story to the disciples. Mary remained behind, upset by the news and overwhelmed by all that’s been going on. That’s when she noticed the gardener.
The story goes on, of course. We all know it’s not the gardener. It’s Jesus! The risen Lord came first to Mary. But in the moment when she looked up and saw only a gardener, she almost missed it. She almost missed an encounter with her Friend and Savior because she was up early, worried about all there was to do and all that had not gone the way she had planned.
Too often, I am Mary Magdalene, up early, concerned with the details and the disappointments. I barely notice the Gardener, always standing nearby. And when I do see him, all I can think of is what’s gone wrong. “Sir, if you can help, please do; otherwise, don’t bother me.”
Thankfully, this Gardener has more to tend than the landscape. His primary work is sowing seeds of grace and mercy and hope. He prunes all that sin kills, and when he lovingly speaks my name, “Charity,” I finally see that it’s my Lord who’s been there all along.
That’s what happened to Mary. She was tired. She was grieving. She was overwhelmed by the preparations that had all gone wrong. But when Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” she knew. It’s my Lord! All has been set right again.
The potato salad was a hit, and so were the brownies I had whipped up the day before. And we made it to church and brunch with mom and the family gathering all on time and without incident. But mostly, I encountered the risen Lord again this Easter. And like Mary Magdalene, I can’t stop shouting: “I have seen the Lord.”