The curse of having a strong conviction is those moments of doubt, when the mind whispers, “What if it isn’t true?” And this is no less the case with Christian belief than any other conviction.
After all, we weren’t there. We weren’t there, and even if we had been, we might still find doubt taking over our thoughts in the quiet darkness before everyone else has awakened.
What if Mary of Magdala made it all up? What if the gardener was really just a gardener? What if Mary’s demons were a form of psychosis, and they came back and took her over after Jesus’ crucifixion, and she was able to convince the other disciples because they desperately wanted to believe that the past three years of their lives, all they had sacrificed, had not been in vain?
What if Jesus himself was psychotic? What if we’ve been following a madman?
What if Christ is not the Son of God, second person of the Trinity?
What if the Trinity itself does not exist? What if God is not real?
Doubt is the exhale of belief. It is as natural as that. We don’t have to build a wall against it. Go ahead and let all those thoughts that are bound to bubble up in you have their say. Ultimately – they won’t hurt you.
The exhaled breath unravels existence. It takes everything apart and leaves us poised, empty, to receive a new truth or a new perspective on the old one. It is a clearing house for the soul, bringing us back to the bedrock of who we are. It’s a place of receptivity. It waits to see what the next breath reveals.
So Mary goes to the tomb before the break of day. In John’s symbolic language, she is in the dark spiritually; she does not have light within her. Despairing, doubting, she just wants to be with Jesus’ body. But she discovers a horrible thing: the body is gone. She alerts her fellow disciples, and she gets absolutely no help from them. They’re as benighted as she is.
Then she goes back to the tomb, and this time she sees angels, but she is too frantic and full of despair to pay them much attention. It is at that moment that she sees the gardener.
The gardener is the soul-tender. He is not offended that Mary has not paid attention to the angels. Nor is he outraged that she does not recognize him. He simply reaches out in a way that will stop her, a way she can understand, a way that brings light to her. He calls her by her name. He calls her as only he can call her.
“What if it’s not so?” we wonder, and, if we let that question just hang there without trying to answer it, we open ourselves to the voice of God. God is not afraid of nor offended by our, “What if it’s not so?” God uses it as an opening for love, a way to fill us with light.
We have a partner with whom we can negotiate any dark place. Christ, who knows us more intimately than anyone, reaches out to us and calls us by name.