When We Don’t Know
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and WE DON’T KNOW where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running… (John 20:1-4a — NIV).
Some years ago, an unknown loomed in our hearts. We were facing a heath scare that felt really big. Huge, in fact.
Perhaps you’ve also experienced such a season — when, even on the brightest of days, there’s that irritating tug on your heart, reminding you that all isn’t well. In fact…
We’re certainly each experiencing that now — with COVID-19 and the restrictions it’s placed on our lives. On our schedules. Rarely do we wake up without it on our hearts. Go to sleep without it on our minds. And every minute throughout the day, it’s lurking somewhere — an echo that life isn’t as it should be, reminding us that we just don’t know what the future holds.
When Bill and I were going through our troubling time several summers ago, we had to travel to a city some hours away for medical tests. Because Bill couldn’t take off more than a day, we decided to fly. On our flight home, the sun was setting — the colors over the North Carolina Piedmont swirling in soothing pinks and oranges.
As we neared Asheville, something caught my eye. Billowing clouds created two shadowy figures in the sky, and I immediately recognized them.
Now, understand. I hadn’t been on any medications, nor had I been drinking any strange concoctions. Still, I rubbed my eyes — quite taken aback by the pair.
After all, this familiar scene hung in my parents’ living room — had for years, in fact — depicting one of my very favorite biblical stories. The title for this theologic masterpiece is quite a mouthful — The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb on the Morning of the Resurrection. Painted by the late Eugène Burnand in 1898, this oil on canvas hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, which I was blessed to see myself on a one-day visit to Paris in 2012.
Perhaps you’re questioning my sanity. We’d had a difficult day, after all. There was a lot of stress involved — medical tests, unknowns, and fatigue. Surely I was merely imagining things!
For clarity, I didn’t actually see Peter and John running through the clouds, but I do believe the Holy Spirit whispered truth to my troubled heart in that moment. As we began our descent into Asheville, even the mountains, darkened by evening’s shadows, appeared less large and foreboding — more like gently rolling hills. Peace, despite the difficult day, permeated. Anxiety dissipated.
As I looked out at the cloud formation, I quickly grabbed my camera to capture the image. Nudging Bill, I exclaimed, “Look! Do you see them?” Perhaps it’s because I’d likely awakened him from a nap, but he, too, looked at me like I was crazy.
So, for comparison, I’ve included a side-by-side. (Please, someone affirm that you see them too.)
The beauty of this moment and God’s timeless message several years ago has never left my heart and mind. Not because I heard an audible voice. Not because life instantly got easier, with improved health and immediate answers. Not at all. In fact, there are still some unknowns in our lives. Difficulties we’re yet facing. Obstacles that, like mountains, we must overcome.
Truth is, life isn’t easy for most. I hear about it all the time. A friend’s young child struggling with a rare illness that requires routine rounds of chemotherapy. Another’s daughter recently diagnosed with autism. A family member who, only months ago, lost her husband and is experiencing an even more lonely season of isolation than most. A young man having learned that his girlfriend — the one he’d hoped to spend his life with — doesn’t feel the same, leaving him heartbroken. And, just this week, a friend’s father-in-law’s passing — from COVID-19, with no family present to offer their comfort or care.
These are tough times, no doubt, though we often hear this message of hope.
We’re all in this together.
And it’s true. Somehow knowing we’re not alone — even while isolated, practicing social distancing — helps our hurting hearts. Eases our sadness. Comforts our qualms. Quiets our fears.
But perhaps there’s an even greater message of hope — the Lord’s “Easter” message spoken to my troubled heart on that flight home after a difficult day several summers ago. It, too, brought comfort. Offered peace. Even extended joy, though the journey wouldn’t be easy, was fraught with unknowns.
The message I heard in my heart as I witnessed those evening clouds, envisioned the disciples running to the tomb early that first Easter morning…
The tomb is empty!
Death is conquered!
Jesus has risen!
Mary Magdalene, having been to the tomb first, discovered it empty, and she didn’t know where Jesus’ body had gone.
Relaying this message to Peter and John, they ran to the tomb to see for themselves, because they didn’t know.
We face uncertainties today, tomorrow, and beyond — perhaps fighting feelings of panic and fear. After all, we don’t know.
But guess what!
The painting that hangs in my parents’ home has a little gold placard fastened to the bottom of the frame. On it are etched these two powerful words:
And because He lives, we can face each day — no matter what it holds.
Because He lives, there’s nothing to fear — so we can walk with courage.
Because He lives, our faith is secure — even when we can’t see ahead.
Jesus died once for all. He conquered death once for all. He rose again — Yes! — once for all.
And because He lives, we can face tomorrow — even when COVID-19 looms large.
Let this be our resounding message. Proclaim it all together — even when we don’t know…
Dear Jesus, thank You for coming. Thank You for dying. Thank You for conquering sin and death. And thank You for rising again. We know You’re coming back one day to make all things new. Until then, help us live like we believe it. Remind us to run to You when we’re afraid, and comfort our many unknowns. Please, Sweet Savior — help us be courageous in the face of fear, especially in these precarious times when we don’t know. And thank You for the message of Easter, which is for all people — because YOU so loved the world!
He has risen!