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  • Writer's pictureCarla Friesen-Martin

Grief and Hope in the Garden

Easter is about grand themes.

Jesus suffered and died for our sins. He paid the penalty for every act of rebellion against God. He rose again so death no longer has the last word.

With these grand themes, Easter marks the pivotal point in the story of God and humankind, yet it’s also deeply personal.

After my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I learned that with its twists and turns of treatments, remissions, recurrences, and complications, the cancer journey is about as linear as the Gordian knot. After four years of hopes and setbacks, the call came to Winnipeg; Dad was in hospital and wouldn’t be going back home. My mom, brother, sister-in-law, and I spent the next week and a half at the hospital as Dad, on palliative care, moved through his final days.

It was a holy time of unity, last conversations with Dad, and saying our goodbyes. Much of the time, I was a teary mess. With the tears, though, I kept hearing Jesus’ question to a grieving Mary Magdalene outside his tomb on Easter Sunday: “Woman, why are you crying?”

Time and again, those words whispered as though Jesus were saying them to me. As they did, it struck me that before he did anything else in that encounter with Mary, Jesus invited her to voice her grief. Jesus was alive again, yet he validated Mary’s tears.

In the garden, Mary was overwhelmed with grief. Her friend and savior had died. Her security and hope lay shattered. And, as if the cruelty of Jesus’ death wasn’t enough, there was the insult of finding his body apparently stolen. Jesus didn’t brush any of that aside. Instead, he let Mary speak her grief, then simply called her by name.

Perhaps, in reminding me of Jesus’ words, the Holy Spirit was inviting me to name the facets of my grief to him, too. The pain of surrendering my need for Dad’s healing. The knowledge that I wouldn’t hear his laughter again or his voice on the other end of the phone. The recognition of all the things he’d done for the last time, and of the losses and challenges my mom faced. Dad’s being stripped over time of all the things he loved to do. The realization that, very soon, I wouldn’t see my Dad again for a very long time, and that life in a fallen world means saying many such good-byes.

In the thick of my grief, I found comfort in realizing Jesus didn’t tell Mary to stop crying. He honored her tears. After all, he cried, too. For a friend who died, and for those left behind. For people who were lost and about to suffer. For his own suffering. For the human condition and all the pain that comes with it. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) most intimately. If Jesus – if God himself – feels grief, then perhaps in our grief we can connect with God’s own compassionate heart, knowing we don’t grieve alone.

Mary’s story also demonstrates that grief isn’t the end. After Mary named her grief, Jesus called her name, opening her eyes to the good news that death doesn’t get the final word. We’re told that all of creation will one day be made new (Revelation 21:5). As the “former things” pass away (v. 4), God won’t hand us a tissue and tell us to blow our noses and buck up. Literally or figuratively, he’ll gently wipe every tear from our eyes (v.4), having shared our sorrow with us. Then, perhaps calling us each by name, he’ll welcome us into the eternal reality where he’s made all things new.

Yes, Easter is about the grandest themes, but it’s also that personal. God didn’t keep his distance, somehow fixing everything without getting his hands dirty. In Jesus, God entered our experience fully, feeling first-hand the consequences of sin, including an excruciating death.

Jesus’ moment in the garden with Mary was every bit as personal. He didn’t tap her on the shoulder and say, “Quit crying. It’s me!” He asked her why she was crying and let her answer.

What do we take away from that? First, we can follow Jesus’ example when we’re accompanying someone who’s experiencing grief, pain, or fear. In our discomfort, it’s often tempting to shy away or to try to offer an answer or a “fix”, as much to ease our own discomfort as out of compassion. If the time and our hearts are right, we might be able to offer hope, but we need to be judicious. If our motive is our own comfort, maybe it’s not the time to speak. Either way, like Jesus did for Mary, we can invite people to name their grief, and then listen.

Second, when we’re navigating grief of our own, it’s tempting to think it was easy for Mary since her loved one came back from the dead. But she didn’t know that as she wept in the garden. Moreover, those probably weren’t Mary’s last tears. As Jesus’ follower, she had the joy of seeing and following the resurrected Jesus, but she likely also experienced persecution, suffering, and the loss of many people she loved. Imagine, though, her perspective on grief. Jesus’ resurrection had transformed the ultimate defeat into the ultimate victory. Whatever happened to her after that, Mary had her experience of the resurrected Jesus to hold on to as the truth that transcends grief.

Mary lived the rest of her life in an in-between time, between the joy of Jesus’ resurrection and the final end of all grief. We live in that in-between time, too. We have the joy and hope that Jesus’ resurrection brings, but we also experience real grief. So we hold grief and hope in tension. Because of Jesus’ victory over death, grief doesn’t negate hope. It actually deepens our hope. The utter depth of Mary’s loss and grief made the joy of Jesus’ resurrection and her reunion with him all the greater. Thanks to Jesus’ resurrection, our grief magnifies our hope because that hope isn’t a wish or a feeling. Our hope is the risen Jesus himself.

With Jesus as our Savior and hope, Revelation 21:3-4 gives us something amazing to look forward to: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” How that will look, I don’t know for sure. I like to picture God naming each tear as He wipes it away. Maybe that’s not exactly how it will be, but Mary’s experience in the garden shows us that God is that personal. It shows us that even in the places of our greatest grief, Jesus sees our tears, invites us to name them, and offers himself as our greatest and living hope.

For the past 30 years, Carla Friesen-Martin has been exploring the lives of people in the Bible through writing and drama, and has been privileged to share her monologues in churches, schools and retreats. She’s active in the Evangelical Free Church in Williams Lake, BC where she lives with her husband. Her book, At the Crossroads: A monologue collection is a resource for churches and schools as well as for personal reflection, and is available at


This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 61 No 2


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