This weekend, I attended a funeral. The service was sweet and uplifting, as funerals tend to be in the LDS church, and a feeling of hopeful peace permeated the chapel as each family member got up to speak about the cherished lady who had passed on to the other side, and the reasons they loved her.
The message that struck me, though, was one given by our bishop at the end of the service. He was speaking about the resurrection of the Savior, as found in John 20. In these verses, Mary Magdalene goes in the dark of the early morning to visit the Lord’s tomb, and she finds Him missing. She’s distressed, as are Peter and John. They’re confused about what’s happened and have forgotten that He told them he would be resurrected. Right now, all they can see is that He’s gone.
11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto the, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
14. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest though? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
I have heard this story dozens of times, before, and know the details of it by heart. I have often wondered at the strangeness of Mary’s inability to recognize the Savior–someone whom she knew, personally, and could call her friend–when He appeared to her. Was He disguised? Was she not really looking at Him? Was she blinded by her grief? How could she not see the Savior of the world, whom she loved and was so distressed by losing, standing right in front of her?
I still don’t know the answers to those questions. But on Saturday, the power of this detail moved me: His voice. She knew Him when she heard His voice.
How often do we not see Him, figuratively, standing right in front of us and offering his aid and comfort? How often are we unwilling to turn around and look for divine guidance? How often do we kind of know someone’s there, but mistake Him for the hired help?
And yet, I realized, even when we forget to look for Him, He still waits patiently for us. He doesn’t turn around and leave. And sometimes, to help us to turn and recognize Him, he tenderly speaks our names and calls us to Him.
My favorite hymn (if you would like to see me sob like a toddler, just put this on) has a section that reads,
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
How grateful I am for the truth of this principle. More than once, I have found myself, like an idiot, wandering away from what I know I ought to be doing and just…choosing to do whatever the crap I want. I know darned well what’s best for me and what God would rather I do, but instead, I think I’d rather do something else, thanks. (Super smart, right?) Worse, sometimes I find myself telling my Father in Heaven that, yeah, I know what the right choice is, but this is what I want right now so I’m going to do it. (Seriously, Jennifer? Yes. Seriously. Eyeroll.) The astounding thing, in retrospect, is that He has the power at His disposal to stop me. But He loves me enough to allow me to choose what I want.
Even more miraculously, each time I choose to behave like the rotten teenager I seem to be, at heart, and get near a point of unmitigated catastrophe, there has come some small moment of stillness. In that moment, I have been able to hear His voice. It has not always been an actual voice, but in one way or another, He has very clearly reached out to me and stopped me from going just that one step too far. He has quietly, lovingly sought me out and rescued me from danger on more than one occasion, and every time, I am so contrite and shocked and so grateful. It is a humbling thing to know that the God against whom you rebelled and struggled is still willing to come and find you and bring you home.
Our Savior, the Good Shepherd, knows and loves us. He knows and loves you. He knows when you are lost, and he knows where you are. He knows your grief, your silent pleadings, your fears, your tears. It matters not how you became lost: whether because of your own poor choices or because of circumstances beyond your own control. What matters is that you are His child and He loves you. He loves His children. Because He loves you, He will find you. He will place you upon His shoulders, rejoicing.
I’m so grateful that He always knows where I am, and that when I lose my way, He calls to me and brings me home. How grateful I am that I have still been able to recognize His voice. I know I have felt myself carried, and have felt His love for me imprinted firmly on my broken soul. I am certain that, even when we do not see Him standing right in front of us, He is there, waiting, with His arms outstretched, to help us. I know that He knows me. I am so grateful He loves me.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.