Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

John 20:11-16 NIV 

I read the above passage a few nights ago and stopped, my eyes too full of tears to continue. I had been reading through the New Testament for several weeks, blown away by the gentle, gracious words of Jesus, but this time my heart finally broke. And I cried.

Maybe this needs some backstory. The past year I have struggled deeply with the Bible and Christianity. I was angry at self-righteous Christians, who only spew Scripture with hate to tear others down. I was angry at the Old Testament, which seemed to give these hypocritical people too much fodder. Why had God, I asked, spoken through such a broken, Patriarchal culture without correcting it? Why didn’t God stop the Levite’s concubine from being gang raped and murdered? Why didn’t He speak against Jephthah’s oath, which resulted in his daughter’s death? I felt disillusioned with the Bible and with a God who would allow such things to take place without comment, while calling David – an adulterous murderer who did not even punish his own son for raping his own daughter – a man after His own heart.

So, I was angry. My heart was bleeding – being torn apart by my desire to love God and my growing distrust of who He might really be.

But I did not want to give up on Christianity. Deep within me I knew I could never shake the firm belief that there is a God in the universe and that somehow, some way, He must love me. I just didn’t know how to reconcile the God from Sunday-school with the one who allowed such evil to go unpunished within His own holy book.

I stumbled across a book, as I was reading about girls brought up in Fundamentalist households much more legalistic than my own, by Susan Campbell. In her book, Dating Jesus, she explained all that had led her away from the church and Christianity as a whole. Yet, she said, she deeply loved Jesus. Even though she did not know what to do with Christianity anymore, she knew Jesus was real, that He loved her, and she was inexplicably drawn to Him.

So I decided to start back there. I knew, unlike Susan Campbell, that I could not throw away Christianity. I still believed all the core parts of the faith – in Jesus’ death and resurrection, that God created the world (although I have begun to think, more than 6,000 years ago), and that there is only one way to God through Jesus. But I didn’t know what to grasp on to. So I looked for Jesus.

As I started to read through the New Testament I was blown away by Jesus’ gentle attention to women. The conversations recorded between Him and His mother, His unwavering attention to the woman with the issue of blood, and the raw mercy that He poured over the woman caught in adultery drew me to Him. Jesus, unlike the God of the Old Testament, could not be misunderstood. Jesus loved, respected, cared for, looked after, and respected women with the same constant love with which He gave the men who followed Him. And in these women, I saw myself, looking up at Him.

But then I got to John 20. Up to then, my faith had been strengthened as I focused on Jesus. I was reminded that those who have seen Jesus have also seen God the Father – that the two, though misunderstood and misconstrued carelessly or maliciously through the centuries, were one and the same. I was beginning to feel OK again, since my brain could understand this love of God, even if my heart still felt so cold and hard.

And then Jesus spoke.

And He said, “Mary.”

Can you hear it? Can you hear His voice crack as He talks to the woman He loves so dearly? Jesus has just been dead – has died for the sins of this woman who had listened so diligently at His feet. He has returned alive, but she doesn’t recognize Him. Why would she? She had seen His body hanging dead on a Roman cross.

But then He says her name. Quietly and kindly, full of tenderness and love. And when she hears it, she cries out “Rabboni.” That’s when my tears flow down my cheeks.

Because she thought He was dead, yet there He stands, saying her name.

And I thought my trust in Him was dead, but there He is, calling me back again.

The words of the apostle John come echoing back from the beginning of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

The darkness can be religiousity without love that binds people up in legalism. The darkness can be sexism or racism or homophobia. It can be emotional abuse. Or mental abuse in the name of Christ. But then the light pierces through that thick veil. And it is the light of the life of Jesus. He points to God and He points to love, full of redemption and grace.

And there is a relationship there that prompts a religion that I cannot get over. So, I see the wisdom of Brian Zahnd’s words when he says “Jesus saves the Bible from itself. It’s Jesus who saves the Bible from being just another violent and vengeful religious text.” Because it’s true. Without Jesus, the Bible is a book of rules to follow and sacrifices to make. And whoever does it the best might keep God’s anger away from themselves. But Jesus says all shall come. So the disenfranchised come to Him and find their way to God.