Christ and Closure

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark….And Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb” (John 20:1,11)

St. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where the Lord Jesus had been laid because she was restless. She could not sleep. Her mind filled with anguish and confusion. In the common contemporary phrase, she suffered from lack of closure. After a disaster in flight, when a plane falls into the water, the family and friends appear at the edge of the ocean, staring out towards the site of the catastrophe, helpless in misery. Reporters just this week announced the death of Osama bin Laden—finally, closure.

What is closure? Everyone understands…or do we? Cultures have common assumptions. They take for granted all look at life and death the same way. Survivors of the death of loved ones need, seek, find and reconcile with the ultimate trauma, then get on with life. We turn another page or begin another chapter in the story of life. The philosophy behind this presumption is that life is a series of segments. When the trauma of disappointment or worse afflicts us, we deal with it and get on with life. Absorb the angst of despair and go on from there. Put it behind you and do your best to pretend it never happened.

Is life really like that, or was Leon Bloy right: “Suffering ends. Having suffered never ends.” Returning to the incident of Mary Magdalene in the garden where Christ had been laid to rest—her grief could not be assuaged. Recall the unique meeting, when she thought the person she saw was the gardener, then when our Lord Jesus called her by name: “Mary!” she ran instinctively to embrace Him; but He said, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father” (John 20:17).

For neither of them “closure” is hardly the description of the conclusion of their relationship, because there was no conclusion—only a new and more glorious beginning. The Son of God had completed one vital aspect of the plan of the Holy Trinity for the salvation of all humanity, and now He must first go on to a mysterious return to the Father in the Holy Spirit, having assumed and never leaving behind His human nature, as Son of Man.

For the Holy Myrrhbearers and Mary Magdalene, as for Sts. Peter and John who found the tomb empty on that first day of Resurrection, there was no closure, but a formidable challenge to their despondency, a reality that challenged their need to deal with grief in the only way we humans have to do so. Jesus Christ defies all that we consider normal, including our culture of death and its acceptance. Dare they hope in the incredible? It requires faith to hope in what nature deems impossible—that a man can conquer death. But we say that this was no ordinary man; He was and is truly the Son of God.

For us Orthodox Christians, the response to the cry for closure is in “Alleluia.” “Praise the Lord God!” It was sung in the Temple of Jerusalem, and it appears near the end of Revelation [19:1,3,4,6], inviting those who will be there at the end of time to sing and celebrate with the angels the glory of the Lord:

“After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power to the Lord our God!’....Again they said, ‘Alleluia!’…And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God Who sat on the throne, saying, ‘Amen! Alleluia!’”