Look back over the Retreat
Consider how it is that God looks at you
- In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola suggests a number of ways of moving into a time of prayer. One of them is quite simple, but is also likely to sound strange the first time you come across it. “Consider,” he suggests, “how it is that God our Lord looks at you.” What’s your first reaction to hearing this invitation?
- There are a number of places in the gospels where we are told that Jesus looked hard at people, as if to weigh them up. But his look was always compassionate, never harshly judgemental. Maybe that helps you to see what Ignatius has in mind. Take a moment or two, now, to consider how it is that God looks at you.
- Jesus is God with a human face. It is literally possible, therefore, to imagine the look on Christ’s face as he catches sight of you, and then fixes his attention upon you. How would you describe that look to a friend who asked you about it?
- Let Jesus continue to gaze at you like that as you listen to the Gospel of John:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Imagine the scene
When she reaches the tomb she finds the stone has been taken away
- Try to imagine the scene. It is early in the morning, it is still dark, and as soon as the Sabbath is over, Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb of her beloved Jesus. Can you imagine how she felt as she went out into the darkness?
- She may have slept very little the night before. Perhaps she recalled the words of the Song of Songs: “ Upon my bed at night, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer.”
- She wants to anoint the body. But who will take the stone away? When she reaches the tomb, she finds the stone has been taken away! The body of Jesus has disappeared. Someone has stolen the body of her beloved! The tomb is empty, as empty as her heart. She runs to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the “one whom Jesus loved,” crying “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the other disciple go running to the tomb. Everybody seems to be running in this early morning light. Running out of fear? Running because they are confused? Running because Jesus has disappeared? Where is Jesus?
Encounter the Lord
How do you recognise the Lord's presence in your life?
- “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” The disciples leave Mary alone with her grief. They don’t understand her pain. They seem confused before a woman’s tears. Unable to respond to her, they run home. Mary, weeping, bends over to look into the empty tomb. She sees two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” she replies. She is so sure that Jesus is dead, she is unable to question the meaning of these two angels. She then turns around and sees Jesus standing there, but she doesn’t know it is Jesus.
- The words Jesus speaks to Mary at the tomb echo the first words spoken by Jesus in John’s gospel: “Whom are you looking for?” What is your response?
- Then Jesus says quietly: “Mary.” He calls her by her name, she who was frantically searching for his dead body. Yet it is Jesus who finds her. His relationship to her and her relationship to him are unique. That is why she recognises him when called by her name. What is the Lord’s name for you? How do you recognise his presence in your life?
Encounter the Lord
Share your thoughts and feelings with the Lord
- Calling Mary by her name, Jesus echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine…You are precious to my eyes and honoured and I love you.” (Is 43:1-4). Mary discovers a new relationship with Jesus. She must not try to possess him and cling to him, or seek to be the only one loved by him. She must not hold on to the past but live in the present moment in a new, more interior relationship with the risen Jesus. Are you trying to cling on to a past image or past way of relating to Jesus? In the course of this retreat has the risen Jesus been inviting you into a deeper relationship?
- Mary cries out: “Rabbouni!” Her tears of grief disappear and she throws herself at his feet and clings to him. Jesus says to her: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Notice Jesus no longer calls his followers disciples or friends; from now on they are his brothers and sisters! His Father is their Father, our Father; his God is their God, our God. Is this a way you can think of Jesus, as your brother? How does that make you feel?
- There is something very humble in the story of the resurrection. The risen Jesus doesn’t appear triumphant to humiliate those who humiliated him. He appears to Mary of Magdala, the loved one, the forgiven one, alone in a garden. He does not appear with power but with a gentle love. It is the morning of a new day, a new creation. He sends her out to the community. How difficult it must be to go from an intimate encounter with Jesus to the larger community with all its needs and expectations! Is that how you feel now? Do you have a sense of being sent out at the end of this retreat? Share your thoughts and feelings with the Lord.
Look back over the retreat
Take some time to thank God
- Before we end this retreat, it is good to look back and notice what stays with you, and what you might want to take with you over the coming few weeks and months. Start by picking out some words from that you remember from the retreat, words that particularly stay with you.
- Now, becoming more specific, which parts of Scripture have stayed with you the most? It's worth taking a few moments to relive that prayer, in so far as you can, and notice what goes on in your mind and your heart just now as you recall that experience.
- Which of these women most inspire you? What aspects of their story most struck you?
- Perhaps you can notice some change in yourself, or in your prayer, over the weeks since this retreat began. If you began by asking for a particular gift, has it been given to you? It is possible that God has given you much more than you were able to ask for or even imagine. Take some time to thank God for all that God has done for you over this time.
- Now look forward to the next few days and weeks. Is there any “unfinished business” from the retreat? An area of your life you can still see God hard at work, a gift that you feel that you need but that you’re still waiting for? Ask God for whatever you’re conscious of wanting over the immediate future.
- The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart suggested that if the only prayer we say in our lifetime is “Thank you,” it would suffice. Take a few moments now to give thanks to God for the faith and witness of the women of the Passion and to give thanks to the Risen Lord for those who have prayed with you and for you during this Lenten retreat.