Hanging in my office is an icon of Mary Magdelene holding a red egg. I love it. Partly because for years my mom participated in an annual icon-writing workshop at Holy Communion, and this icon is a gift from that class. Also, Mary Magdalene is one of my favorite figures in the gospels, and her scene in the garden with the risen Jesus – full of mystery, tears, and joy – is such a powerful story.
The reason she is shown holding a red egg harkens back to a legend about this Mary traveling to announce the news of Christ’s resurrection to the Emporer Tiberius in Rome, who scoffed at her proclamation. “He has no more risen than the egg in your hand is red.” And immediately, the egg turned red in her hand.
While this apocryphal story is not particularly convincing to me, it is folded into the lore of Easter egg hunts and the practice of dying and painting eggs. More significantly, it is a wonderful reminder of the wild impossibility of the Easter story. When I look at the icon of Mary Magdalene, I remember how bewildered she is at the idea that the man she mistook for a gardener is her beloved teacher. She is completely flummoxed, and then she becomes the first preacher, the first person ever to tell the ridiculous and absurd story that Jesus is not dead, but risen.
I wonder how she made that turn from grief and confusion to joy and belief. Perhaps, she had some practice, traveling with Jesus and seeing people healed and storms calmed. This practice calls to mind the bit of conversation between Alice and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.
“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
This is a season for practicing believing impossible things. There’s a bit of time to go in the fifty-day season of Easter (did you know that’s how long the celebration is meant to continue?), and it just so happens that that’s about how long it takes to develop a new habit. So, what if we practice – maybe not six impossible things before breakfast, but believing one impossible thing every day for the rest of this glorious season? List your hopeful, beautiful, seemingly impossible beliefs here.
I’ll start. Christ is risen.