My seasonal depression has been ramping up recently, with all these gray November days. I’m not in a place of total despair. I’m spending a half-hour every morning in front of my Nature Bright SunTouchPlus sunlight supplement lamp. And I’m also exercising for a half-hour or more almost every day. So, I’m thankful to have coping mechanisms. To not be completely passive in approaching these challenges. But still, November is not my favorite month. And I usually want to get out of my “November Blues” as quickly as I can. But I’ve recently received some new perspective from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Mark that’s encouraged me to stay present in my sadness (or SADness, as the case may be). To think of it as waiting at the Cross of Jesus, like the two “Mary”s did.
It’s gut-wrenching to read the crucifixion experience, no matter what angle one takes. It was awful for Jesus, of course. But also for Peter, for Pilate, for the Roman centurion who supervised the process, and for everyone who happened to be passing by. On my most recent reading of the Gospel of Mark, however, I was especially struck by the crucifixion experience for the women described as “Mary, the Magdalene,” “Mary, the mother of James and Justus/Joses,” and Salomé.
In Mark 15:40, we read that “Some women were watching [the crucifixion] from a distance.” Apparently, they’d been there for a while. Probably the whole crucifixion, but definitely the moment of Jesus’s death (around 3:00 PM). The Gospel account elaborates, “Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.”
Then, the Bible describes the process of a Jewish council member making funeral preparations. This involved traveling from the crucifixion site into Jerusalem (a distance as short as half a mile, or as long as several miles, most likely traveled by foot). Once there, he would have needed to seek an audience with the Roman governor. Then he needed to have the actual conversation with the Roman governor. After all that, the Roman governor sent a messenger back to the crucifixion site to fetch the Roman centurion. The Roman centurion then traveled back into Jerusalem to appear before the Roman governor and verify the death of Jesus. And at that point, the Roman governor granted permission for the Jewish council member to make funeral arrangements. Then the Jewish council member traveled back to the crucifixion site again and prepared the body of Jesus for burial.
All of this would have taken hours. With those women just waiting at the Cross.
The biblical text suggests that at least the two “Mary”s continued to wait and watch while the body of Jesus was wrapped in linen cloth, transported to the burial site, and laid to rest in a tomb cut out of rock. In Mark 15:47, it says that, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” And again, this would have taken hours. Hours of grief. Sadness. Darkness. And painful waiting. They couldn’t do anything other than wait and bear witness. So, that’s what they did.
And this is where I feel challenged and encouraged by their example. These November Blues are hard. They contain elements of grief, sadness, darkness, and painful waiting. I typically want the difficulties to pass as quickly as possible. But maybe the best approach is simply “waiting at the Cross.” I can keep using my special lamp and exercising and taking multivitamins and talking about my seasonal depression. But I also need to keep waiting at the Cross. Just keeping the faith and keeping vigil while the sadness stays in front of me.
Such an act of faith won’t get front-page headlines. I’ve read the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion hundreds of times without ever really noticing the way that those women just waited. For hours. With nothing but the bloodied, lifeless remains of their friend hanging on a Cross in front of them. But there’s something beautiful and meaningful in such sadness. And it doesn’t seem like mere coincidence that the “Mary”s and Salomé are the first witnesses to the Resurrection on that third day after the crucifixion (see Mark 16:1). I believe their joy was greater because their sense of loss was greater. When the light broke from the darkness, it unleashed something powerful in them. And in the rest of the world.
So, I want to keep trusting God through my current season of darkness and depression. Watching and waiting to see what He will do next.