It was dawn on the first Easter Morning. Christ had risen from death, but as yet, nobody knew it. Christ had risen, but the Romans were still in power. Christ had risen, but the world looked the same: the sun still rose in the East and set in the West and the weather was not especially different from how it had been two days before. Christ had risen, but those who were ill on the Saturday, were still suffering on the Sunday. Christ had risen, but on the surface there was nothing different that morning from the day before.
Jesus must have been alive again for a while by the time Mary Magdalene hurried through the dark only to find the tomb empty. She still believed him to be dead, so she still grieved for him, and all the more so when she thought that his body had been snatched – for her, the resurrection was not yet real. Jesus was alive, but she did not know it.
Some of us, or perhaps people close to us, are today still living through their own Good Friday or Holy Saturday; the reality of grief and suffering and worry may be so great that the resurrection cannot seem real. If that is where we are, perhaps we know it is Easter but it seems that nothing has changed, except that the flowers are back in church. But perhaps we might also be able to hear along with Mary Jesus himself, asking in compassion, ‘why are you weeping?’ and to know that those words were spoken not by some pristine spiritual apparition but by the real Jesus, who also trod the path of suffering, the wounds of crucifixion still on his hands and feet.
But what changed it for Mary? How did the resurrection become real for her? How can it become a reality for us?
When Jesus spoke Mary’s name, she recognised him, and knew that he was her Lord, alive again. It was in that moment of encounter that the resurrection became for her not just a profound prophecy or a nice but far-fetched idea, but a life-changing reality. For all those living in the darkness of pain, worry, and grief, I pray that the sound of the risen, but still-wounded Christ calling your name may enable you to find hope renewed and joy rekindled.
At many Easter day services the congregation are invited to renew their baptism promises, recalling that moment when God called us by our name and we joined his family. Why does this traditionally happen on Easter Day? The water of baptism represents our dying to all that is old and dead in our lives and embracing God’s new life.
Baptism is a new beginning, so recalling our baptism reminds us that Easter day is more than just the happy ending to the story of Holy Week, more than just a song of joy and the sigh of relief after the abstinence of Lent and the drama and heartache of Holy Week. It reminds us that the dynamic of the gospel remains forward looking, and that every new start comes with a commission.
What Mary Magdelene is asked to do in today’s gospel is to become the first apostle – the one who is so transformed by her encounter with Christ that she is empowered to bring the good news of the resurrection to the rest of the disciples.
Simon Peter also experienced this. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion he had rejected Jesus three times, but was later forgiven and restored so that, as we read in the Acts this morning, he could stand in front of Cornelius and the crowd and proclaim the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; the good news that had already spread throughout Judea. God´s love for his creation is stronger than anything else we can possibly imagine. To all who are in despair, like Mary Magdalene; to all who are caught by guilt, like Peter; the message of the Resurrection is this: God´s love is stronger. If even death cannot defeat God, then anything is possible. There is always hope, there is always forgiveness, there is always a future.
Our calling by virtue of our baptism is likewise to be God’s agents, sent out from our own particular encounter with Jesus Christ to pass on the good news we have received, as we have experienced it.
We’re called to ‘Go on to Galilee’ – that is, into ordinary life, where Jesus is already present. When we get there, we will find ourselves commissioned to bring the good news and the new life of the risen Christ to all, just as Mary did when she went back with that astounding statement “I have seen the Lord!”
Risen Lord Jesus,
As Mary Magdelene met you in the garden,
on the morning of your resurrection
so may we meet you today and every day:
speak to us as you spoke to her;
reveal yourself as the living Lord;
renew our hope and kindle our joy;
and send us to share the good news with others.
The prayer at the Easter Garden