‘I have seen the Lord!’ (John 20:18)
So came Mary Magdalene’s words on the first Easter day.
It had been a turbulent period to say the least. After betrayal, arrest and a sham trial, Jesus had been crucified and buried. For a little while it had seemed as if death and evil had won the day. Her Lord – her friend – had been cruelly taken away and there was nothing left to do but mourn and prepare the burial spices that needed to be applied.
On the third day everything changed. She went to the tomb expecting to find a corpse. What she found was the stone moved – the grave empty – the pair of angels sitting where Jesus had once been laid. On one level it shouldn’t have been a surprise – Jesus had spoken clearly about rising again – but Mary was a frail, fallible and fragile human like us. What she was seeing didn’t make sense in her mind.
Jesus was there, though – with her as her emotions swelled. She physically saw him the moment she turned her head. But she didn’t recognise his face. Through the tears, in her grief, with the presupposition that dead men don’t usually rise clouding her mind, she thought he was the gardener. Just like the two disciplines who were kept from recognising Jesus as they walked with him on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35) she didn’t see Jesus clearly at first.
But she saw him in the end. After he spoke. After he revealed himself. She saw what she hadn’t even dared to long for: He was alive. He was back. He truly was her King.
From then on nothing was the same for her or anyone else on earth. Relationship with God – grace and mercy – life eternal, all became open to any who would follow Christ. Down the ages we have had God’s word, applied to our hearts by God’s Spirit, to show us our need and show us who we need. The Kingdom has grown, it’s growing still – and more and more people can come to know the joy of coming to Christ and living for him. It’s going to get better when perfection comes. That first resurrection day made everything better for all.
It’s still possible to not to see Jesus clearly though. It’s still feasible to come to Easter Sunday, with evidence of the resurrection ringing in our ears and miss seeing Jesus for who he truly is.
Take the congregation member who heartily sings praise to the One who died for them and yet remains convinced that they are not loved by the King of all things. Or the brother or sister in Christ who prays prayers of thankfulness for the cross and yet still carries innumerable burdens of guilt. How about the one who preaches clearly on Easter Day about the power that raised Jesus to life again being the same power at work in each of us and yet has no confidence that God has any likelihood of helping them navigate their particular complexities of life. Or what about that church member who cuts out a mountain of crowns for the children to decorate as they learn more about Jesus being their King – but who has no sense of certainty that the Lord has any kind of loving control over what’s going on.
Sometimes, even the best taught of us, just don’t see.
Growth and change are processes that takes a lifetime. There’s no sense we can click our fingers (or even read a gospel) and all our struggles in understanding Christ will ebb away. There’s plenty we can do, though. So, why not spur each other on to see clearly this Easter. Let’s not be content with the facts of the resurrection (crucially important though they are). Let’s join the dots between the resurrection and the nuances of our lives.
Why not pick a friend, pick a pastoral struggle, and spend a few moments asking questions like these:
- What difference does the sacrifice, made in love and seen at the cross, make to what we’re going through?
- What difference does the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on the cross make to how we see ourselves and those around us?
- What difference does the strength of God at play in the resurrection make to that sense that the world is overwhelming or the reality that we are small and weak?
- What difference does the sovereignty of God displayed in all the events of Easter make to our struggles with trust or our desire for control?
That list of questions isn’t exhaustive. There are depths to the Easter story that our minds will never fully comprehend. But there’s beauty in pursuing the ways in which the resurrection makes a difference to every corner of our lives. And what a difference it makes!
This Easter let’s be people who encourage one another to see the outworkings, the relevance, the application of Christ’s sacrifice, sufficiency, strength, sovereignty and so much more. And, in the process, let’s be ever more those who, with Mary, can truly say ‘I have seen the Lord!’