We Christians often call ourselves “an Easter people.” We consider ourselves people of new birth. This understanding is based on the Easter proclamation: “God raised Jesus from the dead.” This affirmation nourished the faith of the first century Christians and is still empowering our faith today. Easter is utterly central to Christian life.
Without Easter, we wouldn’t know about Jesus. If the story had ended with his crucifixion, Jesus most likely would have been forgotten. Without Easter, we wouldn’t even have “Good Friday,” for there would have been no abiding community to remember and give meaning to his death. Without Easter, we wouldn’t gather together in this place to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
With Easter, the followers of Jesus start to see their life from a new perspective. With Easter, they receive the answer of God’s justice to the imperial ways of injustice and they begin their witnesses to God’s love, peace and justice. With Easter, the tomb of death becomes the womb for the new life and hope in Christ.
It was thus for Mary Magdalene. It was still dark. Mary Magdalene hadn’t had any sleep since Friday; she must have cried the whole night long with fear and grief. But in the faint light of early dawn she set out towards the tomb on “The Skull.” Even in daylight people didn’t like to go there, but Mary took her journey to The Skull because her only hope was to pay her last respects and say Good-bye to Jesus.
Immediately on arrival she realized that the stone had been rolled away, but didn’t enter the tomb. Instead she fetched Peter and ‘the beloved disciple,’ who raced to the tomb, entered it, found it empty except for the burial wrappings and then returned to their homes. They returned without hope because they had no concept with which to understand the meaning of the empty tomb; for them the empty tomb could only be the result of grave robbing.
But unlike the male disciples and even though she too did not understand what could have happened, Mary entered into the tomb. She was looking once more for the body of Jesus. Mary went into the tomb filled with confusion and hope. There, after meeting the two angels, she saw the crucified Jesus. Mary called him “Rabbouni!” which means teacher. The name “Rabbouni!” had been his until Friday but here on the first Easter morning, Jesus, the Christ, told Mary something about his new presence: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to God.” This is the post-Easter record of experience with the risen Christ according to John. Jesus told Mary he would no longer be confined to time and place. Since that first Easter, Christians have been experiencing Jesus in their own different times and places.
In the tomb Mary is commissioned to witness the good news of resurrection. The tomb of death has now become the womb of new life. Mary heeds Jesus’ words and goes to the disciples with her witness, “I have seen the Lord.” Mary’s witness of the presence of the risen Jesus is the core of the Easter gospel. Mary reveals two central meanings of Easter: Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord.
What does ‘Jesus lives’ mean to us? In my pastoral experience many people say Jesus is an experiential reality. In people’s faith journey, the living Christ is experienced as healer, teacher, friend, saviour or companion in their lives. We experience Jesus not as a dead person or dwelling in Heaven but as the Christ living with us today. Like the favourite Easter story of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), I believe many of us experience the risen Christ as journeying with us, guiding, encouraging, comforting and healing us. Jesus lives in our lives and is experienced as a living reality. Many Christians experience Jesus as present in their lives, but in a radically new way as a living God.
Another important meaning of Easter revealed by Mary is that Jesus is Lord. Even though Good Friday is the imperial system’s “No” to Jesus, and the religious and political authorities of the day killed him, Easter is God’s “Yes” to Jesus. The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus. Mary exclaimed with boldness, “I have seen the Lord.” Mary knew what her destiny would be if she kept saying that, but her Easter faith cannot stop her witnessing to the truth: Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord and the imperial ways are not. The Easter story continues to this day in the Christian conviction that Jesus is Lord and that the lords of this world, who crucified him then and still do today, are not. If Jesus is Lord, then all the would-be lords of our lives are not.
The tomb of despair and hopelessness becomes the womb for the new life and hope in Christ. May God encourage us to live boldly, as Mary Magdalene did, affirmed in our reality that we too have seen the Lord, that Jesus lives in us and is the way for us. Today, the risen Christ invites us to the communion table to partake the new life in Christ and take up a new journey into the future. Come, let us share the feast! Thanks be to God.