John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
We have come to the greatest feast day in the Church calendar: Easter Sunday.
The resurrection of Christ is where all our faith in God’s redeeming and transforming powers stands or falls. Many people will admit Jesus was certainly an historical character, and of those, many will say he was very good moral teacher. Faith in his resurrection is what separates Christian believers from sympathetic onlookers and it is what sometimes makes Christians feel silly or embarrassed in a materialistic world that demands empirical evidence.
I have read many of the defences of the historicity of the resurrection. Courses like Alpha, Nua and others have long offered compelling rational arguments to our doubting world. They show that the conspiracy theories do not stand up to scrutiny and that rather than gaining power and influence from a clever deception, the first Christians sacrificed everything they had to proclaim a message that sounded crazy even in their time. The different arguments are well worth looking up and are very useful for Christians to know. However, for me they acted as reinforcement for my beliefs, they were not the reason I came to believe. The reasons I came to believe were maybe not so reasonable.
I had a friend at university who once said to me that he thought each person was first drawn to God by one of three characteristics; his Love, his Wisdom or his Power. One of these characteristics, he argued, resonates more strongly with us than the other two. There have been Christians who have been logically argued into belief. C. S. Lewis is a famous example who described himself as the most reluctant convert. He did not wish to believe, but on the balance of the evidence he felt compelled to. I’m sure there are people who have been persuaded into belief in the resurrection because the rational facts of the matter have been laid before them. Others may have encountered God’s Power in such a way that has made them know they are experiencing a reverberation of the same power that raised Jesus. It is God’s Love which won me to begin with, and which I find myself returning to in seasons of doubt or despair.
I do not always experience God’s Love, or respond to it, in the most rational way and that is why I have been empathising with Mary Magdalene in the Gospel today. In this account she is overwhelmed with the pure emotion of loss and she is driven demented by the devastation she feels at the death of Jesus. Unlike Peter and John, she doesn’t go inside to examine the grave closely or take in the details. She is manically fixated on finding the body and honouring the man who loved her in such a way as to evoke this response. She must be the only character in the scriptures to encounter an angel, give him backchat and then turn her back on heaven’s messenger to drill a lowly gardener for information (as opposed to the customary etiquette of falling down in fear of immanent death).
Mary does not forensically analyse the tomb or go away to ponder the mystery as to how it has become empty. She does not respond to the apparition of angels, who traditionally bear information of interest. She flails about frantically seeking Jesus, even if it is only his dead body she expects to find. Jesus’ response is to reveal himself.
This Easter season I have been thinking not so much about the resurrection, or about the mystery of what it means. These things are vitally important, of course, but in my personal pilgrimage, I have been reflecting on the very important matter of loving the person of Jesus. Would I search for Him high and low even if I believed Him to be dead? Does He matter to me because of what His life, death and resurrection mean for the church, or does He matter to me simply because of who He is. This Easter I have been wondering if I love God for Himself, which is appropriate since Easter story tells us that is exactly how God loves us.
Emma Rothwell works at Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain. She lives in a 250 year old cottage on campus, and probably cares too much about the tiny flower bed she made at the front of it. Emmas recently stepped down from the post of Diocesan Youth and Children's Officer for the Dioceses of Meath and Kildare. Before that, she was a secondary school teacher of Religious Education and English. She loves British panel show comedy, reading, thinking on really long walks, dancing at weddings and talking to you about things you really care about.