Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. (Pope John Paul II)
Despair is a word, which conjures up images and feelings of darkness, turmoil, fear, loneliness and helplessness. The opposite of hope, it is a word, which is void of light and happiness. Right now, if world headlines and trendsetting issues are to be taken at face value, it would seem we are living on the brink of an anguish-filled abyss of hopelessness. It is easy to imagine that for Mary Magdalene, upon discovering the absence of Jesus’ corpse on Easter morning, she must have felt as if the tragedy of Jesus’ death had just become even worse.
Through a Veil of Desperation
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to lookinto the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. (Jn 20:11-14 )
What was she to do or even think now when she did not even have the body of Jesus to anoint (Mk 16:1-4)? It must have been a stark moment of confusion and bewilderment. For those of us who have felt overwhelmed by a personal crisis, these are familiar feelings. Immense grief must have filled Mary Magdalene to overflowing – how could she think straight? Heartbroken and sobbing, it is no surprise that she did not recognize Jesus when she saw Him standing there.
The fact that we were created in the image and likeness of God is a gift; however, it can also be a challenge. Many times, we come face to face with Jesus in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives. Do we recognize Him when we see Him? Do we know it is He to Whom we speak? It can be more challenging when we are so immersed in the emotions or intensity of a moment of crisis. At these times, it is difficult for us to recognize our Lord when He is right before us. A sense of desperation tends to distort our true vision.
Called by Name
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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). (Jn. 20:15-16 )
All it takes for Mary Magdalene to finally recognize her Lord is for her to hear Him say her name: “Mary!” Her wake up call was her name, and then her eyes were opened. She could finally see Him in front of her.
The Good Shepherd calls His sheep by their names – and He knows each one of them; each one of us. He loves us as if we mean the world to Him because we do.
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ (Lk 15:4)
Mary knew this and it had been the reason for her grief when she believed Jesus dead and thought His body taken. It was also the reason for her complete turnaround from desperation to joy. Jesus was alive! He Who loved her unconditionally was alive! The day, which had started so dismally and had appeared to take a tragic turn, had suddenly become a day of unparalleled joy and unquenchable hope.
He is Risen!
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.’” 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. (Jn. 20:17-18)
Whereas to be disheartened and sad is physically, mentally and emotionally draining, to be overjoyed is to be brimming with energy and purpose. This must have been the case with Mary Magdalene after having been given a directive by Jesus to tell the disciples that He had risen from the dead. Perhaps on her way to the tomb that morning, her steps had been heavy and slightly cautious, anxious to tend to the body of her Lord. Now, however, it is likely that she practically flew, seemingly on winged feet, to tell Peter and the other disciples that Jesus was alive.
Our Lord directs Mary Magdalene to say specific things to the disciples, words, which are striking in both their intimacy and power. “I am ascending,” Jesus says, indicating an action, which tells us of what He Himself can do. He is the Son of God, without a doubt. Then there is the loving reminder of how we are all related to each other: “…to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”These words alone should fill us with both awe and gratitude. My Father and Jesus’ Father are one and the same, and this Father is God Himself. I know I am not worthy of Jesus. No one is. Yet, here He is stating a most startlingly beautiful fact of our faith. One of the first things He does after resurrecting is to underscore the truth of who God is, who He is and who we are. This knowledge fortifies our faith, awakens our hope and infuses us with the love and joy of being God’s children. All is right in the world.
Endless Divine Possibilities
When Mary Magdalene hurried off to find the disciples to tell them what Jesus told her, her heart must have been nearly bursting with elation. How could it be otherwise when her vision of the world had suddenly changed from human to supernatural? The resurrection of Jesus shone a warm, bright light on a world, which had seemed very cold and dark when it was believed that He was gone forever. It is good to be reminded of what Mary, Jesus’ mother (and ours!) was told in the beginning, at the moment of her son’s conception:
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be bornwill be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”(Lk. 1:34-37)
Our Mother Mary heard these words and pondered them in her heart. She knew they were true. Thirty-three years later, she is not one of the women who set out for the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. Our blessed Mother knew that what many thought to be the end of Jesus was not so. For we who call God our Father, how can despair ever be something, which darkens our door?
Joy: The Power to Transform
Each one of us has had a moment in his or her life like that of Mary Magdalene’s morning at the tomb. These are times in our lives when we cannot imagine what could possibly happen to make things better: the sudden death of someone we love, the unexpected loss of a job or home, a diagnosis of cancer, or intense family conflict that leads to estrangement. Hopelessness tempts us at our weakest moments. We find it difficult to see beyond what is in front of us and the misery we feel. Why is life not easier if Jesus is our Saviour?
When He came back from the dead, Jesus did not do so in order to make the lives of those who followed Him problem-free and happily ever after. On the contrary, He “complicated” their lives, inspiring them to spread the Word and bring as many people closer to God. Peter, Paul, the other apostles and many of the first Christians faced trials and tribulations, unlike anything they had ever experienced. Yet, those who followed Jesus lived the rest of their lives in pursuit of heaven, loudly proclaiming the name of Jesus, as the Son of God Who had risen from the dead. Although their love of Jesus marked them for suffering and affliction, they did so with full and joyful trust in divine providence and mercy!
If we truly believe that Jesus resurrected, this joy – the joy of Easter – is unavoidable because its source is He Who is all good and love Himself. On Easter morning, the impossible itself happened. Our vision is lifted up so we may see things as they truly are, as God does. As bleak as the world may seem – whoever and wherever you are – the joy of Easter calls us to take heart and be confident in Jesus: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (Jn. 16:33)
We are called by our Lord Himself to bear witness to our faith, hope and love in every single thing we do and every single person we encounter, in and through the many happy and sad times we experience in our lives. When we love God through others and the fulfillment of His will, we become like Christ Himself:
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. (Col. 1:24-26)
For as long as we remain in this world, body and soul united, we face and experience pain, suffering, trials and heartache in the measure God our Father wills. As children of God, we are not exempt from these. They are our means for sanctification. They are transformed by the joy and truth of Easter into opportunities to love our heavenly Father more. It is encouraging to recall the words St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
We are Easter people indeed, and for we who love God, there is no pain or suffering so great, no trial so terrible, no heartache so crushing that we turn to despair. Jesus Christ has overcome evil and death. He is risen: Alleluia!