The Gospel reading for this Tuesday of Easter shows us Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb, unable to fathom the absence of Jesus’ body there, where she fully expected to find it. It hasn’t dawned on her yet that Jesus has done exactly what he said he would do — that he has arisen from death to life, that he is somewhere else because he is alive, not because someone moved his body.
It’s interesting that the angels who question her weeping don’t tell her the truth of the resurrection. She turns away from them, perhaps before they can even begin to tell the story, or perhaps in distress at even being questioned about her weeping. She turns away, and there Jesus is.
Except that she doesn’t recognize him. It’s a common enough even in these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Sometimes it seems that he conceals his identity for a reason; I wonder, with Mary Magdalene, if she doesn’t recognize him because he is not what she expected. She came looking for a corpse. She came prepared to minister to his dead body, to remember and ponder someone who has left this world and whose mark on the world and the hearts of his followers, although great, will bade with time.
She doesn’t find a corpse. Her expectations are disrupted at their core when she sees a man and is yet again questioned about her weeping. Imagine her thoughts at this second questioning: Isn’t it obvious? I’m at a tomb, so of course I am grieving a loved one. And I’m grieving all the more because my loved one’s body isn’t here, and I’m horrified that it has been stolen and perhaps desecrated. Why am I weeping? Who wouldn’t be weeping?
And then he says her name. Mary. And in that moment, the moment when she hears her name spoken by that beloved voice, everything dawns on her.
It is Jesus who speaks her name, and if it is Jesus, he must be alive! Here he is in front of her, and I think of her heart and her mind just racing to process it all. Imagine the turbulent joy, the disbelief melting into absolute certainty; imagine the profound relief as she understands that Jesus has truly done what he said he would do. In this moment of recognition, she has not yet any idea of what’s coming next, but she knows with absolute faith that whatever it is will be perfect. I imagine that she can hardly wait to get started, once Jesus has told her what she is to do.
And what is it that he tells her? Just this one thing: Go and tell the others.
The beginnings of all evangelization, I think, are found in this moment when Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus and does what he tells her to do — go tell the others.
These days of pandemic and quarantine create such interesting opportunities to see Jesus. Everything about the way we live seems to have changed. It’s an interesting paradox: In our normal world, we spend the majority of our waking hours among people who are not our closest. We spend our time with people who range from complete strangers to people we know casually or through work, to closer associates and perhaps some close friends, and we spend only a few hours with those nearest and dearest to us — our families.
We’re called to recognize Jesus in all of them. But what a difference in these strange times. It’s one thing to think about recognizing Jesus in the encounters with strangers and near-strangers in our workplaces, out shopping, in volunteer activities, at school, or running errands. If we’re doing it right, we use each of these encounters to remind ourselves to look for him, to find him, to reach out to him.
It’s another thing altogether to look for him in the family members with whom we are suddenly spending 24 hours a day. We just aren’t used to being with the people we love for quite so many hours. We think we crave more time with those we love, and then when we get it — involuntarily, to be sure — what seems to happen is that all of the little flaws and foibles (which we can more easily ignore in normal times) become glaring huge faults and imperfections, annoyances that set our last nerves on edge and have us in a constant state of irritation bordering on rage.
It’s a lot harder to see and recognize Jesus in these conditions. After all, these are our ordinary, everyday people, but we are not experiencing them in the way we expected. Just as Mary Magdalene’s expectations got in the way of her recognizing Jesus at the empty tomb, so our everyday expectations of our everyday people can get in the way of our recognizing Jesus in them.
And we need to recognize Jesus in them. When our spouse or child or sibling or parent says our name, that’s the time to recognize him and be open to what he is telling us. We need to let the joy and certainty of who he is, and how he loves us, infect all of those interactions. And then we need to “go and tell the others.”
I’m pretty sure we can live with that.
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