Easter: Then and Now
By Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: I have seen the Lord!
Mary had gotten up before daylight and gone to Jesus’ grave. But upon arrival, she made what must have been a terrifying discovery. The tomb was empty. The stone had been rolled away. Mary ran to tell Peter and John. The two disciples raced to the tomb saw that it was indeed empty, and went back to the city to report to the other disciples. Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb weeping.
Suddenly two angels appeared to ask why she was weeping. But turning, she saw Jesus, but mistook him for the gardener. Jesus had only to call her by name for Mary to recognize him and address him as “Rabboni.” Thus Mary Magdalene became the first to announce to the waiting disciples “I have seen the Lord.” She was the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
On that very first Easter, Mary Magdalene experienced a few things that were very significant in her life. More than twenty centuries later we experience similar things that may be relevant in our lives. Magdalene’s experience then, on that first Easter, can teach us the following lessons:
First, Easter confronts us with the reality of death. On that first Easter morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to visit Jesus’ tomb. She was crying for the death of Jesus.
Separation by death is a terrible experience, and the cemetery confronts our own mortality. It makes us realize how precious life is. Loving people adds a dimension of urgency to the question of what happens to us when we die. The message of Easter is that, life is a gift of God but it is so fragile. We appreciate it most when we are faced with the reality of death.
Second,Easter brings us good news from the graveyard. It brings a victorious perspective into the realm of death. On that first Easter morning, witnessing Jesus’ empty tomb, Mary Magdalene realized that death is not a terminus. The cemetery is the wrong place to look for the meaning and destiny of our lives.
Easter brings us good news that Jesus has defeated mankind’s greatest enemy, death, and those who have experienced the power of Christ’s Resurrection shall live forever.
Third, Easter is a time of letting go. When Mary encountered the Risen Christ, Jesus told her, “Do not hold on to Me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” What Jesus was saying to her in effect was that her life could never return to what it had been. Mary would have to let the mortal Jesus go if she wanted to claim the immortal Christ.
People can sometimes cling to a memory of how things used to be. Mary had to let go of the physical Jesus in order to claim the new reality of the Christ of faith. Easter tells us that there is a time to let go so that one day that which has been lost might be restored.
Fourth, Easter tells us about the importance of personal encounter with the risen Lord. When Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus personally, tears of sorrow changed into tears of joy. She left the graveyard with good news: “I have seen the Lord.”
Personal encounter … that is the key. If one does not have that experience, Easter becomes only a remembrance of what happened twenty centuries ago. It becomes only a historic event. If it is going to be a meaningful and personal reality, it has to be an existential personal experience.
How can that happen? It happens when and if people allow God to roll away the stone of their interior tomb of sin and welcome the Living Christ into their lives. Then and only then the Easter declaration could be a thoroughly meaningful statement: