Easter can be a bit of a whirlwind. It’s the one day a year our whole family dresses up all squeaky clean, and that takes some work. We celebrate our risen Savior at church, then follow with our family gathering with all the cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents for a big meal and an egg hunt. In the car between events we chorus “Jesus is alive!” in an attempt to convey to our kids the unbridled joy and wonder of this holiest of days.
And still, during quieter moments throughout the day, I found myself thinking of the friends and followers of Jesus. How they must have felt and what they must have thought about all of this. After Jesus was arrested, Peter, in fear for his life, denied knowing his friend three times. But consider the fact that Peter was recognized by his face and by his voice as a follower of Jesus. Even in the midst of his sin, he was indelibly marked by the transformative power of knowing Christ. He will never be the same.
In John 20:19, we see Jesus’ disciples gathered together in a locked room because they are afraid that their lives are in danger as followers of the recently crucified political revolutionary and heretic. What sorrow must have been contained in that room! What hopelessness and despair! They had staked everything on this Jesus. They had left their families and their livelihoods and followed him, this humble itinerant teacher, this teller of strange stories and worker of miracles. They had believed he was going to be their king, perhaps to overthrow the Roman government in order to rule the Jewish people in Jerusalem. Not only that, but he was their friend, and they loved him, for all they did not understand him. But now he was dead, and they didn’t know what to do. Consider that Jesus had not yet given them the Holy Spirit (though he was just about to) so there was no comfort to be found in their pain, there was no peace in the midst of confusion; there was only fear and anguish and desperation. And now imagine their joy — overwhelming, indescribable, unimpeachable joy — when Jesus meets them there, in the darkness of their sorrow and the anguish of their fear, when he shows them how he has overcome death, just as he said he would, and he brings them peace. He breathes on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit from him, the comforter and intercessor and the very same power that moved in Jesus during his earthly ministry. Nothing will ever be the same.
The story of the three women to whom Jesus first appears after his resurrection is my favorite. I love the little details that emerge in the four distinct gospel accounts, and how the stories weave harmoniously together. In John 20, we focus in on Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest followers and financial supporters. She came with some of the other women early on the first day of the week, before the sun was even up, to anoint Jesus’ body with aromatic oils. But now we see her alone outside the tomb, crying because his body is missing, and she doesn’t know what to think. Has someone stolen his body? Is this a cruel joke? Some political machination by the religious leaders? Hear her wracking sobs. Imagine her intense loneliness, her crushing despair there in the dark, with the sun’s first pale rays of light just beginning to crawl across the ground, with the dew still cold and wet on her feet.
John’s gospel tells us that, still crying, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels, although it does not give us any indication as to whether she knew they were angels or thought they were just men. They asked why she was crying, and she said her Lord had been carried away and she didn’t know where his body had been taken.
Then she turns around and sees Jesus. This is the best. She doesn’t recognize him. Either because her grief is so intense and his resurrection so implausible that she doesn’t consider it as a possibility, or because his resurrection body is subtly changed in some way. But then he says her name. “Mary,” he says, and I can hear the tenderness and love soft in his voice. She knows that beautiful voice. She recognizes the voice of her Savior and her Lord, just as all the sheep know the voice of their shepherd when he calls them. She has never been the same since he first called her with that voice. Can you imagine her joy and her relief? The sun breaks over the horizon and bathes the whole world in light and warmth as she runs to Christ.
All of us have that same Monday morning experience at some point. Easter has already come, yes, and he is risen, but we don’t feel it. Things look bleak, dark, and hopeless. We thought we were following God’s plan, but we’ve hit a dead end, and we don’t know what to do. Everything is broken. Someone we love has died.
But our God is in the business of bringing dead men back to life. It’s something of a speciality of his. He makes broken things new. He undoes the darkness with a word of his powerful voice, and he calls to us, his own ransomed, redeemed, beloved people. Nothing can ever be the same.
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass