Last year it was unthinkable that for the first time in 186 years the doors of St. Peter’s would be closed for Easter. This year it is still difficult to believe that in many ways our Easter observances will be different, even as we approach what we hope is the end of the pandemic.
On that first Easter morning, the disciples were in a similar position, deep in their grief, wondering if their movement had come to an end along with the death of their friend and teacher. And then God did something.
According to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene was the first to encounter the risen Christ. She ran to the other disciples and proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!” The news must have been so astonishing and confusing. How could this be possible? This is the same Mary Magdalene who stood at the foot of the cross, who witnessed Jesus’ betrayal, his trial, his suffering, and his painful death. This Mary has now become the first evangelist to share the good news that Christ is risen. And she shares it with these words: “I have seen the Lord!”
Theologian Karoline Lewis calls Mary’s words the perfect Easter acclamation, because experiencing the resurrection is not supposed to be a third person confession, an ancient creed, or an exercise in mental gymnastics. Instead, resurrection is a first-person testimony. Resurrection is an experience, a life-changing encounter with the Risen Lord that shapes our lives, that changes the way we see each other and the world around us. Mary doesn’t say, “Christ is risen indeed!” She says, “I have seen the Lord!”
When I think of the moments I have most vividly encountered the Resurrected Christ it has often been in seeming darkness, in the moments just before Easter. It has often been when praying with someone after a difficult diagnosis, when sitting with someone experiencing the pain of a broken relationship, and at the bedside of someone who is dying. No one ever has the right words to say to someone facing death, but anyone who has experienced that moment will tell you there is a beauty in the room, a thinness to the moment, an assurance that God is about to make all things new.
Like that first Easter, resurrection begins in the dark. In the darkest moments, when life seems too hard or when the weight of this world seems too much to bear, when all seems lost, the Resurrected Christ breaks through.
Saying “we have seen the Lord” is not to say that pain has ceased or that the world has suddenly been made right. Saying “we have seen the Lord” is about proclaiming life when all seems lost. It is about proclaiming hope when faced with ruin, proclaiming resurrection when faced with death.
I invite you this Easter to think about the moments in your own life when you have experienced unexpected hope or when you have been extended love and mercy in the most undeserving way. Think about the times in your life when all has seemed like ruin and loss, only to find that something new was about to happen, that resurrection was about to bloom, and your life might change forever. And then consider the ways you might be the messengers of this hope for others. Because soon enough, you will encounter a coworker, a family member, a friend, or a neighbor who needs to know that you have seen the Lord. They will need to know that regardless of all the pain and all the suffering in this world, God loves them and that nothing can ever separate them from that Love.
May the joy of this Easter bring a new season of hope and gratitude in our lives and in the lives of those we meet on the way.
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Rector