In the Resurrection accounts, Jesus’ friends often need time in order to recognize him. Mary Magdalene initially thinks he is the gardener as she sits near the tomb, mourning. Did she not recognize Jesus because she assumed he was dead, and his Resurrection did not fit into her expectations? Only when he calls her by name does she recognize him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus initially dismiss Jesus as someone who is ignorant of the Crucifixion and all that weighs heavily on their hearts. Only later do they recognize him in the breaking of the bread, the opening of Scripture, and a sense of consolation.
Today we might also wonder where we can find the Resurrected Christ in our midst. The stories of Jesus’ first appearances suggest that finding the Resurrected Christ requires attentiveness and patience. Moreover, by staying with our longing, we are more likely to encounter the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus because she had a deep and holy longing for him. She stayed present to her desires. Instead of walking away from her unfulfilled hopes and desires, the way the men on the road to Emmaus were walking away from Jerusalem, Mary remained faithful to her desire to be close to the Lord.
In a way, Jesus’ appearance must have felt sudden to Mary, a complete turning around of her beliefs about his Death. Yet in another way, Jesus’ appearance and what it means to her unfolded over time. At first, he only looked like the gardener, until spoke her name. Mary responded with her own act of recognition, but then he instructed her not to hold onto him—as she naturally would have wanted to do. Instead, she is told to go and share the Good News. She becomes the “Apostle to the Apostles” as a result of her encounter with the living Christ. The encounter fundamentally changes her place in the world as she moves from grief to recognition to a sense of her own place in participating in God’s mission in the wider world.
For us, too, the meaning of the Resurrection is not as simple as just seeing “all at once.” For example, we can easily fall into the belief that we can find God in only one place—one that is familiar to us. Perhaps a particular kind of experience, like spending time in nature, or mothering one’s children, or a particular relationship or vocational call seems like “the” place where Christ is. But over time, our sense of God’s presence in the world becomes wider, and we can recognize God in other people and places, or experience the same old people and places in new ways. Mary had to let go of knowing and loving Jesus in one way, in order to know and love him in another. Indeed, she had to discover a new identity about herself as an evangelist in order to relate to Jesus anew in the Resurrection.
What are the deepest longings of your heart? What signs of God’s presence might be a first glimpse of the Resurrected Christ? In what new experiences might the Resurrected Christ be discovered?
Image: Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.