If Good Friday was the worst day in the disciples’ lives, imagine what the next couple of days must have felt like.
With the trauma of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion still raw in their minds, they also had to begin contemplating a future without this rabbi whom they had followed for so long. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary Magdalene and the other women as they went out to anoint Jesus’ corpse. Think about the others, holed up in the upper room, fearing for their lives and wondering if they could ever go back to their former lives. Imagine the sense of dread and loss that enveloped Cleopas and his companion as they walked toward Emmaus.
But everything changed when Jesus fulfilled his promise to rise from the dead. Mary Magdalene was thrilled when Jesus called her by name. The apostles were overjoyed when Jesus joined them behind locked doors. They still had to deal with the danger and the threats to their lives, but now they could face it all with a new kind of faith—with resurrection faith.
Jesus desires to fill us with resurrection faith. We want to explore the kind of faith that tells us that no matter how difficult our circumstances may be, we can still believe that Jesus is God, that he rose from the dead, and that he is with us every step of the way. Let’s ask Jesus to strengthen our faith as we examine Mary’s encounter with the Risen Lord.
Faith and Love. Jesus had repeatedly said that he would not only die but also rise from the dead on the third day. But despite having heard these promises, Mary arrived at the burial site to anoint a dead body, not to greet a risen Lord. When she saw the empty tomb, Mary had the opportunity to remember Jesus’ words and believe. But she didn’t. Instead, she ran back to the others and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” (John 20:2).
Mary could have said, “I believe.” She could have said, “Maybe Jesus really has risen.” But as far as she was concerned, Jesus was still dead. The empty tomb was the only evidence she considered—not Jesus’ promises or the hundreds of miracles he had performed. The empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, her years of seeing Jesus do the impossible—all of these could have been enough to prompt her to believe. But she just couldn’t get there.
But while Mary’s faith may have been shaken, her love for Jesus remained. Look at her tears, her heartbreak at Jesus’ death, and her persistence in seeking him out. These are not the actions of an indifferent person. Mary may not have understood Jesus’ promises perfectly, but she never abandoned him! In fact, we can go so far as to say that Mary’s love carried her faith. It supported her. It gave her the strength to keep seeking him out and not give up on him.
This is one of the most important messages Mary’s story contains for us. As it did for Mary, so can our love for Jesus carry us through those times when our faith is challenged. No matter what questions may surface in our minds, we can always fall back on the ways we have sensed Jesus’ love in the past—and the way that love has melted our hearts.
I Am Always with You. Most of us can understand how broken-hearted Mary must have felt. We have all had times when some tragedy or hardship has knocked us off our foundation of faith: a divorce, a serious illness, the loss of a job, a child leaving the Church. Situations like these can cause us to resent God, to wonder why he would put us through such trials, or even to ask if there is a God at all.
Despite how difficult these situations may be, Jesus asks for a response that is kneaded with faith. He wants us to consider not only the evidence right before our eyes—the evidence that may move us to lose faith—but also the “invisible” evidence of his love, his promises, and his grace. Especially in our most challenging situations, Jesus asks us to trust him. He asks us to trust in his love for our family. He asks us to trust that he has a plan for our lives—even if all we can see right now is the trial right before us. He asks us to believe that he is with us—even if we feel all alone.
If, like Mary, we try to deal with the challenges of life on their terms alone, we will likely find our faith being dragged down. We will know only doubt and anger and fear. We will end up at the mercy of the situation before us, with no confidence that we can move through it peacefully.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Was Jesus giving his followers a promise they could always rely on? Or was he just saying something nice to comfort them? Is this promise an empty saying, or is it something that we can believe in even when all the evidence seems to tell us we are alone? Jesus wants us to use promises like these to help us through even the most difficult and demanding challenges of life.
Cling to the Risen Lord. When Jesus called Mary by name, she was so excited that she rushed to embrace him. But Jesus cautioned her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). Mary was trying to embrace Jesus as her friend, as her beloved rabbi from Nazareth, who had healed her and loved her unconditionally. But the time had come for Mary to cling to him not only as her friend but also as the risen Lord of all creation. Mary’s faith was based on a Jesus she could see and touch and hear, but now it had to move to a Jesus who would speak to her inwardly, through his Holy Spirit.
Jesus wasn’t rejecting Mary. He was trying to raise her faith to a new level. He wanted her to know that even though he was leaving, he would still be with her. He would be in her heart, speaking words of love and wisdom and guidance to her. He would be with her through her brothers and sisters. He would be with her through the Eucharist. But now her faith had to be based on a Jesus whom she believed in but couldn’t see—a Jesus whom she loved as always, but whom she would now experience through trust, belief, and hope. It was time for Mary to start walking by faith, not by sight.
Mary’s calling is our calling as well. And how comforting to know that even she had to learn this new way of faith! How comforting to know that Mary Magdalene, Peter, and all the apostles are walking with us as we learn how to live by faith and not by sight. And even more comforting is the knowledge that Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, is ready to pour his grace on all people everywhere—including us! He isn’t just a wise rabbi from the first century. He is the eternal God. Nothing can limit him. Nothing can keep him from us.
So let’s all cling to Jesus as the risen Lord. Let’s believe in him and trust him and love him as the Eternal One who will never fail in his promises. He is always near to those who seek him—near to them through faith and through the unseen presence of the Holy Spirit.
Mary’s Advice. On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene received resurrection faith. If she were here, she might urge us to hold on to our love for Jesus even if we feel we have lost our faith. She might also tell us how vital it is that we try our best to recall the Lord’s promises each day. So let’s take Mary’s advice. Let’s turn to Jesus in prayer right now and tell him that we want to trust in him, no matter what comes our way.