Mary went to the disciples with the news, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18)
We’re told that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). And yet we know – perhaps from our own painful experiences – that the brokenhearted often struggle to sense or believe that God is close.
A little over a month ago churches all over the country remembered, proclaimed, and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Whether in person or on-line, congregations gathered to hear a story that many of them have heard before. They all heard one basic message, the only message there is on Easter morning: Jesus is alive.
We’re not simply asserting that he walked out of the tomb back then. We’re saying that he is alive right now. That’s the Easter message.
But that was five weeks ago. I can’t help but wonder, however, how many people heard the message and sang the songs on Sunday but find the truth of that message hard to live in today. For many, the presence of the risen Christ is eclipsed by some form of heartache or grief or despair.
Rushing to Conclusions
In the biblical Easter story, we see this reality at work in the experience of Mary Magdalene. In John’s account of the resurrection, Mary makes her way to the tomb early in the morning while it is still dark. She sees the stone rolled away and immediately leaves the scene to report this to the disciples. John then turns his attention to the footrace between himself (unnamed) and Peter – but once they’ve investigated the empty tomb they return to their homes (John 20:10).
Mary lingers there. She stands at the empty tomb weeping. That’s when Jesus shows up.
Jesus still does that. He shows up and stands with us in the middle of whatever heartache we’re dealing with. And like Mary, we are often unaware. The moment is interesting in that Mary sees Jesus, she speaks to him, but fails to recognize him. She doesn’t grasp the connection between the empty tomb in front of her and the person speaking behind her. That’s a connection that many of us fail to make, our vision clouded by our tears.
Don’t miss this: Mary Magdalene did not arrive at the truth of the resurrection by evaluating evidence and arriving at the best obvious conclusion. In fact, her assessment of the evidence she saw led her to an entirely erroneous conclusion. Mary came to know the truth of the resurrection and the presence of the living Jesus when he spoke her name.
Jesus spoke her name, and she saw him for who he was. That was the moment of recognition. Nothing flashy. Nothing weird. Jesus revealed himself in a way that was simple and personal. He spoke Mary’s name.
I offer this to you today as a reminder. There’s no formula that we can implement to hear Jesus speak our name – but we are confident of these truths.
First, Psalm 34:18 is true. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. If that happens to be you today, for whatever reason or whatever circumstance, lean in hard on this promise.
Second, don’t rush to faulty conclusions about God or God’s love for you based on what you feel right now or what you’re living through right now. We don’t see well through our tears. We miss the living Christ who stands near us.
Finally, let’s ask for the grace to live as resurrection people. For Mary that meant a newfound joy and courage as she rushed back to announce to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” That’s the testimony of resurrection people. We have good news to share. And this good news changes us – not because it shields us from any and all future heartaches and disappointments in this life, but because it allows to say with the apostle Paul, “we are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”
What difference has the truth of the resurrection made in your life? What might be making it hard for you to see the living Christ?
We praise you, O God, for the presence of the living Christ standing close, actively at work by the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to see this, even in our heartaches and disappointments. Speak our name and give us ears to hear, empowering us to live as resurrection people, we ask in the name of the risen Jesus. Amen.
Mark H. Crumpler