The resurrection cab be a confusing story and apparently was equally confusing for those who were present at the time. Mary Magdalene, whose life had been transformed by Jesus, came to the tomb early in the morning. Despite what Jesus may have said about rising from the dead, it is clear that Mary had come to see the dead. She believed that death was final including Jesus’ death. When she saw the empty tomb, she assumed that someone had stolen the body. What other explanation could there be?
She reported this bad news to two of Jesus’ closest disciples, and they ran to the tomb. Peter saw the empty tomb, but the story continues to be confusing. “Then the other disciple … also went in and he saw and believed; but what did he believe for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
So what was it that the disciple believed? Maybe just that Jesus’ body was missing?There seemed to be some sort of misunderstanding. What was their response to this earth-shattering event? “Strangely, even though it says they believed, the disciples returned to their homes.” It was Mary who stayed around but she too didn’t understand.
Because Mary believed that death was final, she did not recognize Jesus when she saw him. Even being spoken to by two angels did not change her understanding of death. Even when she spoke with Jesus face to face she thought he was the gardener. It was only when Jesus addressed her personally that her mind was opened to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. When she believed, she was able to see. Seeing wasn’t believing. Believing was seeing. And that is an important distinction – it’s what we call “faith”. Believing without seeing – as the book of Hebrews says: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Sometimes, like Mary we too fail to see Jesus in our lives because we fail to believe he is with us when we look at the terrible things happening in the world. When we see the terrorist threats, the threats of war or anything that threatens our lives or livelihood, we forget that Jesus has promised to be with us and so we fail to see him in our lives even though he is standing right there beside us. Believing that Jesus is by our side enables us to see him during those times.
Seeing comes from believing. But if we let the threats around us be what we see then, like Mary, we can sometimes not see Jesus there.
I was thinking about this a couple weeks ago when we had that huge downpour on the Saturday afternoon. I was at the football and I could see the dark clouds gathering. I looked at my phone and the weather radar and could see that the huge storm was heading my way. I saw the crowds starting to rush to get under cover as they too could see the dark clouds. The difference for me was that I had bought a seat under cover. It could rain and storm all it liked because I knew that it wouldn’t affect me. If I just looked at the clouds or the weather radar I would panic. But as I looked at the cover above my head I didn’t have to worry. Jesus is the same.
As we look at Jesus, even though the threats are all around us we know that the extent of what they can do to us is limited. At worst they can take away our lives but Jesus’ death and resurrection has secured our eternal life in heaven which cannot be taken away from us. That’s the good news that comes from Easter Sunday. As St Paul says in Romans chapter 8: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39).
Likewise, Paul says again about focusing on the wrong things, like Mary who was focusing on Jesus’ death and missing body: Paul says: Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)
Like Peter who took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves and began to sink, we need to keep looking at Jesus and believe what he has said: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20)
The resurrection means that Jesus is always with us but because of our human nature we sometimes become like Doubting Thomas and refuse to believe unless we see. But Jesus reminds Thomas there that blessed are those who believe without seeing. So even though you may not see Jesus in those times when the dark clouds are hovering, may you continue to believe that he is there with you. Seeing is not always believing – but believing is always seeing.
Christ is risen – he has risen indeed.
Let us go in the peace of the Lord.