What a strange and unsettling storm we are living through! Our lives have become a see-saw between physical isolation and online overload. We come to this year’s Easter festivities having been tested in unprecedented ways. What might we draw from that first Easter that can sustain and renew us? Let me offer you the name of Mary of Magdala.
The first to see the resurrected Jesus at Easter dawn was Mary. She was the first to see him; the first to recognise him; the first to be named by him; and the first to be sent by him. Mary rightly is the first apostle, the one called and sent to proclaim Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Yet, all of this happened quietly, and away from the public gaze that had marked the suffering and death of the world’s Saviour. Jesus did not return to his people in a blaze of publicity; but quietly, gently, personally – he called Mary by name.
It is worth honouring Mary Magdalene at this strange and disorienting Easter of 2020, when none of our customary ways of marking these Greatest of Days can occur. For in the tender meeting of Jesus with Mary we have a sure sign of how we might make our way through these days of suffering.
Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead so as to show the world something marvellous and clever. His rising instead showed that suffering and death would no longer have the last word. Rather, that first word spoken to Mary and then repeated through the generations is a name, bearing hope and life for each whose name is called. Easter is a word that re-created the world.
Christians have not been able to gather physically to participate in the Easter Ceremonies this year. Friends and family have not been free to socialise together. No shared leisure; no common activities; no sport. There are no public ways to mark this religious festival. Yet, that first word Jesus spoke at his resurrection – a name on the lips of God – he is now speaking into this storm that has engulfed us. Overwhelmed, disoriented and fearful as we might feel, a calm, clear and tender voice is calling our name.
It is not a voice to magically whisk us away to comfort and security, nor a voice that pretends there is no storm to ride through. It is, rather, the voice of the Risen One, who has known suffering and death, and has tamed their power to overwhelm us. He stands with each of us, so that we need not stand alone. He calls each of us, so that we have a sure compass point. He walks with each of us to show the way through.
Death does not have the last word any longer, even though it’s threat remains. Our lives – held in the heart of God and carried through death to life by his Son – have not been forgotten. We are remembered by God; he calls each of us by name.
And as Jesus is calling us, he is also sending us to speak words of care, support and comfort into the lives of those around us, and into our #HomeChurch. He is the voice that speaks through those we are close to at this time – our children we are caring for, our leaders protecting the people, our healthcare workers serving in danger, our spouses and loved ones.
As we remember this Easter that the first word of the risen Jesus was the name ‘Mary’, may we hear our own names echo in that call. Let us hold onto this anchor in the storm we are currently living through. To borrow a colloquial phrase, Christ has our back, and we will be OK with him.