In contrast to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary, which was a traumatic experience to Mary His mother, Mary of Magdala and the apostles, His resurrection was unsensational and undramatic. On Easter morning, Mary of Magdala finds the tomb empty. On her reporting this to Peter and John, they peer into the tomb and see only the cloth that wrapped the dead body of Jesus, rolled up in a corner.
John, we are told, suspected that Jesus had risen from the dead, as he had predicted several times. Mary of Magdala continued to search for Him, weeping: her persevering search is typical of feminine single-mindedness. Her life had been transformed by Jesus' compassion-from being a notorious prostitute to a convinced follower of the Master.
An angel sitting by the tomb is reported to have asked her: "Why search for the living among the dead?" In her puzzlement she tells someone who she thought to be the gardener: "If you have taken him away, tell me and I will take him away myself." It was when the 'gardener' pronounced her name "Mary" that she recognized Him and exclaimed in uncontrollable joy, "Rabboni" (Master).
In the film, "Jesus Christ Superstar" Mary of Magdala sings a song, "I don't know how to love him". In Jesus, for the first time, she had encountered a man she couldn't love carnally as she had 'loved' other men as a prostitute. Herein, precisely, was her conversion from prostitute to saint.
A momentary apprehension
There is a significance in Jesus first appearing to a woman who was once a sinner. Now turned faithful disciple, she is sent to announce His resurrection to still frightened and timid apostles among whom there'd be at least one sceptic, a doubter, Thomas, not to speak of Peter the denier who had at least been persuaded by John to follow at a distance, " to see what would happen" after Jesus' arrest at Gethsemane. Thomas would want to probe the wound marks on Jesus' body to ensure He was real flesh and blood and not an apparition. Jesus would be uniquely indulgent, realizing their predicaments.
Jesus had shown His predilection for repenting sinners all throughout His mission among people. He had been accused by the Pharisees, scribes and priests of eating and drinking with sinners and tax-collectors. Jesus once told them that tax-collectors and prostitutes would get to heaven before them. So there was something coherent in His promising instant paradise to the thief (and probably murderer) crucified beside Him who asked to be remembered when Jesus entered into His kingdom.
He had come to call sinners to repentance, He would be a physician to the sick in soul, He would prefer mercy to sacrifice and disconcert the self-righteous and those who thought themselves superior to others. He would be a constant challenge to those who were over-confident of their goodness. He would clarify his convictions with parables of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the lost one, the housewife who would turn the house upside down in search of a lost coin and climax it all with the unforgettable parable of the Prodigal Son, where the father welcomes the son who left home, with symbols of rehabilitation: robe, ring and sandals; and kills the fatted calf to celebrate the occasion.
To the eldest son it is all irrational.
The mission of Jesus always went beyond the limits of human justice and reason. He revealed a father whose love could never be measured by human standards. It would be characterized by unreserved forgiveness and unconditional love.
Lessons for Church and State
Today's church and state has much to learn from God's sympathy for the oppressed. Jesus argued for the support of parents in their old age, which some Jews, justified by Pharisaic interpretation, tried to evade by contributing that money to the temple treasury. It is somewhat like today's wealthy people who deny just wages to their employees and act unjustly in their business dealings, while making impressive donations to party funds or church causes to make their names known and enhance their social prestige.
Jesus showed up people's hypocrisy, but without showing hatred or resentment. When the Jewish elders threw at His feet a woman "caught in the very act of adultery," saying she must be stoned according to Mosaic law, He calmly waited and threw the unexpected bombshell: "Anyone without sin can throw the first stone." They all quietly dispersed surprised at the acuteness of His mind, His unexpected compassion and defence of a lone woman, in sheer embarrassment.
He had the courage to break taboos by speaking with a Samaritan woman asking her for water to quench His thirst and broke down distinctions by saying that the time is coming when they wouldn't worship in this temple or the other but that true worship would rather be in "spirit and in truth". (The Jews worshipped in Jerusalem and had nothing to do with the Samaritans who worshipped in Sychar or Secchem). Eventually He converted the Samaritan prostitute who had had five 'husbands' and sent her into the village to announce His coming.
No sense of revenge
A nation can rise from division and suspicion to unity and trust and from agony to resurrection only if all sections of the polity refrain from hatred, retaliation and revenge. We have put an end to several years of war, violence and destruction. But if the opportunity to win the peace is lost, we are in for several more years of stagnation and lost opportunities for nation building.
If politics and alliances characterize elections, both victor and vanquished must refrain from mutual mud-slinging, petty accusations and especially the spirit of revenge which runs contrary to the essence of all religions.
When Jesus rose from death without fanfare, blinding light or bursting forth triumphantly from the tomb, He didn't come forth and show Himself to threaten those who opposed or condemned Him. That's precisely why His resurrection was a spiritual climax. He didn't even appear in His risen glory to those who had crucified Him: He showed Himself only to those who were His close associates and hoped in Him, to strengthen their faith.
He had won His spiritual power over the people by rejecting in the wilderness temptations, to abuse His power and use it to satisfy Himself, to indulge in sensationalism and draw attention to Himself and to enjoy the luxuries of the world. Once and for all, He proved himself to be the Holy One of God, the Beloved Son and our Saviour. He had been tested and found worthy with spiritual power to transform and save the world.
Perhaps there would be less sceptics and atheists suspicious of religious persons, if religion presented a greater authenticity and relevance. There are few agnostics so prejudiced that they wouldn't acknowledge an authentic Christ presented by His followers. Mahatma Gandhi was greatly inspired by the person and teachings of Jesus, although, as he said, he was put off by His followers. Lenin is supposed to have said that if there had been ten Francises of Assisi, the Russian revolution would have been more successful or not needed at all! The resurrection of the authentic Jesus, Christ the Son of God and lover of the weak, the poor and the searching, people of diverse faith would find hope and light. We have often presented to the world a distorted Christ twisted to suit ourselves, our own comfort and convenience. Our challenging task is to present to our times, a Christ who would be the hope of the searching and the despairing.
Our society bristling with modern conveniences, technological advances and up-to-date conveniences like T.V., mobile phones and internet still yearns for a peace and fulfillment which none of these can give. Technological progress can multiply comforts, but cannot give the peace that lasts. Religion is meant to supply that deficiency, but the way it is proclaimed and practised creates obstacles and new problems. Rules and guidelines are only a framework, means to an end, not ends in themselves. Anything in Christianity that does not help to reveal the authentic Christ is of little use to a still searching world.
All religions are challenged to become the hope that wells up in every human heart. If it is indeed the authentic Christ whose resurrection we proclaim and celebrate, then more persons will benefit from this unique truth. It is Jesus who said: " I give you peace, not as the world gives." His greeting to the apostles when He first appeared to them in His risen glory was, "Peace be to you."