In the accounts of the Resurrection, the friends of Jesus are often slow to recognize his presence. Mary Magdalene, for example, initially thinks he is a gardener as she sits near the tomb, mourning. Only when Jesus calls her by name does she recognize him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus dismiss Jesus as someone who is ignorant of the Crucifixion and the loss that weighs heavily on their hearts. Only later do they recognize him in the breaking of the bread and the opening of the Scriptures.
Today, we might also wonder where we can find Christ in our midst. The stories of the first appearances of the risen Savior suggest that finding Jesus requires attentiveness and patience. Moreover, by persisting in our longing for God, we are more likely to encounter the risen Christ. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus because she had a deep and holy longing for him. She stayed present to her desires. Instead of abandoning her unfulfilled hopes and desires, Mary remained faithful to her desire to be close to the Lord.
The appearance of Christ must have felt sudden to Mary, a reversal of her beliefs about his death. The meaning of this appearance, however, only became clear over time. At first, Jesus looked to Mary Magdalene only like a gardener, until spoke her name. Mary responded with her own act of recognition, but then he instructed her not to hold onto him - as she naturally would have wanted to do. Instead, she is told to go and share the Good News. She becomes the “Apostle to the Apostles” as a result of her encounter with the living Christ. This encounter changes her place in the world as she moves from grief to recognition to a sense of her own participation in God’s mission in the world.
For us, the meaning of the Resurrection is not as simple as just seeing the risen Christ “all at once." We can too easily fall into the belief that we find God in only one place - an encounter that may be familiar to us. Perhaps this is a certain kind of experience, like spending time in nature, or raising one’s children, or a particular relationship that seems like “the” place where Christ is. But over time, as our relationship with God deepens, our sense of His presence in the world becomes wider. We can recognize God in other people or places, or experience the same people and places in new ways. Mary had to let go of knowing and loving Jesus in one way, in order to know and love him in another. Indeed, she had to discover a new identity about herself as an evangelist in order to relate to Jesus anew in the Resurrection.
What are the deepest longings of your heart? What signs of God’s presence might be a first glimpse of the Risen Christ? In what new experiences might you discover the Resurrection?
[This reflection was adapted from resources written by Marina McCoy at Ignatian Spirituality, a ministry of Loyola Press]