But, we are not a Lenten people. As Christians, we are an Easter people. We believe that no matter how hard we try, there is nothing we can do to merit salvation. We can never be “good enough” to deserve eternal life with God. We will always be limited, finite, and will miss the mark no matter how hard we try. As Easter people, however, none of that matters! With Jesus’ death and resurrection, we know that we have new life. We know there is life beyond sin, life even beyond death. Jesus was resurrected and one day we will join him.
But Jesus’ death and resurrection is difficult to understand. No wonder they call it the Paschal Mystery! We have many more questions than answers about the resurrection. We know that Jesus died on a cross and rose three days later. But, what was his resurrection like? How was his resurrected self the same and yet different from before? Why did he only appear to the believers? Why did he ascend to heaven and stop appearing to his followers? How can we be living in the fulfillment of time when the world seems just as hopeless and evil as it has always been?
How do we move past Lent to more fully embrace the mystery of Easter? One example comes from Mary Magdalene. The gospel of John tells us that three days after she witnessed Jesus dying on the cross, she arrived to find his empty tomb. How overwhelming her grief must have been! It was so intense that she does not recognize the resurrected Christ who stands before her, confusing him instead for the gardener.
How does Mary move from Lent to Easter? The Gospel tells us it was not by her own effort. Instead, Jesus reaches out to her by asking why she is weeping. This doesn’t work initially; Mary’s grief to is so strong that she does not realize who comforts her. So, Jesus tries again, reaching out to her in love and calling her by name. This is when Mary begins to be an Easter person, after she hears her own name spoken by God in love. How beautiful!
Interestingly, though, even after recognizing Christ risen, Mary does not fully comprehend the paschal mystery. Unlike you and me, she has seen everything with her own eyes. Yet, Jesus must tell her to stop holding onto him. It will take some time for her to appreciate that things are not going to be like they used to be. Those things have passed away. They have ended and will be no more. Though Mary Magdalene doesn’t realize it yet, something better has begun, for Mary and for us.
If Mary Magdalene and the disciples can struggle to comprehend the resurrection, so much more so for us. It’s relatively easy to know ourselves as limited, as fallible, even as sinful. We can grasp Lent. Easter, on the other hand, is mystery that we can never fully grasp. We can only respond to Jesus as we hear him call our name in love. We can only let resurrection unfold within us as we live our lives. We can only respond to Jesus’ ongoing invitation for us to stop holding onto our views of sin and death and to join him instead in life. Luckily for us, Jesus too calls us by name and does this with complete tenderness and love.
DeNeve is Spirituality and Evangelization director for the Diocese of Green Bay.