Mary weeps as she comes to the tomb that first Easter morning. She weeps because her dearest friend is dead. When her friend comes up behind her she turns around and sees him, but she doesn’t really see him. Do you know what I mean?
Mary thought Jesus was the gardener.
She implores him, “Sir, if you have taken him away tell me where you have laid him …”
She sees him but she doesn’t see him.
Author Philip Yancey, tells of some history he learned while visiting the tip of Argentina, the region named Tierra del Fuego or “land of fire,” discovered by Magellan’s sailors in 1528.
“They noticed fires burning on the shore,” he wrote. “The natives tending the fires, however, paid no attention to the great ships as they sailed through the straits. Later they explained that they had considered the ships an apparition, so different were they from anything seen before. They lacked the experience, even the imagination, to decode evidence passing right before their eyes.”
Yancey asks, “What are we missing? What do we not see?”
What Mary could not see was her closest friend standing right in front of her. Her mind could not comprehend that Jesus was alive when she knew he was dead. She had seen him die. She had watched them take his body down from the cross. Jesus had told her and the others that he would rise again. It didn’t sink in. Who could believe it? It wasn’t possible.
Mary’s mind could not register that Jesus was alive until she heard him speak her name – “Mary.” What would it be like to hear your name spoken by someone you knew to be dead? Through the fog of sorrow and the drowning darkness of death, Mary heard her beloved teacher speak her name.
What can we not see? What is it that God is doing right in front of us that we cannot or will not see, that our cultural assumptions and our basic understanding of reality in this age of science does not allow us to see?
Fredrick Buechner writes, “We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some subtle turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what saints are blinded by. Only then, unlike the saints, we go on as if nothing has happened.”
When Jesus appeared to Mary at the tomb her whole world was shaken – and it has been shaking for all of us ever since. It was like one of those dreams where something startling occurs and you wake up shaking. In one shocking moment of recognition Mary knew Jesus was alive. It would take years for her, and the church, to assimilate that new reality. In fact Christians are still debating what it all means. Was Jesus’ corpse resuscitated?
The disciples were terrified when Jesus suddenly appeared among them, seemingly out of nowhere.
Jesus reassured them, saying, “Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
He asked them for something to eat. Yet they testified that he passed through walls. Was Jesus somehow able to rearrange the molecules of his resurrected body?
The doubtful Corinthian Christians asked, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
Paul wrote, “There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing and the glory of the earthly is another.”
What exactly does that mean? If it happened then, why doesn’t it happen now?
It does. Many have reported meeting Jesus in his heavenly body.
Donald Prom, Wisconsin’s longest-surviving heart-transplant recipient until his death at the age of 70 in December 2000, described a healing vision that occurred after a failed heart-bypass operation. His doctors told him he would die within a year, but something kept him alive.
His wife, Marie Prom, mother of the couple’s nine children, said, “He told me that he had an out-of-body experience … he went through a tunnel of light and saw Christ. Christ said, ‘You must go back to your family.’”
Thanks to a heart transplant seven years later, Prom stayed alive almost two more decades; he lived to see 23 more grandchildren.
The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. It’s a paradigm shift, a new way of understanding the world. Suddenly there’s another dimension of reality to consider. I can’t explain it. Nobody really can. Something happened all those years ago that changed the disciples forever – and is still changing us today.
My late father came to me in a dream one night – one of those dreams that is more real than real. He appeared as his younger self, like I knew him when he was in his late 30s, only better than he had ever looked in life. He was glowing. It felt so good to see him, to be with him again. He didn’t say anything. I just looked at him and he looked at me. I can still feel him with me.
John Sumwalt is a retired pastor and the son of dairy farmers. He is the author of “Shining Moments: Visions of the Holy in Ordinary Lives.” Email email@example.com to reach him.