When Mary Magdalene arrived at Jesus' tomb and found it empty, she was catapulted deeper into an already existing state of crisis. A lot of unexpected things had already happened in a short window of time and, like every human being, she longed for a return to normalcy.
You and I know that feeling, too, especially now. A once-in-a century global pandemic seemed like an abstract idea only a few months ago. When it happened, it brought to the surface an awareness of our humanness, vulnerability, and mortality. We can be easily blinded to such realities when life seems to be going well. I think of that scene in "Titanic" when Leonardo DiCaprio's character stands at the bow of the ship and says, "I am king of the world." The moment, both iconic and ironic, is a profound window into the human soul.
The Easter stories, interestingly, are not about a return to normalcy. God does not seem much interested in the resumption of business as usual.
The risen Christ appears, and we witness moments of conversion and corresponding joy, together with moments of fear, terror, doubt and disbelief. The risen Christ advises Mary Magdalene "not to hang on to [him]," because what's happening is greater than a single moment; it's part of God's larger plan of salvation unfolding.
The risen Christ's imperative to those he encounters is, "Go tell others about this news." What is happening is larger than individual sets of circumstances. What God is accomplishing cannot be contained. Encountering the risen Christ never results in, "okay, the problem is fixed; everything is fine; now, everyone, continue on with what you were doing."
Rather, the risen Christ comes to us amid varying sets of circumstances and our lives are changed and radically reoriented, such that we can never see the world in the same way. Saul, on the road to Damascus, encounters the risen Christ and experiences a stunning conversion that shakes up his life forever. Renamed "Paul," he goes from persecuting Christians to helping spread the good news of our Lord far and wide.
To be clear, I do not believe that God causes human suffering, and I believe that God grieves whenever any of us experience it -- whether we live in first century Palestine, twenty-first century North America, or otherwise. I also believe that God's nature is always to come to us where we are, especially in moments of crisis.
One of the gifts of the ancient Israelites was their ability to share about their moments of crises, and how, often retrospectively, they became aware of God's profound nearness in such moments. I wonder if one day, people will hear similar insights from *our* stories about this jolting, abrupt, interruption in our lives: how suddenly we found ourselves wandering in the wilderness; how we heard reports of someone arriving at church on Easter morning only to find it cold, dark, and empty; how, strangely, amid all of this we came to recognize that God was profoundly near and doing far greater things than we could have ever asked for or imagined.