As light can extend far beyond both ends of the visible spectrum, so mental and spiritual activity can extend beyond normal consciousness. Only with special aids can our vision be extended beyond the visible colors of the rainbow. LIkewise, it is only with special means that the boundaries of consciousness are extended—means such as prayer and the word of God as recorded in the scriptures. Thanks to these aids we are able to approach the problems of the meaning of life and the experience of death with a firm sense of reality and a philosophy that can sustain in each of us our highest spiritual aspirations. As Paul tells the members of the church at Corinth in his second letter: “…18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
So we believe not only what is seen but also what is unseen. And what is unseen, as Paul tells us, is probably what is most important to our spiritual well-being and salvation. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of many witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, a group in which he himself was not included. However, John’s Gospel tells us what the first Easter morning was like, firsthand, for three people: Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John. All four Gospels speak of Mary Magdalene being an eyewitness of the empty tomb. That story is expanded in John’s Gospel. Mary returns to tell Peter and John, scared and dismayed from finding an empty tomb. They run and find it empty, too, also believing.
Mary, weeping, is distressed that the body of Jesus has been moved. We then have the touching story, unique to John, of Mary meeting Jesus and thinking He is the gardener who perhaps has moved the body. Mary does not recognize Jesus. This perhaps is not surprising as her eyes may simply have been blinded by tears. But more likely is that she was focused on the grave and not anticipating the Resurrection. However, Jesus only has to say, “Mary,” for her to know immediately who he really is. Now she sees him through the eyes of faith. Mary most likely hugged Jesus at this moment, as Jesus tells her that she must let go of him. John might say through this that the old bond of disciple, and Jesus has now changed, but certainly he is telling us that Jesus’ task is not yet complete. He is yet to ascend to the Father. So Mary, a woman and the first witness to the Resurrection, goes and tells the disciples her story: “I have seen the Lord!”
The story of Mary's encounter with the risen Christ is a warm and beautiful and touching one. The sudden recognition of her Lord in the garden gives her new hope for new life—for a new beginning. That first Easter causes the followers of Jesus to rethink all their commonly held ideas about life. New hope and new beginnings are the results of Christ's resurrection. The empty tomb is but one image and symbol—powerful though it may be. More important than the empty tomb is the presence of their Lord in their lives—the way He touches them and stirs their memories.
Like Jesus' disciples, we ourselves have been tired and weary and gloomy. We ourselves have endured a very long and harsh winter with many losses and hardships. Jesus' disciples have endured a very traumatic week since their Messiah’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Mary Magdalene is weary and bewildered when Jesus speaks to her—and by speaking to her, He turns her whole day around. By the way, Jesus does this also with us when we turn to Him. He can turn our day around; He can even turn our whole life around.
This is what happens to the disciples: their dream of Jesus being with them in a physical way has evolved and changed. They have found more power in the inner, spiritual presence of Jesus in their lives. We may find ourselves experiencing this inner presence of the Lord in a similar way. When we turn to the Lord in prayer, we thereby enter a different spiritual state, with different spiritual possibilities. Our Lord is constantly ready and waiting in the garden of our life, where new life begins. He desires to give us the wisdom, the affection, and the power to make new starts in our spiritual growth, and new beginnings in our everyday lives—as long as we are willing to accept the existence of all things—seen and unseen.
NOTE: The painting depicted here is "Resurrection" by El Greco (date is disputed, but would be from late 16th century).