In the days following Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and the other disciples get a huge surprise. Having seen Jesus placed in the tomb, they see only darkness ahead. All their hopes are dashed. All that remains is to see that Jesus’ body is looked after properly. The mourning begins, made all the harder because of the expectations they had about Jesus’ purpose here on earth.
But the tomb is empty. Is this another, unpleasant, development? The story takes another twist as the risen Jesus appears. Sometimes, those close to a person who has died still see that person in the days after a death, as they struggle to cope with what has happened. But the risen Jesus is no ghost or creation of a distressed imagination. He speaks and makes plans. He still has more to do before he departs.
At the end of today’s Gospel reading the disciples have learned that Mary has seen Jesus. We don’t know what they think about it. Perhaps they think that she has imagined it all. They may assume that extreme grief is causing her to have hallucinations. Struggling to come to terms with their own grief, Mary’s story might have been an unwelcome intrusion. On the other hand, they might have believed her straight away. After all, in John’s account, Peter had seen the empty tomb.
Whatever they thought, the surprise was going to get more surprising as the days moved on.
As we arrive at church on Easter morning, there are no surprises, we have heard this story many times before. We may have been to church on countless Easter Days and know the story well. We know what to expect of our Easter service as we say together: “Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia!” We hear the story as we always do. We “know” that the resurrection is a good thing. We know that it brings hope. But do we expect anything more than hope for a place in heaven when there might have been none?
We should expect the unexpected from a God who surprised the disciples by raising Christ from the dead. In the days between Easter and the ascension, the disciples didn’t know when Jesus might appear, or what he might say. He kept on surprising them. The events of Pentecost were even more astonishing. Think of the reaction on Twitter if it all happened today. The expectations for the effect on the world would be huge.
If we allow it and are prepared to look deeper, God will surprise us by working in our lives. The effect could be as huge for us as it was that first Easter. The resurrection is the beginning. If we want to be surprised we must look more closely at the stories, and look for the surprises as we go about our daily lives. If we become more attuned to what God is doing, and accept the unexpected turns in our paths, we will find ourselves moving forward in ways we never imagined or thought possible.
It can be tempting to live as pre-resurrection Christians, bound by time and place, with limited possibilities. But the resurrection changes everything and it can change us too if we let it. Can we look more closely and find the God who isn’t bound by our fixed interpretation of the same old stories? Do we have the courage to accept a life where God constantly surprises us? If we can, we may be able to say, with Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord.”