Easter is over. A lot of us have moved on with our lives. I happened to be on vacation for Easter, and instead of spending it with my refugee friends, I spent it in Uganda’s capital with American friends. In some ways it feels like I skipped Easter. The traditions were different enough and even my new habits and routines from Uganda were nowhere to be seen.
But in some ways, I didn’t skip Easter. My different situation and perspective helped me learn something new about it.
I spent Holy Week sleeping in a soft bed, using a fan, enjoying constant electricity and cool temperatures. I climbed hiking trails and clambered over boulders and looked out from a mountain ridge over a peaceful cape. I went skydiving and (after some of the loudest screaming I’ve ever done in my life), I was shocked into speechlessness as I gaped out over the land laid out beneath me—an inexpressible mural of ocean, beach, scrub, mountain, city, town, farmland. I was on vacation.
My Holy Week was spent in real sabbath rest from heat, from dry season, from conserving water and being on constant alert for the indicator light on the wall that means the electricity is on. It was sabbath rest that healed by body, mind, and soul, and filled me up to better serve. I worshipped on Easter Sunday in friends’ church. I was able to dance and sing and listen to the sermon with distance and disconnect from the people around me, my own island of worship and contemplation. But I also worshiped during the week in moments full of awe as I gazed out at beautiful landscapes, or as I cocooned myself in a soft bed with gratefulness overflowing into prayers.
I rested from my labors and gained a greater sense of resurrection.
Often my Easter celebrations have centered on the death of Jesus. The somber awareness of his gruesome death in my place has been a heavy presence. But this Easter I was able to focus on the resurrection—Jesus’ new life that came with the sunrise on the third day. He died that we may have life. But I have often forgotten the weight of his life. He lived that we may have life too. His new life is the firstfruits, the beginning evidence of the promise that we who follow can all partake. Because he lives, we live—abundantly. We can have fresh life, new life, rebirth, regeneration. He has conquered death and its power over us. His broken body moved with life again so that our wounds may be healed, so that our broken spirits may be made new, so that our hearts may be made whole.
The promise of Easter is new life amidst brokenness, pain, suffering, trauma, sin, and even death.
There is no better character in the Gospel’s Easter stories to illustrate this idea than Mary Magdalene.
And goodness, does that woman have a story to tell! One of the few women given a name in the Gospels, much of her story is still hidden from us. We know Jesus cast seven demons out of her. She had seen darkness, lived in it, been imprisoned and controlled by it. But our Lord set her free. She had a taste of his new life long before she saw it in full at the resurrection.
Who knows what she had seen or done. Who knows what fears haunted her dreams or what broken thoughts of her own insufficiency dogged her days. Her life before Christ would have reeked of death. Her life with the demons would have sapped her strength and left her feeling lifeless.
But we do know that she found peace in Jesus’ presence. She was with him often in the gospel accounts. Luke chapter 8 tells us that she and other women that Jesus had healed followed him and the disciples and provided for and supported the men out of their own time and their own pockets.
But precisely because Mary was no stranger to suffering and brokenness, we find her among the few faithful at the foot of the cross. John and four women were there. Mary was one of the last to see him alive, and she went to the tomb as soon as possible to care for his body. She was well acquainted with the pain of death and the comfort a friendly presence could be.
But what she found there, at that place of death, was a resurrection power to be reckoned with. Mary had seen the worst the world had to offer. She had endured trauma physical, mental, and spiritual. She watched her Lord tortured to death. She was the first at the tomb, and finding it empty, she ran to the men to tell them. She ran back with them as they came to see for themselves. They believed he had risen. But her grief was perhaps too deep, and her memories too strong of the power death held over her old life. After experiencing so much trauma, sometimes you grow to expect it. This was the way of the world. How could she have expected the best thing to have ever happened to her to last anyway?
Once, what feels like a lifetime ago, I played Mary Magdalene in my church’s Easter play. Maybe my teenage drama was a little too much for our tiny church production, but I remember putting myself in Mary’s shoes, under her head wrap, and it did something to me. I thought a lot about her emotions and about the devotion she had given to Jesus. Her whole life was wrapped up in his. And with his death she was broken beyond belief. I didn’t have to act for the tears to well up. I begged and pleaded with the gardener. I tripped at Jesus’ feet when he said my name and called His name out in a ragged voice in response. Mary must have felt dead until she witnessed that resurrection herself and was filled with hope.
In a tear-jerking interaction, Jesus appears to Mary at the climax of this story from the gospels. She cannot believe he is anyone but the gardener. Maybe she couldn’t see well through her tears. Maybe she couldn’t understand through her grief. Maybe her trauma was too heavy. But she begs this man just to tell her where the body is—she’ll move it herself if that’s what it takes to give him dignity in death like he gave her in life.
But then the truth shines on her like the sunrise and warms her soul in a flush of new life. She finally understands that this man is Jesus when he speaks her name. Have you even been loved so deeply by someone that just to hear them speak your name gives you new strength and reminds you of your value, of how much you matter to them? Jesus spoke her name. He recognized her life as a precious thing to him, and in speaking her name, he spoke life over her. And she wept at his feet.
The life-giver, the one who bore her heavy burden, the one who freed her from darkness, the one who had begun to heal her wounded life and heart—the Resurrection and the Life—he stood before her, with fresh wounds of his own. He chose to appear first to a woman desperately in need of new life.
Jesus appeared first to a woman. But not just any woman—one who understood what it meant to be broken and what an incredible gift resurrection would be.
The broken are the first to recognize the healer, and the dead are the first to recognize new life, so Jesus chose Mary to be his voice. Go and tell my brothers, he commissioned her. Some call her the first evangelist, or a preacher of the gospel. Whatever the case, she proudly announced to the men and the women, “I have seen the Lord.”
Mary was given the task only on person in history could have—to be the first to break the news of resurrection. To be that messenger, Jesus chose someone who knew the weight of suffering and trauma and so knew the miracle gift resurrection and life would be.
When I say I learned about resurrection this Easter, I mean that I came to Holy Week and to our remembrance of the cross weary and heavy-laden. I came bearing trauma that was not my own because of my friendship with refugees. But my soul did not leave this year’s Easter feeling the deadweight of the second-hand trauma I saw and heard about daily.
This Easter taught me about resurrection. It taught me about new life and the immeasurable value of resurrection. It taught me not to settle for anything less than the life-and-death difference I should seek from my new life in Christ. And true sabbath rest abounds in worship at the feet of the Lord of the Sabbath, who conquered death to give our souls rest and refreshment from the death that can seem to fill this not-yet-redeemed world. This Easter taught me that the broken, poor, marginalized people around me have a greater understanding of the joy new life can bring and the dignity it gives to even the lowliest, like Mary Magdalene.
So if you have been weary and heavy-laden…
Let these remembrances of Easter refresh you. Seek time to mourn the death and lifelessness that has crept into your new life with Christ, as Mary Magdalene did at the tomb. Mourn for it, and then listen for Jesus to call you by your name, to speak new life into you. Read these stories in the gospels for yourself, and remember the resurrection power that came that Easter sabbath day long ago when Jesus shook off the grave clothes and arose. He arose to bring new life in the midst of death. May you seek it, and find it for yourself.