Radical change. I can’t imagine change more radical, more unconventional, more transformative, than that of the human Jesus into the resurrected Christ the Lord. From a cruel, unimaginably tormented, inhumane death and borrowed grave into a new form, something previously unknown, so as to be unrecognizable at first to those who knew him best.
Easter is, for me, the season of radical change. The period of preparation leading up to Easter, the Lenten season, has become less about giving up chocolate or soda, or something else I get to reward myself with again after a period of sacrifice. Instead it has become a time of deeper, soulful, spiritual examination and the stripping away of attitudes and behaviors that are obstructive, that get in the way of a closer relationship with God. So Easter becomes more than just hope and possibility for new life, but actual, real opportunity to live radical change and transformation moment by moment, day by day, year by year.
Change is hard. Change is scary. How often have we clung on to something well past its expiration date—a childhood habit, a tattered sweatshirt, a failing relationship, an unsuitable job, a state of misery—because it’s comfortable, because it’s familiar, because we’ve always done it that way, because we are afraid of the unknown? History has proven that institutional fear is even harder to overcome. Slavery. Apartheid. Child labor. Glass ceilings for women in the workplace (and stained glass ceilings in the church). Recognizing our LGBTQ sisters and brothers as equal in the eyes of God, who is never the author of fear.
I imagine that for most of the disciples and followers of Jesus, the time immediately following his death was terrifying. A time of confusion and retreat. A time of fear that they would be next on the hit list. A time to lay low. They were not ready, not yet, to undergo the change, the transformation from disciple—one who is a student—to apostle—one who is sent to deliver.
Yet, among those who followed, who studied, who called Jesus “Rabbi,’ one person was there at the very end of his human life and at the very beginning of his transformation.
It is not by accident that Christ chose to first reveal himself to Mary Magdalene. It was Mary who, with the other women, stayed with Jesus through his final moments on the cross, and it was the two Marys who observed him being laid in the tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathaea. And it was Mary, again, who returned to the tomb after the Sabbath to anoint the body and saw the stone rolled away, beheld the angel, and was sent to tell the others that Christ had risen.
Was she at first afraid? Yes, she was, but she was able to rise above that fear, so that it was to the Magdalene alone to whom Christ himself first appeared in changed form, sending her to deliver this additional news. Mary Magdalene stood ready to receive change. Mary was open and ready to be sent as an agent, an apostle of delivery of the risen Christ.
The gospel tells us that, despite returning to the tomb and seeing the stone rolled away and the empty burial linens, Peter and the others were amazed, but returned home in fear and trembling. Yet when Mary came to them and told them she had been with the Lord and in his presence, they “believed her not.” When Christ finally appears to the original remaining eleven, while they are dining, he rebukes them for their failure to believe and hardness of heart towards Mary and the others who had seen and believed.
Throughout his ministry, and especially in the last week of his life, Jesus was a champion of radical change, challenging the attitudes, beliefs and social, political, economic and religious institutions of his time—often to the discomfort and confusion of his closest disciples. Yet still they followed. He did so with boldness and courage, placing himself in harm’s way, making the ultimate sacrifice of his life nailed to a barren tree in Golgotha. In doing so, he was transformed into a new being. He offers each of us that same transformation.
In our time of preparation for this holiest of weeks and holiest of days, we have made sacrifices, fasted and prayed. This Easter, let us be bold enough to walk forward cleansed of the things that separate us from God, radically changed and transformed.
–Tobyn Leigh, Deputy and Chair of the Deputation, Diocese of Quincy