Encountering the Risen Jesus

“I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

These were the words of Mary Magdalene to Jesus’ disciples after she encountered the risen Jesus outside the tomb where he had been placed two days earlier.  At first she did not recognize Jesus, thinking him to be the gardener.  Not until he said her name, “Mary,” did she realize it was Jesus.

She cried out “Teacher!” and apparently tried to hug him, for he said, “’Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

As we read these verses from John’s gospel, it is easy to gloss over how surprising and shocking this encounter had to be for Mary Magdalene.  She had no doubt witnessed the crowd shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him.”   She may have seen the Roman soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.  John’s Gospel reports that she was present at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as they watched him die.

Now Jesus was alive in the flesh, no longer dead!  She touched him.  He spoke to her.  He said her name with the same distinct manner as before.  He gave her a message to take to the disciples.  It may be hard for us to imagine the emotions she must have felt – going from total sadness and despair to utter and unbelievable joy in a single moment – a moment indelibly fixed in her memory and lasting forever.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we too, may encounter the risen Jesus.  It may not have the same physical character as Mary Magdalene’s experience, but it can have the same spiritual, emotional and life-giving character.   

I volunteer in a Catholic outreach to a local jail ministry.  This past weekend, several women inmates made posters on what Easter meant to them.  While I wasn’t present, the priest who celebrated the mass with the women shared some of the posters they had made.  One of the posters showed a cross with a big red heart in the middle with a caption, “God is love.”

In another poster a brilliant yellow sun was shining over the mountains with two blossoming cherry trees on either side with the caption, “I’m Forgiven.”   It appears that both of these women have had an encounter with the risen Jesus to be able to express what Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ means to them.

Many years ago I was at a healing mass and the priest celebrating the mass asked us to kneel down, close our eyes and imagine that we were all alone with Jesus.  He instructed us to give to Jesus whatever need we might have.  I did as the priest suggested and asked Jesus if he would take something that was distracting me from my relationship with God and my wife and family.  He did!  The encounter was very real to me.  Forty years later, I can still describe every detail – where we stood, the surroundings, how Jesus looked to me, the love and joy I experienced when I realized he was answering my request.  It was a watershed moment.  All my priorities began to change.

The risen Jesus is available for all of us to encounter, particularly when we feel most alienated from him.  He says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”  (Rev. 3:20)

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