By Jennifer Duncan
When I was a college student, my father died suddenly. He was 42 years old, and a professor at the university where I was enrolled. He was seemingly healthy, playing intramural basketball, when he simply collapsed and died. During the weeks and months that followed, I would sometimes think I saw a glimpse of him, in a crowd, or walking across campus. Then I would realize…no, that can’t be him. He’s gone. I would sometimes dream that he suddenly appeared, as if nothing had happened. And even though I knew he should not be there, I just delighted in his presence…until the dream was over, and reality settled once again.
Since my husband’s sudden death this year, I have had similar experiences. I think about what it would be like if suddenly I heard the garage door open, and he came bouncing into the house with his briefcase, as if he’d never been gone. I think about how happy I would be if I went in Sunday to my church, where he was the pastor, and found that he was the one doing the preaching that day!
When I have these random thoughts and dreams, I identify with what the friends and family of Jesus must have felt after His terrible death, when, on that third day, he simply reappeared! What unimaginable joy they must have experienced!
Jesus had walked with them, ate with them, laughed with them, loved them. They deeply loved Him, too. And even more, they believed in Him! He had proved over and over that He was God’s Son, the third person of the Trinity! He showed them with His teachings, His attitudes, His miracles. And even though He encountered opposition from the religious establishment, He was very popular. Jesus’ followers…His closest friends, were riding the crest of the wave of popularity with Him, and they were excited, and optimistic.
Only Jesus Himself seemed to see that the wave was going to peak and fall. He tried to warn them. He tried to tell them it had to happen. He even tried to reassure them that it wouldn’t really be the end.
But suddenly…what they thought was the end did come. Religious leaders decided Jesus was too much of a threat; they had Him arrested, charged with blasphemy and executed. Jesus’ friends watched Him die. They saw the agony; they saw the blood; they experienced the darkness at midday. They saw the breath of human life leave Him. They helped take His limp and lifeless body down from the cross; they helped carry Him to a tomb nearby. They knew, unmistakably…He was dead. They who had been exhilarated by Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem just a few days before, now felt crushed…defeated and afraid.
That’s what Mary Magdalene was feeling as she and the other women who loved Jesus, walked to His tomb on Sunday morning. It seemed that evil had won, and they were helpless in the face of it. So they came to do the last and only thing they could do for Jesus…anoint His body for burial.
Mary Magdalene was the first to see Him. She didn’t recognize Him at first. It was when He called her name…”Mary”…that she knew it was Him. What unimaginable, unspeakable JOY she must have felt! The dream had come true! The thing she had not dared to hope for had happened! She had seen Him die…yet there He was…right in front of her!
And as she talked with Him there, all the grief and confusion and fear melted away, and all she felt was pure joy…joy that He had defeated the most evil thing this world can inflict. He had not only won His own personal victory over death, but He had won it for Mary…and for me and for you. And He brought reality to our dreams as well. We will see our believing loved ones again some day, when we are all alive in heaven with Him.
Scripture tells us that Jesus walked among them for forty days, eating with them, laughing with them, teaching them…helping them understand what it all meant. He helped His followers understand that He had to die, not because He was powerless over death, since obviously, He was not! But because He chose to pay the penalty for our sin.
This Easter season, just as He did for Mary, the living Christ calls each of us by name. Do you need to know that sin and death are defeated? Do you need to experience the confidence of belief in Him? Do you need forgiveness and hope?
I pray that you will know the truth that He is alive and that He offers you all of these wonderful gifts! And when you hear Him call your name, I pray that you will answer Him, and find in Jesus everything you need.
“These things are written that you may believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” John 20:31
Jennifer is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is mom to two grown (twin) sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law and four granddaughters. Her late husband, John, pastored two churches in Barry County, Missouri, and one in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Jennifer serves in teaching, music and lay counseling through her church, Arnhart Baptist Church, Purdy, Missouri. She also enjoys leading retreats and Bible studies for women.