“Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus . . . we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:14, 16–18, NRSV)
Is it not ironic that as we shelter in place, we’re surrounded by the familiar, yet also isolated—even entombed by distance—from loved ones, neighbors, and community? We are wondering what the future holds, and our uncertainty turns to worry and desolation because of their distance. Will our family members and friends pass away before we embrace them again? Will we feel their hands in ours, or have one more chance to feel their cheek against ours? The absence of loved ones, especially at Easter, is very trying. Yet, I imagine this must have been, in some small way, how the disciples felt after Christ was arrested, crucified, and buried.
Imagine especially how Christ’s female disciples felt. They were separated from the one human whose presence was most real, whose absence and death was most excruciating. It was Christ alone whose touch could always be trusted. He never disdained or abused their bodies or their touch. It was a woman’s tears that washed Christ’s feet and unbound hair that wiped them dry. It was also a woman’s hands who anointed his head. Hers was a priestly anointing that prepared the greatest king for his ultimate triumph—death on a Roman cross.
Distanced from perfect love, women watched Christ die an agonizing death on Friday. His body was then entombed, silenced, and distanced from their touch on Saturday. But Jesus was active in death! Descending to the dead, Christ crushed hell’s gate and rescued its captives. His was a victory over sin that stretched back to Eden, redeeming all that was lost: our harmony with God and one another. The Easter icons and murals, referred to as the Anastasis or the harrowing of hell, memorialize the greatest moment in human history—God’s triumph over sin and its consequences.
The Anastasis images celebrate Jesus’s trampling of the gates of hell to reach in and rescue Adam and Eve alive. Too weak to save themselves, their strong rescue and liberation could only come through God’s Son. Christ’s victory over our ancient enemy birthed a new creation, which like the first, was God’s work, not ours. A woman, Mary Magdalene, is the first to encounter Christ’s new creation. In fact, she represents the new world Jesus is making.
Deserted by the disciples, fearful of Roman and Jewish leaders alike, and distanced from her perfect Lord, Mary’s desolation drove her to keep vigil at the tomb. Christ rewards her longing for him. His new creation meets and splashes over Mary unexpectantly. It was to Mary, a woman, that Christ first appeared. Though women were not considered reliable witnesses in the ancient world, a new creation was underway restoring what sin had crushed—women’s fullest value, dignity, and agency. Christ tells Mary, “Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17, CEB). Mary becomes the first apostle to the apostles—those who declared the risen Christ. Faithfully, Mary goes to the disciples, and her words from Jesus bring hope and comfort as they shelter in place behind closed doors. Sent to declare God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, Mary’s commission represents women’s spiritual dominion in the new creation beside men. It is an echo of Adam and Eve’s shared dominion in Eden before sin entered the world (Gen. 1:26–29).
Christ made a new creation where the old creation had failed because God’s gift in Christ is not like the curse of sin (Rom. 5:15). Male rule (Gen. 3:16), a consequence of sin, has been conquered in Christ. Mary’s Easter desolation was overcome by God’s resurrection power. It prepared her, as it prepares us, for an eternal weight of glory promised by Scripture. Christ’s unimaginable risen life is more real than any desolation we will ever know. Thus, Scripture inspires us to take courage, to be unafraid. Because like Mary, we wait expectantly not for what is temporary or seen but for what is eternal.
May the faith of Mary, the apostle to the apostles, inspire in us a faithful vigilance in our isolation. We will meet and celebrate our risen Lord on Easter beyond the tomb. We will walk in newness of life where death and oppression are overcome. He is risen. Christ has risen. Hallelujah!