“After Jesus rose up early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” Mark 16:9 (CEB)
We have entered the holiest of weeks in the Christian year. Holy Week and the Easter celebration define Christianity. Soon we will join our voices in proclaiming, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” Soon, like Mary Magdalene, we will once again encounter the risen Christ.
Unlike the other gospel accounts, Mark’s gospel goes out of its way to mention that the resurrected Jesus appeared first to a person—Mary Magdalene—who had already experienced new life through Jesus’ healing, transforming grace. The risen Christ first appeared to a person already “resurrected!”
One can only imagine what songs of glory and praise a person would sing when freed from seven demons. Mary Magdalene knew the sickness of sin and the misery of oppression. She had experienced a songless life of little or no self-worth and had felt the horror of self-disdain. Then Jesus set her free (Luke 8:20), healed her, and restored her dignity. Long before the risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene on that first Easter morning, she had already experienced the wonders of new life. She who was dead was alive!
One of the great mysteries—and great truths—of the Christian faith is that, in Christ’s resurrection, we too are resurrected. Jesus offers each of us healing, wholeness, new life, new possibilities, freedom from sin and earth—a resurrected life. Even as we come to the Easter celebration this Sunday, all who believe have already been “resurrected” through Christ. No wonder we gather to sing songs of praise and victory.
“Soar we now where Christ has led …
Following our exalted Head …
Made like him, like him we raise …
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!”
(“Christ the Lord is Risen Today,”The United Methodist Hymnal, #302)
We, too, have been set free from our disbelief, our demons, our dis-ease, our doubts, our despair, our deaths.
Over the past several months, I have been blessed to visit many individuals and congregations across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area who have been resurrected through Christ. Congregations who have cast out the demons of fear and traditionalism. Congregations and individuals who have embraced their neighbors who are different than themselves. Congregations who have placed themselves at risk for the sake of reaching new people with the good news. Congregations who have turned aside from self-interest and self-preservation to completely offer themselves to heal a broken, hurting world. Individuals and congregations whose love of God and neighbor have compelled them to welcome all people with the same unconditional, inclusive, extravagant love Jesus offered them. Individuals who have been set free from their disbelief, their demons, their dis-ease, their doubts, their despair, their deaths. What a blessing to hear and experience these Holy Spirit breakthroughs. What a joy to witness so many who are already “resurrected.”
As we journey through this Holy Week, anticipating the Easter celebration, I am praying:
Father and Mother of love and grace,
by the outpouring of your Holy Spirit
increase the number of those who believe in You.
Watch over your family of faith,
especially that portion known as the Dakotas-Minnesota Area.
Give undying life to all
who have been born again by your mercy.
Free those to resurrected life
who continue in disbelief, sin, despair, darkness,
and stubbornness of heart.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
May you, your loved ones, and all who hunger to be set free have a blessed Easter. Christ is risen! Made like him, like him we also rise!
Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church