The Gospels provide a number of different stories about the risen Christ appearing to his disciples. This Easter season I find myself continually going back to the risen Christ’s encounter with Mary Magdalene in John 20: 1-18, which we read on Easter Sunday.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene was the one from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. What were those demons? They are those voices within us that tell us lies about ourselves. These voices are the voices spoken by various political, religious and social authorities that find their way into us and slowly destroy us. We don’t know the specific nature of Mary’s demons. But we do know the nature of those demons now.
One demon that possesses many people is that voice that says, “You are loveable if….” You are loveable if you are physically attractive. You are loveable if you are successful. You are loveable if you don’t make mistakes. You are loveable if you measure up to whatever the prevailing standards are. Consequently, you are not loveable if you don’t measure up. When you scratch beneath the surface of many highly successful people, you often find someone driven by the need to make themselves loveable and acceptable. They have discovered early on that the only way to get love and acceptance is to earn it. Therefore, they are enslaved to a life of constantly proving that they deserve to be loved.
At the tomb on Easter morning, the turning point for Mary was the risen Christ saying her name. When he said her name, he validated the core of her unique life. He didn’t say “hey you woman in general.” He spoke to her life specifically. He reassured her that his voice—the voice that cast out all the demons—was still the last word about her life. He reassured her that she was a beloved child of God, a branch connected to the true vine, who is indwelt by the very presence of God. In that moment of recognition, she was then sent to go and tell the others “I have seen the Lord.”
The liberating moment in our life is when we hear Jesus speak our name. It is the moment when we realize that we are a beloved child of God, a priceless treasure of infinite worth, irrespective of anything we do or don’t do. It is the moment when we realize that Jesus’ voice—not the voices of parents, friends, society—is all that matters in the end. It is this voice that sets us free.
We can’t make ourselves hear this voice; we can only be open to hearing the words when they are spoken. Sunday worship and the reading of scripture is one way to be available to the voice of the risen Christ. Another way is simply sitting in silence for a few minutes each day and asking God to tell you the words you long to hear. Contemplative prayer is the practice of simply being available to the life-giving words of God.
I pray that we will all hear Jesus speak our name this Easter season. That we will know that we are God’s beloved children as is—no exceptions!