The Incarnation of Our Blessed Lord was announced to a Virgin – Mary. But His Resurrection was announced to a converted sinner – Magdalene. Arid both were fitting. Only purity and sinlessness could welcome the all holy Son of God into the world, and hence Mary Immaculate met Him at the door of earth in the city of Bethlehem. But only a repentant sinner who had herself risen from the grave of sin to the newness of life in God could fittingly understand the triumph over sin. Hence not to the Virgin Mary, but to Magdalene, are the glad tidings of the Resurrection first announced. In this contrast is hidden the great truth of Easter Day: The Resurrection is for sinners. It is the final and absolute proof that Our Lord has come not “to call the just, but sinners.”
The fact that the Resurrection was first announced to Magdalene was already a proof that Easter is for the sinner, but the way in which she was chosen proves it still more. To the honor of womanhood, it must forever be said: A woman was closest to the Cross on Good Friday, the first at the tomb on Easter morn. That woman whom John alone mentions in his history of Easter morn was Mary Magdalene: “On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene cometh early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre; and she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre. She ran, therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith to them: They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him”. One thought seemed to have absorbed her soul, that the Body of the Holy One had been lost! Not with her was it ‘out of sight, out of mind’. She must find him! After telling Peter, she came back to the tomb weeping. “Now as she was weeping, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and she saw two angels in white, sitting one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been laid. They say to her: Woman, why weepest thou? She saith to them: Because they have taken my Lord; and I know not where they have laid him”. There was no terror at seeing the angels, for the world on fire could not have moved her, so much had grief mastered her soul. “When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith to her: Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” And Saint John tells us she thought it was the gardener.
But perhaps Magdalene was not far wrong after all, for He was indeed the Heavenly Gardener. Every fiower that blooms was once a thought in His mind; every riot of color on a green stem owes its life to Him; every seed of grace in every soul is planted by His hand. As the new Adam He too has His Garden of Paradise to cultivate with His grace, to plant with His inspiration, to nourish with His everlasting waters.
However, when Magdalene took him to be the gardener, she of course meant the gardener of Joseph of Arimathea, whom she thought might know where the lost one could be found. And so she prostrates herself on her knees before Him and says to Jesus: “Sir, if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away”. Poor Magdalene! Worn from Good Friday, wearied by Holy Saturday, with life dwindled to a shadow and strength worn to a thread – she would “take him away”. Forever she stands as the type of love that can banish the hardest burden, and think the heaviest burden light.
“Jesus saith to her: Mary.”
That voice was more startling than a clap of thunder. She once heard Jesus say He called His sheep by name. And now to that One who individ- ualizes all the sin, sorrow, and tears in the world, and marks each soul with a personal, particular, and discriminating love, she turns and, as the red livid marks in hands and feet meet her gaze, she utters but one word “Rabboni”. Christ had uttered “Mary” and all heaven was in it. It was only one word she uttered and all earth was in it: “Rabboni”. After the mental midnight, this Dazzle; after hours of hopelessness, this Hope; after the search, this Discovery; after the loss, this Find. Magdalene was prepared only to shed reverential tears over the grave; what she was not prepared for was to see Him walking on the hills of the world. Yet such is the truth of Easter Day: the Resurrection of the Dead, the Triumph of the Defeated, and the Finding of the Lost; the springtime of the earth, the waking of life, the Trumpet of Resurrection blowing over the land of the living.
From that Easter Day on let no one believe he is beyond Redemption. There is nothing too far gone for salvation; there are no hopeless cases; there are no lost sheep that cannot be found; no lost coins that cannot be recovered to rejoice the finder and her neighbors; no prodigals beyond the hope of the embrace of the Father and the banquet of the fatted calf. If ever a cause in the world seemed lost, it was Good Friday night when the Redeemer was sealed in a rock with hideous wounds on hands and feet and side – and yet within three days the stone which the builders rejected was made the cornerstone of the Temple of God. If you could have seen Him stand- ing before the Judgment seat of Pilate, forsaken, betrayed, beaten and alone; if you could have heard the mob scream “Crucify”, and watched Pilate hold up his hands in the morning sun, with water dripping from them like glittering jewels; if you could have seen that strong, powerful young man of thirty-three years go down to what you might have called a premature death of crucifixion – never for a moment would you have supposed that Pilate was the one who was really judged, that the victorious mob was the one which really lost the day, and that the hands which were nailed would one day bless the world. And yet such is the lesson of Easter Day – the Resurrection of the Dead, the Triumph of the Defeated, the Finding of the Lost; the springtime of the dead earth, the waking of life, the Trumpet of Resurrection blowing over the land of the living.
A dead Washington will not fight for his country; a dead Lincoln will not war for its unity; a dead Shakespeare will not sing his lyric drama; a dead lawyer will not save you from your legal woes; a dead doctor will not cure you of fever. Just as fantastic, just as shocking to common sense, seems the declaration that the Crucified Christ will rise again from the tomb, that the Buried King will walk to His Eternal Throne, that the dead sinners like Magdalene will live again. And yet such is the lesson of Easter Day – the Resurrection of the Dead, the Triumph of the Defeated, the Finding of the Lost; the Springtime of the dead earth, the waking of life, the Trumpet of Resurrection blowing over the land of the living.
Now, why cannot Easter happen again since Christ is risen? Cannot the hopeless once more have hope? Cannot Magdalenes once more be forgiven? Cannot the prospect of Death be converted into Life? Apply this lesson of hope firstly to the modern world and secondly to your own personal lives.
Many minds regard our modern world as hopeless. It is indeed like a vast and horrible Good Friday where everything divine seems gone down to defeat. The future never seemed so completely unpredictable as it does today. Mankind seems to be in a kind of widowhood, in which a harrowing sense of desolation sweeps over it, as one who set out on life’s journey in intimate comradeship with another, and then is suddenly bereft of that companion forever. There are wars and rumors of wars. Economics is a tangled mess. Communism is robbing men of their souls and a false education stealing away their faith. Lives have been made fiabby with worldliness, and ill-prepared for the rigors of an enforced discipline. Platitudes abound on lips and unrealized desires embitter hearts. Everywhere there is confusion, hopelessness, and despair.
And yet there need not be such hopelessness and despair. The world seemed just as hopeless before. when it crucified its Savior; and yet with all its paganism and nationalism it arose to newness and freshness of Christian life and civilization. The miracle of the Resurrection can happen again. The world may rise once more as it rose before, at least a dozen times since the advent of Christianity. But let us suffer no illusions. It will not rise to peace and happiness through economic and political remedies alone; it will rise only through a spiritual regeneration of the hearts and souls of men. The Resurrection of Our Lord was not the resumption of an old life; it was the beginning of a new life. It was the lesson of Christmas all over again; namely, the world will be saved not by social recovery but by re-birth – rebirth from the dead by the Power of Divinity in Christ.
This is the refrain which has been ringing through this radio course from the beginning: that is, we must not reconstruct our old life, we must rise to new life. There must be a new energy introduced from without, in the absence of which we must rot in our graves. Christ rose from the dead by the Power of God. It is vain for us to try to rise by any other Power. This Life and Power the Risen Savior has given to His Mystical Body the Church; His truth comes to us through His Vicar; His Life comes to us through the Sacraments; His Authority comes to us through the Episcopacy. But here is the stumbling block of the world. It may admit that by the Power of God Christ rose from the tomb, but it will not admit that that Power of the Risen Christ continues beyond that tomb. It sees the Church on its human side, made up of weak, frail creatures and therefore thinks it something to be ignored. It makes the same mistake Magdalene made the first Easter morn. She mistook the Risen Savior for the gardener; that is, for but a human thing. The world too sees the Risen Christ in His Mystical Body the Church, and takes it to be the gardener – something human and not divine. But Divinity is there as it was in the Garden the First Easter, and only tht same Divinity can give hope to a hopeless world. We may yet attain our peace if we but seek not the political and the economic, but the new Life of the Kingdom of God. For such is the message of Easter Day – the Resurrection of the Dead, the Triumph of the Defeated, the Finding of the Lost; the springtime of the earth, the waking of life, the Trumpet of Resurrection blowing over the land of the living.
What is true of a despairing world is true of the individual souls in it. This earth of ours today is filled with men who have lost their way; with souls whose sins have been psychoanalyzed a thousand times, but never forgiven once; with bodies that have been embittered by pain and never sweetened by a vision of the cross; with hearts that have pursued a thousand fancies, only to be utterly disillusioned at the end; with the poor who thought riches would give them peace of mind; with the despairing who thought drink could make them forget.
But to all these souls, the Easter message rings out: There is no reason for despair. The Resurrection was announced to a Magdalene – a soul once like our own. Peace awaits you in the service of the God who made you; Certitude awaits you in Infallibility; Redemption awaits you in the Mass; Pardon beckons you in the Confessional; Love desires you in the Eucharist. And all that can be yours provided you do not mistake Christ for the gardener, and think the Church which prolongs His Life is only a human thing in a dying world.
What He did to bodies during His earthly life, He is doing to souls now in His Mystical Body, the Church. Had you and I walked down the street with Him, we would have noticed that it was principally only what our modern sociologists call the dependents, the defectives, and the delinquents which interested Him. What always seemed to catch His eyes was a beggar like Lazarus lying yonder in the shadow of a rich man’s door, all sores and rags and vermin, from whom the rest of men stepped back as unclean; the blind man of Jericho shrieking and shouting for light; the woman of the coast town suffering from an issue of blood; the corpse of the son of the widow of Naim; the woman taken in sin stretched in the dust welting under the gaze of the Pharisees and cringing in fear from their stones; the poor laborer with a patch on his garments; the little children who annoyed busy men. But to Him these were all citizens of a world of infinite possibilities. The old beggar was an immortal soul clean enough to nestle in the arms of Abraham; the blind man had eyes that could see Divinity which men with earthly eyes had missed; each and every one of these aimless looking creatures who seemed beyond the power of recovery might change at any second, for the love of God was beating down on them, and under its rays these sorry grubs might become glorious, winged creatures, if they but saw in Him not the humanity of a gardener but the Divinity of the Crucified Savior, walking in the newness of life. For such is the message of Easter Day: The Resurrection of the Dead, the Triumph of the Defeated, the Finding of the Lost; the springtime of the earth, the waking of life, the Trumpet of Resurrection blowing over the land of the living.
And so in conclusion, the thought I would give to you is that no matter how hopeless things seem to be, there is still hope, for Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. He that can make snowflakes out of dirty drops of water, diamonds out of charcoal, and saints out of Magdalenes, can also make you victorious if you but confess Him in His earthly and Mystical Life as Christ the Son of the Living God.
Alfred Noyes relates in his Unknown God the transforming power of Christ. He says that in his early days he once dined with the poet Swinburne. Swinburne, you remember, was one of the best known anti-Christian poets of modern times; the poet who refused to give glory to God, but only to man, for “man is the master of all”. During the course of a conversation about Russian atrocities the expression of Swinburne, which up to this time had been kindly, suddenly changed; and like a child possessed – in the old direful sense of possession – he spat out these words: “Christianity itself never conceived anything more ghastly”.
Many years after Swinburne’s death, Noyes visited the vicinity of his old home. The gates were open and the dark winding road to Swinburne’s house was strewn with ferns and flowers in two regular lanes by the hands of nuns; for the poet’s old home had become a convent. And it was now the Feast of the Sacred Heart. At the door of the house a procession was forming, with long lines of children in white, and the blackrobed nuns behind the fair bearers of the canopy. Then with lights and incense the priest with the Host moved slowly forward under the canopy, preceded by the procession, singing O Salutaris H ostia over the very same paths in which the poet had written his anti-Christian songs. Then the long procession stopped at a flower decked altar, before which all knelt for Benediction in the mellowing, scented air.
And as the hymn Tantum Ergo rang out, Noyes said he glanced up over the walls of the former library, which is now a chapel of the Sacred Heart, and on its window saw the initials of a former owner unchanged: I.H.S. Those of you who know what those initials mean understand the lesson of Easter: The dead may still rise from their graves!