In a few short hours Christians across the Four States Area will start to wake up, prepare for church and then celebrate Easter Sunday. It is the most important day in Christian history. In fact, had it not been for the resurrection, everything else that makes Christianity what it is today would likely have been lost. It is logical to conclude that the birth of a Savior who simply lived, taught and died would not have prompted the celebration of His birth at Christmas. It is likely that had He not risen, that the importance of His lessons would have been long lost. In fact, it is likely that had He not risen, most of His followers would have stayed hidden away and denied ever knowing Him out of fear of suffering the same fate. Easter is the climax of the story of Christianity. It is the single most important event to the Christian because it confirms not only that there can be life after death in Christ, but it affirms that Jesus overcame that death, rose from the dead, and shared His victory over sin and death with the world. We will celebrate the risen Christ today, but all too often one very important key to the story is overlooked.
The church will celebrate the risen Christ, but will sometimes overlook one of the key players in the story. It is often forgotten that Jesus disciples, the eleven left at this time, were hidden away. They were living in fear by the moment. They believed that at any minute the Romans were going to arrive, arrest them, and take each one to be crucified. In fact, crucifixion was often reserved for those who rebelled against Rome – in other words trouble makers, rebels, those going against Rome in such ways as promoting an overthrow of Roman rule. Since Jesus had been crucified, His followers would naturally assume that the Romans might want to make examples of all the leaders of the movement. Those leaders were the remaining eleven disciples. Those disciples were busy hiding, denying, and trying to figure out what the next day would bring for them. Simply put, they were too scared to go checking on Jesus’ grave. However, one of His followers was not afraid because she had already faced death and been saved from it by Jesus. She ventured to the grave and in doing so healed one of the greatest divisions between God and man that has ever existed.
We are told in Genesis 3:6 that Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Wisdom and thus shared the fruit with her husband. Eve was deceived by the Devil in the garden. He convinced her that if she would eat the fruit of the tree, everything would be alright and she would have wisdom. He told her a half-truth as she did gain wisdom, but everything was not alright. Within a short time God came looking and found that mankind had disobeyed. This disobedience was squarely placed on the woman in Genesis 3:12 when Adam says, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (NIV). From that moment on, the blame for original sin fell squarely on the woman. The couple had been happy in the garden, but they were expelled. Women for ages would continue to live with the story of how “they” caused the fall of mankind. God knew that this was horrible guilt for all women to live with, so He provided a way out not only through the risen Christ, but through the symbolic gesture given on that first Easter morning.
As the male followers of Jesus were hidden away, Mary Magdalene a woman who had so much sin in her life that people had been prepared to stone her before Jesus intervened (John 8:1-11), went to the grave. She found in John 20 that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus’ body was gone. In what must have been an extreme panic, Mary ran back and told the others. The disciples then came, looked, and saw an empty tomb, but they were still confused and left. When the others had left, Mary was by the tomb alone and crying. A man approached her and she thought he was a gardener (John 20:15). Many people overlook the symbolic connection that God has allowed to occur at this point. The expulsion of Adam and Eve had taken place when they were removed from the garden. Mary is now alone in a garden that surrounds the tomb, a symbol of death, when she is approached. At first she does not realize that Jesus has come. Jesus could have appeared at any time. He could have appeared when the disciples had come, or to anyone else for that matter. He could have even gone to the disciples. Instead, Jesus chose to wait until Mary was alone. Once she was alone He appeared to her in the garden.
In Jesus’ time Mary Magdalene was considered a major sinner by many in society. She was going to be stoned had it not been for Jesus’ intervention. Now she stands in the garden – representative of the Garden of Eden where first sin and certain death had occurred – and faces not a God kicking her out of the garden, but a God welcoming her and allowing her to be the first witness to His resurrection.
In John 20:18, Mary returns to the disciples and tells them “I have seen the Lord!” It is not a boastful claim, it is not a self-centered claim, but instead it is a claim of victory in Christ and the symbolic return from the shame and disgrace experienced in the Garden of Eden. Through God’s perfect understanding and grace, He knows that all women had been under the curse of Eve’s actions. He knew that women continued to suffer from the actions in a garden so long ago. So, on that first Easter morning, a morning of forgiveness and renewal, God used the opportunity to once again elevate women everywhere and tell them, “It’s okay, you are forgiven.” He takes one garden where shame and disgrace reigns and replaces it with a garden of victory, forgiveness, and life. By allowing Mary to see Christ first, He affirmed His love and forgiveness for all women. Through the ages women, and men, will continue to sin and make mistakes, but for that one moment in that garden on that first Easter morning, Jesus reminded us that God loves all equally and that redemption is reserved for all mankind – female and male.