To believe that the Lord is Risen is to believe that He is present in a radical and wonderful way. His powerful presence is accessible only by faith — this is because He has ascended into heaven. Such is the substance of our hope. When we cleave to Him by faith, because His presence is real and personal, He raises us up with Him.
When Mary Magdalene calls out to the Risen Lord, He tells her not to cling to Him because He has not yet ascended to the Father. He sends her — the Apostle to the Apostles — to his Apostles to announce to them the resurrection. His words reveal that someday she will possess Him in a more marvelous way — but He must ascend from the midst of this life first so that this new presence can be known. She will have the fullness of faith when the Holy Spirit descends on her. By the faith the Holy Spirit produces, Mary Magdalene will be raised up to new life – and with that life, she will be able to cling to the One whom she loves — and who loves her even more.
Christian faith is a not self-generated psychological exercise. It is part of the new creation, the new humanity which the Risen Lord has established by His victory. His Gift of the Holy Spirit produces the faith. This is why He ascended into Heaven. The Giver of Life could only descend on us if Christ ascended to His Father.
What a gift faith is! Doubts and difficulties of all kinds might afflict the soul — but the gift of faith is invincible. This loving assent of the will is given if we ask for it in even in trying circumstances. The darkest trials cannot defeat it because it communicates something to the mind which no affliction in this world – no height, nor depth – can shake. In fact, such trials when endured with love, and by love, make faith stronger.
Even though Mary Magdalene cannot yet cling to Him, the faith of the Apostles is stirred by her message. They run to find the empty tomb and encounter the Lord for themselves. They hear His voice and speak to Him. They see His body. They touch his wounds. They eat with Him. But they can not yet cling to Him.
Though He has conquered death, He must leave this world because His Kingdom is not of this world. He must ascend above this life so that the faith of the Apostles in Him will raise them up above this life too. The resurrection was not about any mere restoration of an earthly paradise — it is about access to heaven. This is a new humanity — a humanity with power that exceeds what this world can contain, a humanity which is filled with what is eternal.
What about us, here and now? The Risen Jesus longs for us to be where He is — and He is now ascended, and ascended He reigns at the right hand of the Father. Now we can cling to Him by faith.
Christian contemplation and theology converge on the objective and personal presence of the Risen Lord. By objective, we know He is present to us quite apart from whether we feel or imagine Him. By personal, we know that our faith opens up a real heart-to-heart relationship with Him. This is not fluff — it is the substance of our hope.
Art: Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection [also known as Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene], Alexander Ivanov, 1835, PD-US published before January 1, 1923, Restored Traditions, used with permission.