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Easter is the week in which we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His victory over death. When Jesus was crucified, it was jarring to His followers. A lot of the people at that time were confused about Christ’s mission. Many of them believed that He was going to free Israel from the Romans rather than the spiritual salvation He was truly offering. Many of His followers were confused by His death. What did it mean? He had been so powerful. How had He died? Had they been crazy for believing in Him?
As part of the reading this week, we learn about a couple of different people (or groups of people) who were allowed to witness the resurrected Savior.
Mary Magdalene went early in the morning to go to the tomb where Jesus was. When she got there, she saw that it was empty and ran and told some of the disciples. The disciples came and took note before going back home, but Mary remained. She looked into the sepulcher and saw two angels (though it appears that she did not know they were angels). They ask her why she is weeping, and she responds with this:
John 20:13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
Mary is not the first person to have asked where the Savior was. The first one that comes to mind occurred in Liberty Jail when Joseph asked the Lord where He was. Have you ever asked the Lord the same question? Where are You? Why aren’t You where I expected you to be? You promised to be here and save me.
Mary wept as she looked at the folded linens, all the while oblivious to the fact that the Savior was standing right behind her. Even if Mary had not been given the opportunity to see her resurrected Lord in that moment, the truth of the resurrection would have remained. The truth of the resurrection would have blessed her regardless of whether she had chosen to leave the tomb and run away from the sorrow of it all instead of remaining and mourning.
Regardless of what tragedy you find yourself looking at, I testify that the Savior is standing behind you. Perhaps you can not see Him yet, and perhaps the time for Him to show Himself to you has not come yet, but He is there. He is present and aware and powerful. If He hasn’t chosen to “reveal” Himself, it is not because He doesn’t adore you. Every choice He is making in regards to your mortal life is motivated by that love.
Even the most tragic of times is short-lived. That doesn’t mean we have to pretend the pain isn’t there. It doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to feel all of those deep emotions. In fact, I am of the opinion that those deep emotions are essential parts of the process of exaltation. But despite those emotions, He stands behind us and the happy ending is around the corner. In the meantime, believe that He is standing behind you.
Road to Emmaus
We are likewise familiar with the story of the road to Emmaus. A couple of disciples are walking to a village called Emmaus. The Savior appears to them and asks what they’re talking about. They discuss Jesus who had been crucified, and the Savior unfolds the scriptures to them regarding Himself.
All the while, their eyes remain “holden.” In other words, they don’t recognize Jesus for who He is. It isn’t until after they have spent significant time with Him that they “see” Him, and He disappears. They are astonished and exclaim that they felt the Spirit deeply while He was teaching them.
I wonder how the experience might have been different if the men had refused to soften their hearts. Christ had died, and I’m sure this was shocking, possibly even a little traumatic depending on how much they had defined themselves as His disciples. What if they had looked at Christ (who they didn’t recognize) and scoffed at His teaching? What if they had told him, “You don’t know. We saw Him die. It was all a lie.” What if they had completely missed the point of His death and refused to see the point of it after it was all laid out to them? Christ, their supposed Redeemer had died, and they didn’t want to hear any more about it because they had felt betrayed and confused.
I recently had an experience speaking to someone who has left the church. They professionally studied the church as an institution, and they drew some conclusions about the church that led them to believe that there was no way it could be divinely guided.
Now what absolutely fascinated me about this experience was the fact that I had drawn many of the same exact conclusions about the church. However, I saw them in a completely different light.
For example, this friend came to the conclusion that prophets have made mistakes in the past, and these mistakes have hurt people before. I have also come to believe this conclusion. It truly bothered this friend that the prophet could make huge mistakes all while claiming to be divinely inspired, but it had the exact opposite effect on me. I see it as proof that the church is led by a God who is wise enough to send faulty leaders who know they’re imperfect. It’s essential that the prophet makes mistakes. Otherwise, it would be too easy to know what to do, and we wouldn’t have to wrestle and learn and strive for ourselves.
Another example. My friend drew the conclusion that the church is pushing out a huge number of people by holding on to the doctrine so hard. If they would relent just a little, it would be much easier for more people to stay and remain close to Christ. He sees this as a faulty institution. I have also come to the conclusion that people are leaving because the church holds fast to ideals and doctrine, but once again, I see it in a completely different light. What is the alternative? If it truly takes a complete sacrifice of self in order to be prepared to live the kind of life that God lives, then sacrificing the ideals would only damn all of us. Everyone can make it to exaltation through the atonement of Jesus Christ, but not everyone chooses to. We can’t force them; we can only give them the option to choose for themselves what they want.
Because we live in a fallen world, there is difficulty and tragedy. We can take that as evidence that the church isn’t true or that there is no God. Or, like these disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can allow our hearts to be soft enough to have it all explained.
I hesitate to make that last statement sometimes. I’m sure there are individuals out there who feels as though their hearts are soft and broken, but the explanations haven’t come. I don’t know why they haven’t come yet. I don’t know why Christ didn’t reveal Himself immediately to these disciples before teaching them about the reasons He died. I don’t know why, but I do know that they were blessed in the end. If you could see those blessings, it would be easy to wait.
On the flip side of this story, we can also choose to become like Christ by learning the scriptures so when our loved ones struggle, we can explain the doctrine. There are very few things that change hearts like pure doctrine. The fact that Christ died is far less scary when one understands that it was a vital part of the salvation everyone was searching for.
There is a choice
In both of these scenarios, there is a choice to believe.
As Mary sat in the tomb confused, heartbroken, and lost, she still referred to Jesus as “my Lord.” In the midst of tragedy that seemed unnecessary, she loved Him and remained loyal. In the midst of a tragedy that could have easily made her feel like a fool for believing, Mary sat in the empty tomb and held fast to her Savior.
This world would have mocked her for doing so. They would have asked her, “How can you not see the truth before you? How can you sit there when He disappointed you so completely? He lied to you.”
But she knew what she had experienced and so she held on a little longer even though she didn’t understand, and she was blessed with a gift that very few of us receive in our mortal lives.
Thomas was an apostle who was told that Christ had risen. He specifically countered that he refused to believe it until he could see and feel the nail prints in the hands and feet of Christ. When he finally stood before Christ, Christ told him, “…blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20:29).” I don’t believe Christ was warning people that He would curse them if they didn’t believe. I think Christ was merely pointing out that Thomas could have been happier so much faster if he had simply chosen to believe even in the midst of pain and confusion (especially after all he had experienced by Christ’s side). What if Thomas had never gotten a chance to see the risen Christ? Would he have spent his whole life embittered?
We can choose to be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We can choose to recognize the promptings and comfortings of the Holy Ghost even when we don’t know why certain things happened.
I believe that Christ is real and alive and that He guides this church. There have been times in my life where I have wondered, but as I’ve held on, I have been given more spiritual moments to cling to.