As a newly ordained priest, my very first call to the hospital in the middle of the night was to see a man who was slowly dying breath by breath. And he was terrified. He was afraid that nothing existed beyond this life. He couldn’t understand that Our Lord lived and died to unite us all to himself in heaven. By his own admission the man said that he had never really lived for God. He had lived for pleasure, he had lived for self-gain, and he had lived for alcohol; and it was the abuse of alcohol that led to his slow and painful death. He wasn’t a bad man; he just never realised that God had offered him eternal life.
For those who have faith in an eternal future, death, while still a painful parting from loved ones, is not a doorway into oblivion, but rather a threshold to new life. And yet even Mary Magdalene, who had known Our Lord’s presence through several years of his earthly life, experienced panic and desolation at his death. She believed from Good Friday to Easter morning that Jesus was gone from her forever. She feared having nothing, not even his body after his death. When Our Lord appeared to Mary, she didn’t know him. Perhaps the dim light of dawn obscured his face. Maybe the brilliance of the angels’ glow, or more likely the tears in her eyes, blurred her vision. But Mary, facing death without knowledge of the Resurrection, simply did not recognise Jesus.
When she did finally recognise him, Our Lord sent her to tell the others what she had seen. Her great message was: “I have seen the Lord”. Somehow the message of Our Lord’s Resurrection didn’t reach the man dying in the hospital. The hospital chaplain tried to plant the seeds of faith. Even the man’s sister shared her faith and they attempted to offer him the gift of faith as he approached death; sadly, to no avail. That man died alone and afraid.
Someone needs to hear us say: “I have seen the Lord”. Someone needs to hear how believing in God has given us a sense of peace in difficult circumstances. Someone needs to have the terrible fear of death removed through meeting the Lord Jesus. And so, it’s up to us who believe, to say to those with whom we share our lives: “I have seen the Lord!”