If you were there among the crowd when St Peter gave his first discourse on the resurrection of Christ and what it meant with regard to the identity of Jesus, what would you have done? How would you have responded to the declaration that “The whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”? The crowd did not see the Risen Lord, only the apostles and some disciples did. Neither have we seen the Lord physically as they did. However, look at their response. “That very day about three thousand were added to their number.”
To come to faith in the Risen Lord, we must first find grounds for belief. For the seed of faith to take place, we must first listen to the testimony of those who have encountered the Risen Lord. This was what the early converts did. The crowd that gathered at Jerusalem heard the testimony of St Peter and the apostles. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:22-24)
Secondly, they heard the arguments to substantiate their claims so that what they saw could be verified from the scriptures. “He spoke to them for a long time using many arguments.” So for many of us, before we take the leap of faith, we need to be convinced before we can be convicted. So St Peter cited from the psalm of David who prophesied that his descendant would not see death. “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” Indeed, we read that “They were convinced by his arguments, and they accepted what he said and were baptised.”
Having come to faith in Christ as Lord, the next step is to make an act of commitment. So when they heard the discourse of St Peter, “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘What must we do, brothers?’ ‘You must repent.’ Peter answered ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So, the action of accepting Jesus as Lord is repentance and be baptized.
What is repentance? To repent is to turn away from sin. This is what St Peter asked of them, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation.” Giving up our sins is the way for us to encounter the Risen Lord. So long as we live in our sins, we will not be able to encounter Him in the Spirit. “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.” (1 Cor 2:14f)
To repent means to give up our pride in wanting to comprehend God with our finite minds. This was what Mary Magdalene and the rest of the apostles did. They were still looking for the Jesus of Nazareth who was dead. That was why the angel said to them. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Lk 24:5)
So long as we keep looking for the Jesus of Nazareth, we will not be able to see the Risen Lord. Many of us have preconceived ideas of how the Lord should manifest Himself to us. We are looking for Him to come in a definite way when He would have come in other ways. Indeed, we must allow the possibilities for God to show His face to us. St Paul warns us, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor 2:8-11)
To repent means to come out of our grief. Mary could not see the Lord because she was too absorbed in her attachment to the Jesus of Nazareth. She was licking the pain of grief in her life. Twice, she was asked by the angels and the Lord, “Woman, why are you weeping” And her response was that “They have taken my Lord away.” She wanted to reclaim the body. But the Lord is risen. There is no earthly body to recover. But because of her grief and sorrow that came from her attachment to the earthly Jesus, she was blinded from seeing the greater reality in front of her, the Risen Lord, thinking that He was a gardener. If we want to see the Risen Lord, we must be ready to let go of the past and our attachments, whether to things, money, status,or people. Then our eyes will be able to see the greater things the Lord has in store for us.
Repentance is looking inwards. The next step is to look upward. It is to believe in Him. This is the necessary way of faith. Repentance is turning away from something to someone, that is Christ. Mary Magdalene was led by the Lord to turn away from herself and to turn to Him. “As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master.” We must turn to the Lord if we want to encounter Him. To turn to the Lord means to hear the voice of our Master, to spend time with Him in intimacy as Mary did. Without listening to His voice, we will not be able to hear Him or see Him. With Mary, let us be attentive to the voice of our Lord calling us to Him.
To look upwards also means to grow from an affective relationship with the Lord to a contemplative relationship. Mary Magdalene could see the Lord because of her passion for Him. This is but the starting point of coming to know the Lord. Many of us come to recognize Jesus as our Lord through some miracles, especially of healing, enlightenment or salvific and religious experience. The Lord will reveal Himself to those who love Him. The psalmist says, “The Lord looks on those who revere him, on those who hope in his love, to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine.” However, we cannot be always clinging to the Lord on this level of relationship. We need to mature in our relationship from a physical, tangible and affective level to a contemplative level. Otherwise, we will still be stuck to the Jesus of Nazareth. This was why the Lord told Mary, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Clinging to the Jesus of Nazareth will hinder us from receiving the Risen Lord in a new way when He comes again in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was what St Peter told the crowd, “be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Finally, encountering the Risen Lord requires us to move out of our comfort zone to the world. The Lord instructed Mary Magdalene, “’But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.” In reaching out and proclaiming Christ the Risen Lord to the world, our faith will increase and be strengthened when we see how the Lord works in the lives of those who come to believe in Him as the apostles did. We evangelize ourselves by evangelizing others.
Truly, as St Peter said, “The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.” The Lord is inviting us to come to know Him and believe in Him so that believing in Him as St John wrote, “you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) So for those who are still waiting to encounter the Risen Lord, take the courage to search, to study and to pray. Most of all, wait for Him in love as Mary Magdalene did. May the prayer of the psalmist be ours. “Our soul is waiting for the Lord. The Lord is our help and our shield. May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you.”