As she approached in the predawn gloom, Mary Magdalene realized that something or someone had rolled away the stone sealing Jesus’s tomb. Without investigating further, she hurried back to the disciples to report what she had seen.
Peter and John raced to see for themselves. Mary Magdalene kept pace with them but drew up short as the two men reached the grave.
Peering into and finally entering the tomb, Peter and John found it empty but for the burial cloths. The two men returned home mulling over what they had experienced. Mary Magdalene lingered a while longer.
Finally, she leaned in to take a look. Unlike the men, Mary found the tomb inhabited by two angels. She wasn’t startled by them. She carried on a conversation with them as if seeing heavenly beings in an empty tomb was as common as passing a familiar greeter at WalMart.
They noticed her sobbing and asked, “Why are you crying?”
She said, “I see no body.” She came looking for Jesus. She sees nobody.
As she turns around, a stranger—she assumes he’s just a gardener—asks her, “Whom are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for Jesus, but I see no body.” She’s looking right at the risen Christ, she says she’s looking for Jesus, and yet she sees nobody. For Mary Magdalene, the Gardener was nobody.
And there lies the first lesson that the risen Christ wants us to learn. A lesson about him and a lesson about us.
The risen Christ is different from, more than, the pre-crucifixion Jesus of Nazareth. Before his death and resurrection, Jesus could only be that one body. In that one place. If you were looking for him in a crowd, you were playing a real-life version of Where’s Waldo. He was just one face among the many different faces.
By contrast, the risen Christ resides in time and space without being limited by them. He can eat fish and offer his hands to be touched. And yet he can also pass through locked doors. Appear and disappear before our eyes. Travel the distance from Emmaus to Jerusalem in a mere instant.
Crucially, Christ is no longer merely one in the crowd. Christ resides in each person in the crowd. In each body. We will find him in the stranger, in the very ones we tend to see as nobody. Every body is somebody. Jesus’s challenge to us is to recognize this. To recognize him.
I suspect that each of us has experienced being somebody and being nobody. Being seen and being overlooked.
For instance, years ago I participated in an advanced philosophy seminar in Perugia, Italy. We were studying theories of consciousness and theories of interpretation. Everyone there had received a doctorate or were nearing completion of the degree from one of two distinguished universities. They all knew each other before coming to Perugia.
All, that is, except for me and a woman teaching at a European institution.
In our free time on a Saturday afternoon, she and I sat together on a patio looking across the Umbrian hills at Assisi. Several of our fellow participants wandered up chatting animatedly with each other. They glanced at us, but continued their conversation.
One of them said, “Where is everybody?”
Another said, “Nobody’s here.” They strolled off toward town without acknowledging us.
After a moment of looking into the distance, my colleague turned to me and said wistfully, “I wonder what it would take to be somebody.”
The risen Christ dwells in each of us. In you and in me. Every body is somebody.
Seeing this truth about the risen Christ led St. John Chrysostom to say, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door you will not find him in the chalice.”
Every body is somebody. Christ dwells there. Touches through that skin, sees through those eyes, hungers with that belly. Every body is somebody.
Each homeless teenager, hardened inmate, detained child is somebody. Every indigenous body, refugee body. White body, brown body. Every body is somebody. We find Christ there.
At least, finding the risen Christ in every body is our vocation as people of the resurrection.
It is not enough to recognize a spirit in someone else but to ignore their physical circumstances. Every body is somebody. Their fear, their hunger. Their loneliness, their untreated physical ailments. Their addictions and their homelessness. Christ abides in their real, embodied lives.
We can avert our gaze, put in our earbuds and crank up the volume. These bodies can be nobodies to us. Or, we can open our hearts and our hands. We can feel their need, their sorrow, their desperation as an ache in our very own souls and act to make this world a better place for us all.
Christ is speaking to us from within the life of the stranger. Jesus is calling our name most intimately—says to us, “Mary” or “Max” or “Dave” or “Margaret—from the depths of other lives. No body is nobody. Every body is somebody.
When the stranger’s need moves our own lives, we have heard Christ call our name. We know in the marrow of our own souls, that we are somebody. The risen Christ dwells within our lives, too. Every body is somebody.