April 5, 2015

Jesus Said to Her, “Mary!” (Easter Sunday)

Passage: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18
Service Type:

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).

It is hard NOT to be jazzed at Easter! The music is upbeat; the message is positive—He is risen; the shadow of irretrievability cast by death has disappeared amidst the rays of hope’s sunshine radiating in the resurrection. The warmth in the air signals that this long winter is giving way to all the promise of spring; the song of returning birds lifts the spirit; the indications of soon-budding plant life invites us to look forward to plants in bloom, trees in full leaf; it is simply a flat-out invigorating time of year. Families get together, Easter egg hunts bring delight, great meals are shared. (And all the weight lost in Lent gets put back on) You just have to love Easter. If there is any Sunday of the year that is a “must attend” this is it!

Is Easter a fantasy, an escape? Is it a trip to a kind of spiritual Disney world? A sort of bubble where we escape the actualities of life that crush, demoralize, depress. Death is ever casting its shadow over life. Twice as many Christians (4,344) were killed for their faith in 2014 than in 2013, and more than 1,000 churches were attacked. Listen again to how the story of Easter begins in John’s Gospel: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb”. While it was still dark. In John’s gospel he makes great use of the themes of light and darkness. Easter happens “while it was still dark.” Easter is for just such a world. It isn’t an escape to another world. It happens at a tomb, at a graveyard. It happens in the actuality of Mary’s life and she is crying. Four times in a few verses John mentions that she is weeping.

You see, if Easter's joy and proclamation requires the blare of trumpets, the thunder of pipe organs, and the shining brightness of white vestments–if that type of setting were the only place where Easter could thrive–then who among us could take that back home with us? Who among us would claim that just about every single evening when we walk through the door after a day at work, we launch right into the "Hallelujah Chorus" because it had been such a wondrous day? Maybe a few of you do lead that kind of singularly lilting existence, and if so, God bless you in it. But some of the folks I know wake up many mornings "while it is still dark," and they're not sure they can outrun the shadows the balance of the day, either

1. You might think that the resurrection of Jesus would end any need to talk about his death. Seeing our Lord alive again is thought by some to put all that nastiness behind us. Not so the Apostles. Everywhere in the newer testament the resurrection of Jesus Christ is presented to us as the vindication of what Jesus accomplished in his dying. It is the proof that the crucifixion of Jesus differed from that of the two thieves who suffered with him. It is the seal that indicates that sin and evil have been resolved in God through his self-giving in the Son on the cross.

Note the early preaching of Peter at the house of Cornelius the Centurion. Of Jesus Peter proclaimed, “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses.” (Acts 10: 39-40) Note how Jesus’ death and resurrection are proclaimed together. The Apostle Paul wrote of how he passed on things of first importance, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Note how “death and burial” and “raised and appeared” are held together as of first importance.

Think with me about the four gospel writers as they take up pen to write the story of Jesus. They all write after the resurrection takes place (post-Easter) yet one-third of everything they tell us about Jesus occurs in the last week of his life. And of that entire account the recounting of resurrection appearances is a small portion. Clearly the death of Jesus looms large in what it is they want to say about the significance of Jesus in his living and dying and rising again.

In the resurrection story narrated by all four of these gospel writers the only event that all of them tell is of the visit of women to the tomb of Jesus. In John’s gospel, “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” Notice where she is, where the story takes place. She is at the place of the dead, a tomb. She had come to do what countless of us have done—gone to just such a place to remember, to grieve, to honour, to place a wreath, to mark significance. There is no doubt in Mary’s mind that Jesus is dead. He died in such a dehumanizing fashion she just doesn’t want his life to have meant nothing.

Mary Magdalene, along with the other women, provide the continuity between the story of Jesus’ death and burial and the story of Easter morning. These witness are key in telling us the Jesus who they knew really died and was the same Jesus who they met that morning. Resurrection tells us that in the death of Jesus, death was confronted and defeated. By faith we can come to the place of death and meet him and know that death will never have a final word about us. We hear a different word—the sound of our name on the lips of our Lord.

2. Whenever I come to this story of this encounter with the risen Jesus and Mary I feel like I am intruding on intimate and private conversation. It is like coming into a room and two people are talking quietly and it is obvious one has been crying. My presence seems an imposition. Yet the gospels invite us here. Mary Magdalene, a member of that first church, is ok with us being here as well.

She is crying. We all know why. Yet, the angels ask—so does Jesus—“Why are you weeping?” It is akin to us inviting people to talk of what troubles us—“what’s wrong?” Perhaps you have come to Easter and are crying. Our Lord invites us to talk with him about such trouble. Prayer is the place to pour that out. Jesus is so tender with Mary. Her hurt is real and he will not diminish it.

Reflect with me about her response for a moment. She says “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” It is a reasonable assumption given that the grave is empty. Somebody stole the body or took it somewhere else. When she first got to the tomb she saw that the stone was rolled away. Note that she leaves to tell the disciples but she doesn’t tell the disciples that that stone is rolled away but that the body has been taken. And she continues to operate out of that paradigm even as she later looks in the tomb as sees the angels. It is also the reason she believes Jesus to be the gardener. She could only see what she was willing to see.

Are there assumptions we make that prevents us from knowing that it is the risen Lord standing behind us whispering, “why are you crying?” Many people today find the story of the risen Jesus incredible—that is, it has no credibility because it is beyond explanation. Is it possible that the problem is our assumptions about what is necessary for explicability? Do we have a paradigm which, like Mary, borne of life experience, rooted in what we like to think of as “reality,”—just like her, dead bodies don’t get up and go places so somebody took it—but is nonetheless preventing us from seeing who it is that is present with us?

So today Jesus still comes up from behind to ask, "Why are you weeping? Why are you depressed? Why are you so afraid? Why are you so sad?" Every one of those questions has a perfectly logical answer. None of us weep without cause. Mary Magdalene didn't either. She, like each one of us, had an absolutely iron-clad good reason to cry that morning. Jesus doesn't rebuke her for crying. There is here no hint of "Knock it off" or "Silly woman, open your eyes!" Jesus himself knew that he and Mary both needed the tears if the truth of what had just happened was going to come to mean exactly what it still means: we have the hope of new life where we need it most: in the midst of a world full of death and dying.

3. Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ At the speaking of her name Mary is shocked awake to his presence. To be sure, the first level of this is the surprise that the one she presumes to be a gardener could have known her name. But there is more. She now realizes that she has heard this voice before and no one says her name like he does.

The gospels bear witness that believing is borne of personal encounter with Jesus. Think with me about personal encounter for a moment. To do that I invite you to consider the nature of personal encounter by contrasting it with relationship to an object.

We could describe relationship with and object as “I – it” relationship. We could refer to these as objective. Think about the relationship of a carpenter building a house. In such a relationship any carpenter will do and any house will do. The relationship is substitutable from both ends, so to speak. This is not to slight any carpenter among us nor that we might prefer one carpenter to build our house over another. I am speaking about the nature of the relationship between the house and the carpenter. The house doesn’t care who builds it and the carpenter can be switched midstream and the house will still get built.

When it comes to personal relationships we could describe them as “I-you” relationships. “I-you” relationships are unique. The relationship you have with a friend is the one only the two of you can have. Each person is unsubstitutable; “I-you” relationships are not plug and play as if any two will do. “I – you” relationship is the nature of the relationship we have with God. God isn’t looking for humans to have relationship as if anyone will do. He is looking to have relationship with you; the relationship that only you and God can have. Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’

Now this story is written for our instruction too. And he knows your name and mine just as surely as he knew Mary Magdalene’s name and Easter burst into her heart the moment he called that name to her. “Mary.” No matter how deep the darkness of life may seem, we are invited to listen for that voice calling our name. Because he is calling.

4. Now Mary does the most natural thing in the world. She takes hold of Jesus with an embrace that just won’t let go. I remember one day being at a mall when my three-year old son wandered off by himself. It was one of those moments when each parent thought the other was monitoring his whereabouts. I was speaking in a calm voice as we made a plan on how to find him; inside my mind and heart were in full panic mode. As I raced to the end of the mall frantically looking, I was elated to spot him being carried by a security guard. Upon reunion, as I carried him back to be reunited with the rest of the family, the embrace was like no other I had experienced—I wasn’t about to let go. It was flooded with relief and joy and love for this little rascal. You can imagine how Mary feels. She is not letting him go.

But there is more to come. Jesus wasn’t risen from the dead to stand forever in this spot with Mary. He gives her a commission to tell of her encounter. It is the commission that every believer carries in the world. “I have seen the Lord,” said Mary to the disciples. And John preservers her witness in written form so we can hear it too. So too, people around us need to hear our witness so they can recognize the voice of the one calling to them as well.

He is risen. He is risen indeed.