Hearing Your Name

A sermon on Easter Sunday

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” –John 20:11-18

Children’s Time: Show an egg with candy inside – share some with the children – then ask what if your eggs were empty? How would you feel? Betrayed? Sad? This is how Mary felt when she came to see Jesus’ grave at the cemetery. The stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty! She thought someone had robbed his grave! So, she was sad and began to cry. But she had a surprise, right? Yes! Jesus himself came to see her (though she thought he was a gardener). And when she recognized him she was happy again. I have one more egg to open. Let’s see what’s inside. Bubbles! Was that a surprise! Let’s thank God for the surprise of Easter – that he is Risen and will always be near us.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, who stole your Jesus? That’s the question posed by Anna Carter Florence in a sermon she prepared for Easter. You see, Mary wasn’t crying that day by the tomb because Jesus had died. It wasn’t because they had tortured him and crucified him and laid him in the tomb. It was because someone had stolen his body. That’s the only explanation she could think of when the tomb was empty.

She ran to tell the disciples: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Whoever ‘they’ are, Mary was sure it was true. Jesus’ grave had been robbed. Boy, was she in for a surprise!

When she sees Jesus, she thinks he’s the gardener – or maybe he’s the one who took the body. “Sir, if you know where he is just tell me and I’ll go get him and we’ll pretend none of this even happened.” When you’ve lost something – or had something stolen – seems like everyone is a suspect.

This happened to me last year. I was on my way to the north shore with the family and we stopped at Tobie’s in Hinckley for gas and to eat. I had my wallet, but my debit card was missing! “Think, John, think.” The last place I had used it was early that morning, when I stopped into Walgreen’s to pick up a few things for the cabin. Had I been in too much of a hurry? Had it fallen on the floor in my rush to gather my items and head up north? Hopefully, some kind person just turned it in to the teller.

We called the bank right away to put a hold on the account but it was too late. Someone had racked up a couple hundred dollars worth of gas on my card (good thing it wasn’t at THIS WEEK’s prices!!!). Who would do such a thing! Fortunately, there was kindness from other family members who helped us out. And from my bank who worked everything out so we didn’t get hit with paying a big fine. And this was mild compared to stories of others, who’ve lost everything – valuables, family heirlooms and keepsakes.

Elyn MacInnis tells the story that about a Zen Master, Ryokan, who lived a life of simplicity in a hut near the mountains. He was out one night when a thief broke into his hut and found there was nothing of value to steal. The master returned home while the thief was still there and said to him, “You have traveled far to visit me. I cannot let you return empty-handed. Here are my clothes, please accept them as my gift.” The thief was puzzled by this, but took the clothes and scurried away into the night. “The poor fellow,” the master said, gazing up at the bright moon. “How I wish I could give him this glorious moon!” (http://www.characterreflections.com/ by Elyn MacInnis)

What if we were able to live with such kindness? Calling out the best in each other? It’s what Jesus offers to Mary, who has just accused him of robbing his own grave. “Mary,” he simply says. And she gets it. She realizes he had risen: “Rabbouni!” she cries (which means Teacher, but also, ‘my Lord!’). “Go tell my brothers,” he says “that I am ascending to my father.”

Easter is about more than ‘trick eggs’ and zippy little stories to tell. It’s about hearing your name when your whole world is coming undone. And knowing you’re not alone.

Last fall, my mother died from breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver. It was Thanksgiving weekend. And many people called my name in those dark days, reaching out to me through my grief and tears. I still get a lump in my throat when I see her purse or come across a card she sent me last year (which would be her last year with us). Through the care and concern of those around me the risen Christ was calling out my name.

How is Jesus calling your name these days? You see, we must hear our name for it to become real to us. Otherwise, we’ll go on looking for the living among the dead – seeing others with the eyes of suspicion.

Who stole your Jesus? Who took away the Jesus you remember? Was it the faith that you recall with longing from years gone by? Like the prayers or the hymns that have fallen out of use – only to be replaced with something called “contemporary?” Who stole your Jesus? Are you looking so hard to re-create the past that you can’t see him alive and well IN A NEW WAY right here and now?

This coming year we will celebrate our 50th anniversary. It will be a time for remembering and honoring those who have gone before us. Without a sense of your roots, you have no grounding. Those who founded this congregation and planted the seeds of the faith here go deep into the soil of our lives, providing stability so this ‘dream tree’ of a church can bend and sway in the gale winds of culture and do much more than survive – but thrive in the light of Christ!

But those same roots need the shoots – the new life that is emerging at the outermost edges, springing forth with promise and things unseen. We need both roots and shoots in this body of Christ.

This tree of the faith doesn’t belong to any one of us – it is the Lord’s.

Notice that when Mary finally DOES see Jesus, he won’t let her hug him. “Do not lay hold of me. Go and tell my brothers I am ascending to the Father – my God, and your God.” Oh, c’mon, Jesus! She’s been looking for you all morning. Give her a break! There’s this sense of relief that he’s alive – that which was lost now is found (he wasn’t stolen after all)… he’s right here… and yet, she can’t hug him – Mary can’t own him. And neither can we.

Once we “see the light” we, too, must take care that we don’t latch too firmly onto the truth we have found. On “our version” of the truth. We can believe – and act – and share this good news – but we don’t own Jesus, even though he is with us everywhere we go.

Listen to this excerpt from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye entitled: “Kindness”

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness…

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

Jesus is raising his head this day, from the crowd: “It is I you’ve been looking for,” he says. And he sends you with a message to go and tell.

Whose name do you need to call today? Who have you seen crying (friend, acquaintance or stranger)? Who needs to hear their name today? To hear a kind word?

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Don’t keep that joy to yourself. God is doing a new thing this day. The Spirit is still speaking among God’s people – calling us out of the darkness – beyond our worries about theft – and who did what – to a new life in the risen Christ. I pray for eyes to see who the gardener really is and that God would go with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. Amen.

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