... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter Day Year B, Message April 15th, 2012

Called by Name

Text: John 20:1-18

Alleluia! Christ is risen. That is the acclamation of wonder which pervades each and every Easter celebration. It is the wonder and awe which comes from seeing God’s powerful intrusion over the finality of death and the assurance of the supremacy of his commitment to the covenant promising eternal life.

There are two major celebrations in the Christian year – Christmas and Easter – and both are inextricably linked in the birth and life of Jesus. In the former we celebrate the physical birth of Jesus and the in-breaking of the divine into human history. In the latter we celebrate the re-birth into an everlasting life and the deliverance over death.

All four readings for today focus on death as a real entity but an entity that no longer has dominion over us. It shows death to be a force contrary to God’s design and one which only God can overcome. And overcome God does! The psalmist praises God in the midst of the congregation for the deliverance affected by God to save the author from a certain death – a death over which he himself was not able to defend against. And just as God has saved the psalmist so God will also save Israel. While the psalm might well have been a praise song to the encouragement of Israel’s faith, it also served as a song of prophecy to describe the life death and resurrection of Jesus.

The New Testament texts of Acts and Corinthians not only show God’s ability to delivery from death, “the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead”, but directs us to see that this deliverance is a foreshadow of what God plans for humanity and in particular those who believe. The resurrection becomes the portal for a view of life which has radical implications for the present and for how we live in community with one another. And the Gospel is the paradigm of how we enter into the new vision.

The climax of the first Easter day is the resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene which ultimately leads to her confusion, “Rabbouni!” and her witnessing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” To understand this transfiguration in Mary, John weaves a concise but beautiful narrative marked by three parallel statements she makes to the two disciples, the two angels and to the gardener near the tomb. These statements show Mary’s concern over the missing body. She is preoccupied with her loss, her grief and her fears.

Having gone to the tomb early on the first day – while it was still dark she found the tomb had been opened. She races back to Simon Peter and the other disciples and blurts out, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” It is not her faith which has prompted her concerns but rather her fear and worry over Jesus’ body. Who has done this remains unvoiced but it is nevertheless the accusation Mary is airing – Might it be the Jewish leaders, the Romans, grave robbers or perhaps Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus.

Racing back to the tomb Simon Peter and the other disciples come to the tomb and on entering see the emptiness but also not the folded linens. John informs us that the disciples’ curiosity is not piqued. The other disciple believes – but we are not told what he believes. Perhaps the belief he now holds is that Mary was correct the body of Jesus is no longer there. The one thing they do note is that the linens were still in place suggesting that this is not a case of grave robbing. And being thus satisfied they return to their homes leaving Mary alone weeping and un-consoled.

The next scene shows Mary’s encounter with the angels and again her concern is that “they have taken away my Lord.” Even now in the presence of heavenly messengers Mary still focuses on the body and no less so than when she met the gardener. Her fears, her anxieties and her fixation are all natural. Every aspect of Mary’s reactions shows her to be rations, logical and sane. Even in her grief she does the natural thing and assumes the only logical possibility – someone has stolen the body.

But then her world is shattered; Jesus said to her, “Mary”. Something illogical impossible and unnatural takes place. Jesus the one who had been dead is there in front of her, greeting her and she now recognizes him where only moments before she had seen only a total stranger. How come the change? Where is the explanation? Surely she should have been able to recognize Jesus having spent at least 3 years by his side and having journeyed even to the foot of the cross!

Perhaps in the process of the resurrection God also affected a change in Jesus’ appearance. Where prior to this event Jesus had been weather-worn, stressed face and hardened visage he now was refreshed, regenerated and rejuvenated. It does happen – not in so short a time frame, but we all know people whom we meet after months or years of absence who in meeting them again we would never have recognized them – weight loss or gain, facial features change, etc. But there is usually something that breaks through triggers a recollection and opens a meaning so that we can see beyond what is there in front of us to jolt us to the reality.

For Mary that jolt was Jesus calling her name – one word, “Mary!” And in that moment all her fears anxieties and grief cascade away and with new eyes she beholds her Lord and she exclaims, “Rabbouni!”

The response to her recognition is her obedience in witnessing to the others, “I have seen the Lord.” Her concern for the body of Jesus and her grief and despair have been superseded by awe wonder confession of faith and witnessing.

Unlike Mary we already know the tomb is empty and that Jesus has been raised. We know before-hand that the gardener is really Jesus. Yet when each time we hear the story and the moment of Mary’s recognition when she hears Jesus call her by name, we experience the shimmer of our own realization that Jesus does know each one of us and calls each by his or her own name.

This is the moment when we face the realization of having a new perspective on life which indeed has radical implications for our present and for how we live in community with one another. Christians everywhere are part of this Easter community and whether we accept it or not have been bound into a new concept of what it means to have been called by name.

Thus we can all shout out, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Amen