Text: John 20.1-18
Every Easter, we gather in our churches to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For some of us, Easter Sunday is a high point on a deepening spiritual journey, a rich and meaningful immersion in the reality of the risen Christ. Easter is the culmination of months of enriching spiritual discipline. We’ve humbled ourselves throughout the Lenten season, we’ve concentrated with prayer and meditation on the passion of our Lord during Holy Week, and we’ve come prepared to experience his resurrection afresh in our lives. We know Jesus intimately, and we’re eager to spend this special time with him and our brothers and sisters who know him as well.
For some of us, Easter is a good day to celebrate the truth of our faith, but it doesn’t seem to move us very deeply. We tried to keep some focus over the last few weeks, but life continued to get in the way. To much is going on for us to pay that much attention to Easter. In many ways it’s just another Sunday. Easter is special, but we can’t let it intrude too much on all the other things we have going on in our lives. We know Jesus. In fact, we rely on him to get us through these busy days, but sometimes our neighbor, our boss, and the man in the car ahead of us is more real than Jesus is.
Some of us, are here because, …well, we’re not entirely sure. We come week after week because it’s the thing to do, or maybe we rarely come at all, but we feel like we should at least be in church at Christmas and Easter. Perhaps our husband or wife wanted us to come. Our children begged, or our parents insisted. Easter is a holiday, and a couple of hours in church won’t hurt. It’s special, but so is Christmas and Mother’s Day. We believe in God, and we try to get to church every once in a while. We know about Jesus, at least a bit, and we’re happy with the bit we know.
There are other reasons some of us are here, I’m sure. There are probably as many different reasons and different expectations as there are people in this sanctuary. And we all know something about Jesus and Easter, quite a lot, or a little bit.
No matter why you’re here, though, no matter what is on your mind, whether you want to be here and whether or not you’re worshiping or wishing you were somewhere else, the fact remains that you are here, and Jesus has a question for you. No matter what plans you have for the rest of the day, no matter what else is on your mind at the moment, I hope you’ll give Jesus the courtesy of a few minutes of your attention so he can ask you that question.
And while we have those few minutes, as we wait for Jesus to ask his question, please consider Mary Magdalene with me.
Mary Magdalene knew Jesus. She knew him first as someone who did her a rather big favor—he delivered her from no less than seven demons (Mark 16.9, Luke 8.2). We don’t have much more information than that. We don’t know what they were like, or what kind of chaos they caused for her, but we do know that she was delivered. From that time she followed Jesus and is even described as having provided for him for a considerable portion of his ministry (Matthew 27.56; Mark 15.40-41).
Mary, likely a woman of some means, spent quite a bit of time with Jesus. In fact, she’s almost always mentioned as one of the women who accompanied Jesus’ mother. Perhaps they shopped together and prepared meals for Jesus and his disciples. They probably sat around the table talking and enjoyed quiet afternoons together.
Together, Mary and Mary witnessed the entirety of Jesus’s ministry—his miracles, his struggles with the pharisees, his compassion with the people, his intimate moments with his disciples. They witnessed them not as curious followers but as family and friends. Unlike many of Jesus’s followers who deserted him in a time of fear and need, we know that Mary Magdalene was present at the crucifixion. She also witnessed Jesus’ burial and was there when the tomb was sealed.And in our gospel reading today, she was among the first at the tomb the day Jesus was raised.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (John 20.1, NRSV). What was Mary looking for when she went to the tomb that morning? She was looking for the body of her dear friend who had rescued her from a life of slavery to sin and demons, her friend with whom she’d traveled and for whom she cared for so long. She was going to remember and grieve over the body of the amazing man whose miracles she’d witnessed again and again. She was going to anoint her dead friend whose body she saw beaten and pierced, whose corpse she saw removed from the cross and sealed behind the stone.
And what did she find? An empty tomb.
So she gets Peter and John, and they see the tomb, and they leave, wondering what it meant. Perhaps they were worried that they would be accused of stealing the body. Perhaps they were beginning to remember a bit of what Jesus told them in a new light.
But Mary stays behind, and everything changes. She sees the angels and responds to their questions, probably not even aware at that time who they were.
And then she sees Jesus.
She doesn’t recognize him. Mary, who was delivered by his hand from demons, who was with him through most of his ministry, who helped feed and care for him, who witnessed his death, and who watched as he was laid in the tomb, doesn’t recognize her friend and Lord.
So Jesus poses a question.
His question is innocent, coming from the gardener Mary supposed him to be. But coming from the resurrected Lord of all creation, it’s the question of the ages. Mary, who had known Jesus as he was and as she continued to expect him to be, did not recognize him as he now was. Jesus, who knew her as she once was, knew her also as she now was, asked her the question that got to the heart of the matter this first resurrection morning.
For whom are you looking?
In those few words hung the balance of Mary’s life. It was one of those kinds of questions that asks one thing but communicates so much more. Mary, are you looking for your familiar friend as you knew him and now grieve for him? Are you looking for your deliverer who was always there, always assuring, always loving? Are you looking for the one you saw laid in the tomb, your noble but tragic friend who could not fight the forces that were against him?
Are you looking for the risen Christ who is victorious over powers you can’t even imagine? Are you looking for the unexpected king of the universe who conquered all by giving everything? Are you looking for the re-creating Lord who is as frightening as he is familiar, who makes everything new? And Mary, when you find what you’re looking for, are you prepared for what you’ll find?
All this and more were wrapped up in those few little words, for whom are you looking?
And then Jesus did something amazing. He called Mary by name. In a word, as intimate as her own name, he showed his dear friend who he really was. In two short syllables, he changed her entire world. In the simple, loving utterance of one familiar friend to another, he turned everything she knew about life and death, everything she knew about her own past, everything she expected from her future, and everything she thought she knew about him—completely upside down.
Mary came to the tomb that morning expecting to find Jesus. She came prepared to find him as she last knew him; a warm memory, a cold body, a dear friend, now a departed friend.
Instead she found the risen Christ, and her whole life was changed.
I said before: We’re all here for different reasons, looking for different things. We all have some knowledge of Jesus, and we all expect to find him in one way or another. But no matter how much or how little we expect from him, whether we know him as friend or name in an old book, whether we’ve walked with him every day or just come for one of a few holidays, or whether we know him deeply or barely have time to spend with him, Jesus meets us here today, as he did Mary Magdalene, with a very simple and loaded question.
For whom are you looking?
Are you looking for what you expect to find, or are you really open to know him as he is?
– The resurrected Christ who defied recognition by even his closest friends.
– The resurrected Christ who is able to change us into something so new we cannot conceive it—so new we may even be afraid of it.
When he calls you by name, will you recognize him?
You know, Mary’s story did not end with that recognition. Mary worshiped her risen Lord, so much so that she clung to him, Jesus had to tell her to let go. Mary was given a special task. Mary Magdalene, known often merely as one of the women who accompanied Jesus’ mother, was sent to bear witness to Jesus’ own disciples!
And she did it.
Mary was with the disciples long after this day. She most likely spent much more time with Jesus during the forty days he spent with his followers before he ascended into heaven. And she was with them at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given and a handful of once fearful people began the church and rocked the world. Mary went looking for her familiar friend, encountered the risen Christ, and opened herself to the fullness of his new creation in her life.
What will happen to us today when Jesus speaks our name?
Will we turn away in fear, or will we worship him and open ourselves to his unpredictable, unimaginable newness of life? Will we retreat again to what we were comfortable knowing, or will we risk everything to participate in his resurrection?
For whom are we looking?
Let us look today not for the savior of our own desire but for the risen Christ, whose resurrection glory defies explanation and blows away all expectations. Let us hope in the risen Christ because he draws us from death into unexpected life. Let us be eager to let go of everything so that he can take us and recreate us into something we never would have guessed.
There was another witness at the tomb that morning. It was not until later that he would also encounter his risen Lord and go through the transformation that would take him from coward to fearless apostle of Christ.
As we listen to Jesus’ question this morning, listen carefully to what Peter had to say to those who have encountered the risen Christ and have taken the risk and opened ourselves to his newness.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
…Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1.3–9, 13-16)
Amen and amen!
No matter how you got here this morning, and no matter who you were looking for when you came, Jesus has already asked you this question.
For whom are you looking?
And he’s about to speak your name. When he does, I pray that, with Mary, Peter, John, and Paul, with the prophets of old and the living church of today,
– with Thomas, Clement, Justin Martyr, and Polycarp
– with Theodore, Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom, and Cyril
– with John of Damascus and Thomas Aquinas
– with Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley
– with Theresa of Ávila, Thomas More and John Henry Newman
– with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis
– with these who are going to be baptized and those who will reaffirm their baptism this morning
– with all of the witnesses to the living Christ from the distant past to the emerging future, young and old, dead and living
– with all who have seen him with their eyes and all who have known him through his Spirit
– with all who have heard him call their name
that you too will proclaim with your lips and show with your life that
Christ is Risen!