(Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18)
It’s early on the first day of the week, a few days after Jesus was crucified and buried. The disciples have vacillated between fear and grief since Jesus died. The sky had darkened when Jesus died, and it remained dark for those who loved him. Their spirits were as dark as the sky had been when Jesus breathed his last.
Last Sunday, I preached, “When things aren’t going as we think they should go; when what seem to be bad things are happening; when we are suffering – it certainly doesn’t seem like God’s will is being done.” Things had certainly not gone the way the disciples thought they should go; it certainly seemed as if bad things had happened; they were certainly suffering. The storm had come, the sky had darkened, and the disciples were suffering in the aftermath.
The worst thing that they could imagine had happened, and the disciples’ reaction was totally normal. Jesus was entombed, and so were they. They were entombed in their fear and grief; wrapped in their anxiety and sorrow. They were curled inward, shocked and dismayed.
In the Gospel According to John resurrection passage, we see this anxious, sorrowful, shocked, and dismayed state most clearly in Mary’s reaction to the empty tomb. After she sees that the tomb is empty, she runs to the other disciples to tell them: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (20:2). Simon Peter and the other – unnamed – disciple run to the tomb and verify that it is empty. Then they return to their homes. Mary, however, stands outside the empty tomb, weeping. She bends and looks into the tomb and sees two angels – and we all know that the presence of angels means something significant – but she is too wrapped up in her grief to realize that this might mean something miraculous has happened. Then, she turns around and sees Jesus standing there, but she doesn’t recognize it is Jesus! Why? Because she is curled inward, preoccupied with her sorrow, and wrapped in her grief. Mary wasn’t expecting a miracle, so she couldn’t recognize it when it arrived. Finally, Jesus spoke Mary’s name. The power of him speaking her name cut through the grief and worry in which she was wrapped and she was able to see that the person standing in front of her was, indeed, her beloved Jesus. At that moment, Mary went from THIS to THIS (show with your own body the difference). Alleluia!
Oh, Mary, how well we understand you! We, too, become entombed in fear and wrapped in grief when things don’t go as we think they should; when what seem to be bad things are happening; and when we are suffering. The storm comes, the skies darken, and our spirits darken along with the skies. We turn inward. We don’t notice when the weather changes and the sun comes out. We’re not expecting a miracle, so we don’t recognize it when it arrives. Jesus could be standing right in front of us, but we wouldn’t realize it.
Jesus – Messiah, Savior, and Christ – could heal Mary just by speaking her name to her. And that is what he did. He spoke her name and, then, she recognized the miracle. Jesus speaks our names, too. He speaks them every moment of every day because he is divine love flowing from the Godhead into our world. He is the Word, through whom all things were made, which became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1: 1, 3, 14). He is the Word who speaks our names and causes us to come to life – the life he desires for us, which is abundant life.
Jesus brought Mary back to life and he will do the same for us, even if, at first, we don’t recognize him. He will speak our names and we will recognize the miracle in front of us. Jesus will do this for us, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live expecting the miracle while we are suffering? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be so faithful that, in the midst of suffering, we were actively looking for the miracle that God was working to bring to us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could see and recognize Jesus standing in front of us?
God loves us so much that he will work to bless our lives even when we aren’t expecting a miracle. Yes, God will do this, but his hope is that we will work with him rather than against him. We work with God when we are always expecting a miracle – even when things don’t go as we think they should; even when what seem to be bad things are happening; and even when we are suffering.
On this Easter Sunday – this first day of the week on which we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new and eternal life that it brings – let us commit to always expect a miracle. Let us imagine, with God, heaven on earth, then work with God to bring that about, regardless of what is going on around us or within us. Let us wait in our tombs with imagination and expectation, trusting that God will, indeed, resurrect us, our lives, and, even, the world . . . because, God will. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday/Resurrection of the Lord.