Text: John 20:1-18
"New light, new day, the spring has come,
let all the church be part of it!
New leaf, new thrust, the sun is warm,
let all God's children play in it!
New bud, new shoot, the spring has come,
new people are the flowers of it!"
These words are from the Easter hymn "The Spring Has Come," which we will sing later this month. This hymn came to my mind yesterday as I reflected on the joy of Easter. Our long journey of 40 days and nights through Lent is over, and we have landed where we had hoped: amidst Easter sunshine and with the Risen Christ.
We are the new people that the hymn says are the flowers of spring. In Easter worship and in communion, which we will share in a few minutes, we celebrate both the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection. We are new people today -- no longer just ordinary citizens, but also blessed members of the Body of Christ.
So it is for Mary Magdalene in the garden outside of the empty tomb. She is grief-stricken as the scene begins as she comes to Jesus' tomb early on a Sunday morning while it is still dark. She has suffered through the Sabbath day -- a day of anguish for the followers of Jesus after his Crucifixion on Good Friday. Mary has come to the tomb at the earliest possible moment to tend to the body.
But the stone at the tomb's entrance has been rolled away, and Mary fears that Jesus' body has been stolen. She rushes to tell Peter and another disciple this bad news. The disciples return to the tomb with Mary, confirm that the body has been removed, and then leave. But Mary stays and enters the tomb herself. Jesus' body is not there, but the tomb now contains two angels.
When Mary turns back to the garden at the tomb's entrance, a man is there who asks her why she is weeping and for whom she is looking. She assumes that he must be the gardener and asks him if he has taken Jesus' body away.
But the man is Jesus, and he answers her simply by calling her by name. "Mary," he says. And at once she recognizes the speaker as her Teacher, whom she calls Lord. By calling her by name, Jesus reveals himself to Mary as her Lord and Saviour. And this act of being called by name is key, I believe.
Mary, like others who encounter Jesus after his resurrection, does not recognize him at first. Perhaps her tears obscure her vision; or perhaps she cannot imagine that a person, whom she knows is dead, could be standing in front of her. In any case, Jesus is often not recognized after his resurrection.
Mark's Gospel includes no resurrection appearances; just an announcement by a man dressed in white in the empty tomb that God has raised Jesus and that he will reappear in Galilee. Matthew shows the Risen Jesus present with his disciples in Galilee where he commands them to baptize in his name, though some of the disciples are doubtful. Luke tells of a conversation between the Risen Christ and two disciples on a long walk to the town of Emmaus, and yet they do not recognize Jesus until he breaks the bread at dinner. As soon as the disciples do recognize him, Jesus vanishes. Later, Jesus appears to all the disciples, but several of them think they have only seen a ghost.
In John's Gospel as we heard this morning, Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden. Later he appears to the disciples gathered in a locked room. But Thomas doubts he is Jesus until he inspects Jesus' wounds. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are fishing in Galilee, but at first they too do not recognize him.
On Easter morning, Mary recognizes the figure in front of her as the Risen Christ when he calls her by her name. And perhaps when Jesus says "Mary," he is answering his own question, "Whom are you looking for." Mary is looking for the body of her dead friend. But perhaps in her grief she has also lost herself. "Whom are you looking for?" Jesus asks. And his reply is "Mary." When Jesus calls her by her name, Mary see both Jesus and perhaps she also sees herself anew in Christ.
After all, Jesus will soon be gone again, ascended to his Father, but the work of Mary and his other followers is just beginning. They become the Body of Christ and continue ministry in the power of the Spirit of Christ . . .
Imagine for a moment if you will that while resurrection brings joy, it might sometimes also feel like a burden? The crucifixion of Jesus was a terrible and painful shock for his followers. Surely they must have thought that his death meant the end of their ministry. With the re-appearance of Jesus, their grief changed into joy. But then their real work begins. Jesus' crucifixion is not the end. Instead it is only the start of their journey. And on this renewed and longer journey, the disciples can no longer simply follow Jesus, puzzle at his parables, and marvel at his healing. Now the work falls on them: they are the ones who are called to preach, to heal and to serve. Might this call sometimes feel like a burden? . . .
Here is an analogy, which might seem a little trite, but I have been thinking about it this week. Three times in my own working life, I worked in an office which was suddenly closed. Each time, all of us who worked there were laid off. Each time we were surprised, angry, and frightened. But each time, I was also at least a little bit relieved. All the problems and tasks we had worried about were no longer important. The powers-that-be had decided our work was no longer needed. All that was left was tying up loose ends, archiving the files, and looking for work elsewhere. And as a person who often battles anxiety, I felt some relief.
After each layoff, I found a new job. In these new jobs, there were new problems and tasks for me to worry about. Did these new jobs also represent new life? Hardly. They seemed just like more normal life, filled with all the worries and chores that are part of our everyday work lives.
Now I am confident that this is not what the disciples feel after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. After all, Jesus sends the Spirit to comfort and guide his disciples and the church. And it is through the power of the Spirit that we continue the work of Jesus even to this day.
Before the resurrection, Jesus and his followers have a lot work to do. After the resurrection, this work remains. But the context is completely different.
By calling her by name, Jesus shows Mary that he is the Risen Christ. After recognizing Jesus as her Risen Lord, Mary is not the same old person. When she rushes to tell her friends the good news, she is changed. Mary now lives in Christ and Christ in her. By hearing the Risen Christ say her name, Mary feels known by God and sees herself reflected in God. Even though her work as a follower of Jesus continues, she and her friends carry out this work in His name and not in their own. They work as members of the Body of Christ in the power of Christ.
When I found a new job after being laid off, it was still just me and my old, addicted ego trying to make a living much like I always had done.
But when the crucified and risen Lord confronts us and calls us by our name, we are changed. In face of the Risen Christ, it is no longer Mary who lives, but Christ who lives in her. She might still call herself "Mary" in this new life, or perhaps she is moved to change her name the way Saul changed his name to Paul, or Simon changed his name to Peter. In either case, an old anxious way of life has died, and a new life of freedom and trust has begun. In this new life, what once seemed like a burden is now a light task in the hands of God through the power of God's Spirit.
In moments of Grace like Mary's in the garden, we live in the light, praise God, and do God's work. But it is not just us and our old egos any more. In those moments, it is the Risen Christ living within us and shining through us. Our old burdens have died with Christ; and our new life is beyond those old anxieties and burdens.
Of course we don't live every moment in such a state of grace -- neither Mary who sees her risen Lord on the first Easter, nor us worshipping God as Father, Christ, and Spirit so many years later. Paul put it this way in First Corinthians, "Love never ends. But knowledge will come to an end. For now we know only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. Now we see as through a glass darkly; then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."
At the end of life, we are confident that our anxieties will be laid down for good and we will know Love completely. Until then and with grace, we follow as best we can the path of faith, hope and love. And on this path, just as Mary did in the Garden, we often encounter the Risen Christ. We might stumble upon Christ unawares while spending time with our children. We might see Him in a neighbour whom we visit in hospital or in a person we serve in the Thrift Shop. We might encounter Christ alone while hiking in a mountain meadow or in a quiet moment in worship. Or we might see Christ in the eyes of our beloved. Wherever it is that we encounter the Risen Christ, in those moments He calls us by our name and reminds us again that Love never ends.
Moments like this where we taste eternal life might come and go a thousand times in one broken lifetime. Often we fall back into anxiety and tiredness. Even church can sometimes feel this way. Didn't we just celebrate the resurrection last Sunday? Didn't we just serve communion last month? Didn't we just sing Christmas carols last year? Do we have to do it again? Will this ministry and this path ever end?
But then Jesus call us by our name, the burden dissolves, and the joy of life beyond fear and ego arises. And though we might see Jesus only through tears or as through a glass darkly -- even so, in those moments we do see Jesus. We see God within us and beyond us, and we know again and again that Jesus has risen and that we have risen along with Him.
This is Easter morning. Jesus Christ has risen today!
Hallelujah! And Amen.
Our hymn of response and hymn before communion is . . .
* HYMN "I Have Called You by Your Name" #161 MV