April 17, 2022

"Recognizing Jesus"

Rev. Scott Landis

John 20: 1-18

While the gospel writers are all a little sketchy on the details, their stories are amazingly similar. It was the women who took the initiative. Still reeling from the trauma of witnessing the horror of the crucifixion of Jesus, they arose “Early in the morning on the first day of the week. While it was still dark.” And made their way to the tomb.

In John’s retelling, it was Mary Magdalene who got there first and saw that the large stone that had sealed the tomb was moved. She didn’t need to look inside. I suppose she just knew Jesus was gone.

She ran at once to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple referred to as “the one Jesus loved,” the “bad news.” They also ran to the tomb, I suppose, to check out her story. Upon seeing the accuracy of her report – and not knowing what to make of what they saw – and didn’t see. John writes, “They went back home.” I imagine they wanted to hide and hope that this whole horrible incident would just go away.

Mary returned to the tomb as well and stood outside weeping. As she wept, she knelt and peeked inside to see for herself. It was then she encountered two angels who asked her the most puzzling question of all, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took away my master and I don’t know where they have put him,” she responded.

When she turned away, she saw Jesus, but she did not recognize him. And he asked her as well, “Woman, why do you weep?”

She thought he was the gardener and said, “Mister, if you know where they have put him, tell me where so that I can go and care for him.

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni,” which means “Teacher.”

After telling her not to cling to him – she ran back to the disciples to share the news, “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.

My guess is they thought she was crazy. You see, they too were traumatized by the horror of the crucifixion and now, they had to deal with the horrible news that the body had been stolen. To spare themselves any more pain, they went into hiding – closed their eyes to that which they could not bear and turned away from all that appeared so unavoidably real.

We all know this pain, this feeling, don’t we?

We know the unspeakable pain we feel when we have lost a loved one in death. Whether expected or unexpected, the trauma we feel when we experience loss can be overwhelming. Like the disciples we may have wanted to run away and hide. Pulling the covers over our head we just want it all to go away – to end as nightmares always do.

Or, like Mary, our trauma may be so profound that we cannot even see what is right in front of us. Our trauma can completely confound all our faculties paralyzing our ability to know what next to do. We all know this pain, don’t we? We know the paralysis of traumatic loss. Perhaps some of you are experiencing that today. Maybe that’s the reason why you are here.

It’s an interesting question to think about, isn’t it? Why AM I here today? What got me up, “while it was still dark” to make my way to Mākena – to Keawala’i Church – to struggle to find a parking space – to sit in an uncomfortable chair on Easter Sunday and worship with a few hundred folks I hardly know? Why am I here?

Perhaps it was a longing for a tradition that was impossible to fulfill during the last two years as these kinds of gatherings were prohibited. Maybe it’s the beautiful view of Mākena Bay that drew you to these peaceful grounds. Maybe it was your need to sing the triumphant hymns and hear the story once again of Jesus’ ability to conquer death.

I don’t know your reason, and you might not either. But I want you to be aware to the fact that regardless of your reason, Jesus has one of his own.

The most touching part of this story – and that which gives me pause every time I read it – is when Jesus pierces through all the shock and trauma that Mary was dealing with and simply calls her by name. “Mary.” Hearing her name became an invitation. She turned toward Jesus. And in her stillness, she recognized him. She called him “teacher.” She embraced him. And, then she ran to tell the others everything he had said.

I believe the Risen One continues to invite us – each one of us – even today. He calls us by name – piercing through whatever it is that is weighing us down. Reminding us we are not alone no matter how bad things may appear to be. Jesus calls us by name and reminds us that we, too, are one of his children.

Like Peter and the Beloved Disciple – we can sing the songs, pray the prayers, marvel at the sights, and go home acting as if nothing ever happened as we move on to the next event in our lives. OR – maybe this year we will “recognize Jesus.” Maybe we will catch a glimpse of him in one or more of these things as we are invited to move from death to life.

Today as we move from Word to Sacrament – we shift our experience from the conceptual to the concrete. And while there may be some giggling over the method, I invite you to move from your head to your heart. Look around you. Be fully present in this place. Listen for your name. Perhaps you, too, will recognize Jesus.


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