Sunday, April 8, 2012

Somebody's Calling Your Name

John 20:1-18

Two or three times a week I will get e-mails suggesting I look at some phenomenal event recorded on the internet. There is no such thing as a private moment anymore. I have read that professional basketball players are texting comments to their “face book” during halftime. I guess I should comb my hair just in case someone is recording this sermon.

Imagine if the Easter event had happened in the 21st century. In this age of mass media, CNN would have camped out in the cemetery and Anderson Cooper would have entered the tomb at first light. We would have had a special edition of Larry King Live and on Monday Jesus would have begun the morning on the “Today Show” and ended the day trading barbs with Jon Stewart. The news of the resurrection would have been no secret whatsoever. In fact, I suspect two months later CBS would have aired a made for TV movie titled, “Alive”. The pre-airing commercials would tease us with the guarantee that it was based on a real story.

But of course that is not the way it happened. There are eye witness accounts, but each contradicts the other. Mark’s original version was so sparse that someone later went back and added an additional ending. Luke marks the events along the road to Emmaus as the center piece of his story. In Matthew the disciples don’t see the risen Lord until they return to Galilee.

Then there is the account in John. It begins with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb by herself. If this were a made for TV movie you can just imagine the creepy soundtrack being played as alone, Mary walked in the semi-darkness toward the tomb. There would be shrieking sounds as Mary found the stone rolled away. We would have all feared for her life as she looked inside the tomb. When she found it empty, she would turn, stumbling as she ran, to find the disciples and report what she had discovered. In the next scene we would witness the detectives Peter and John gathering clues to the mysterious disappearance of the body. Completely confused by the events the disciples would eventually return to their homes, leaving Mary alone, weeping.

We have no clue why Mary returned to the tomb. Obviously Jesus was gone. Maybe she just wanted to be close to where she had seen him last. Maybe in her grief, she also wanted to die. For whatever reason, she returns to the tomb and goes inside. Imagine her surprise when she discovered two angels sitting where the body had been. They ask a perfectly ridiculous question, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

For most of us, Easter is the most glorious moment in the history of humankind. It defines every other event that has happened and will happen in our lives. Yet imagine being Mary. She found herself right in the midst of God’s revelation but none of the pieces seem to fit. The tomb was empty, the grave clothes were left behind, the disciples had run off to who knows where and two angels calmly sat in the tomb telling her not to weep over the death of the most important person in her life.

Marie Berger wrote, “Once in a while one becomes profoundly and spiritually bewildered. The neat answers crumble in a sea of confusion as we are led astray into a pathless wilderness that has no obvious beginning or end.” I don’t know how many times I have sat with a husband or wife at the moment of death. One minute the person they love more than anyone else in the world is here, and then they are gone. The survivor, a person of great faith, looks sorrowfully into my eyes and silently asks, “Why?” The obvious response is, “The person you love is not dead, they are living eternally with God.” That is what we believe. That is what we proclaim. And yet those words often seem lacking, even confusing at the moment of death.

While the disciples stumbled over each other trying to figure out which one of them was the greatest, it was the women who were faithful. When Jesus was tired, the women washed his feet. When the Last Supper was prepared, do you really thing the men cooked the meal? Even at the cross, where Jesus was deserted by the disciples, the woman gathered together and supported each other. When the final breath was taken, they claimed his body. These women listened to Jesus. They remembered his stories. And now Mary Madeline, in the midst of her grief, came to make those final burial preparations. For all the promises of life, Mary could only see death. For all the promises of tomorrow, Mary could only see today. Even the angels only served to further confuse her already bruised heart.

“Where have you taken him? I need to finish the work I started. I need to say the final prayers. I need to shed a tear. I need to hold his hand and kiss his face one last time.” Mary stared blindly at the angels, overwhelmed by grief, overcome by her personal sea of confusion. Then she hears that one unique voice she has heard a thousand times before, “Mary”.

There was no one around to record this historical scene. The disciples had gone home. The soldiers had fled. No cameras, no fancy cell phones, no CNN, no one, except Mary. She turned and looked into that face she adored and answered, “Teacher.” That one word, that one moment of faith, began that incredible transition when the rest of the world claimed Jesus, son of Joseph as Christ, son of God.

Karl Barth, the great Swiss Reformed pastor wrote, “Faith is a decision to believe in God’s mysterious breaking forth. Faith is the belief that God is not dead, not passive, nor inactive but that God works through history for the redemption of humankind. Faith is enacted by announcing, ‘I have seen the Lord’.”

There is an African-American spiritual that beautifully captures Mary’s moment of recognition. The song begins, “Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name. Hush…… hush, somebody’s calling my name. Hush……… hush, somebody’s calling my name. Oh my Lord, O my Lord, what shall I do?”

The Christian faith began when Mary found Peter, John and the rest of the disciples and testified to the resurrection. She didn’t bring pictures of the body. She didn’t share a recording of the voice. She declared her witness to a transformation of her dear friend from teacher to Lord.

At my last congregation we had a children’s program which met every other Wednesday. On the Wednesday before Easter the kids and I would walk through the church, reliving the last week of Jesus. We started with a parade in the fellowship hall. We went outside and pretended to be Jesus praying on the hill for the sins of Jerusalem. Only we prayed for our own sins. We climbed the steps to the “Upper Room” where the kids told me all about the significance of the bread and the body. We headed to the choir room which we turned into the garden. We talked about the disciples falling asleep. We traveled to the court of Pilate, and made our way into the sanctuary. On the communion table was a cross wrapped in black. The kids were filled with questions about how Jesus died, why he would forgive everyone, and why he was thirsty. Then I sent the girls to the tomb. They came back and announced the tomb was empty. I asked them what had happened and one girl said, “Jesus rose from the dead.” I asked her how she knew. She said, “Somebody told me.”

Easter is remembering Mary’s act of faith. But Easter is more than that. Easter is relived each time we, one child at a time, one life at a time, share the story of God calling our name.

If we believe, how do we do anything less?

To God be the Glory. Amen.

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