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Easter, April 5, 2015

When I went to my high school reunion last summer, I immediately recognized many people. They were a little grayer, maybe their weight had changed a bit or they wore different style clothing, but they basically matched the pictures in our yearbook. Others were not so easy to identify. I had to ask others many times, “Who is that person?” and was amazed that when I knew who they were they came into focus. But there was one name on the list I couldn’t find anywhere. Then I heard someone call her by name. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the person looked up. She didn’t look like she did when I knew her; she didn’t act like she did when I knew her; she didn’t even smile like she did when I knew her. I was looking for a slightly touched up yearbook picture and I found a whole different person. I had been by her many times, but I did not see “her” because I was looking for somebody different.

“Whom are you looking for?” Jesus asks Mary. She looks straight into his eyes and tells him that her Lord’s body is missing. She doesn’t see him because she is looking for something else and she is so intent on finding it that she cannot see someone who was as dear to her as life itself.

Mary has come to the garden that morning to mourn for her beloved friend and master and she wanted a place to do that. The obvious spot was the tomb in which he was laid. No one would notice her if she wailed and cried her eyes out, which was what she wanted to do. It is the last connection she has with him and she wants to cling to it for dear life.

But Mary is thwarted. The stone is rolled away from the tomb. We do not hear that she looked into the tomb, but she is sure something terrible has happened because she runs to get Peter and the beloved disciple, telling them someone has taken Jesus’ body. The two men are alarmed and run back with her to the garden. The beloved disciple arrives first, but Peter enters the tomb first. He sees the linen grave clothes lying in the tomb and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head lying separate from them. The other disciple then went in and saw the same thing and believed. We don’t know what he believed. John tells us that the men did not understand the scriptures about Jesus being raised. He could believe that, yes the tomb was empty and that someone had taken Jesus away or he could believe that somehow God had vanquished death as Jesus had promised, but he just does not know how. We do not know how Peter felt. All we know is that they do not help Mary search but go back home.

Mary is still crying, still looking about frantically, and she looks in the tomb and sees two angels. We can now see Mary is truly obsessed with finding that body. She is not amazed by the angels’ appearance. She is not even afraid, as most people in the Scriptures are when they see an angel. She is intent on her task. The angels want to know why she is weeping, and she tells them. Maybe they are prepared to give the good news, but she doesn’t give them time to speak. She turns around and runs smack into Jesus, whom she assumes is the gardener. He asks her the same question, and she gives him the same answer.

Mary is caught in the cycle of death. She does not remember anything about predictions of the resurrection or if she does she doesn’t understand any more than the disciples do. She wants to see and touch Jesus’ body because that’s the way she can love and remember him. That’s the way she can begin the long, slow process of letting go of a loved one.

Maybe Mary turns around or darts off to find another option, someone else to ask, and Jesus calls her by name, “Mary,” he says, and suddenly she recognizes him. His calling of her name reaches her at the deepest part of who she is, at the intangible level that can be felt with the heart. It calms her and it brings her to her knees in worship. But Jesus is not ready to be touched because he has not yet ascended to the Father. He doesn’t want Mary to trade her personal mourning for her personal worshipping. Instead he wants her to report the news to his brothers, and she does, telling them, “I have seen the Lord”.

Mary isn’t looking for a resurrected Jesus on Easter morning. She is looking for a body. She is looking for Jesus but not at all in the way she experiences him. She is looking for an end, but she has found the beginning. Jesus makes it clear that their relationship will not be the same as it was when he was on earth because he is ascending to the Father and will return and bring his presence in the Holy Spirit as he has promised. His resurrection has started the business of making all things new.

Whom are you looking for this Easter morning? Are you looking for a cosmic Jesus, the Word that helped create the world at the Father’s bidding? Are you looking for the Big Idea, the Great Proposition, the Watchmaker? A friend of mine has a license plate that reads Day 7, and it means that the cosmic God created and now it is up to us to do our part to keep creating the world along the lines we have been given. Is that enough Jesus for you?

Are you looking for a God present in the flowers and the trees and the beautiful things of the created world? Are you looking for a God who can be seen and touched, not personally, but through things God has made for our pleasure and enjoyment and sometimes our fear and trembling? Are you looking for a God that you can feel by hugging a tree or digging your feet in the sand or stroking a puppy? Is that enough Jesus for you?

Are you looking for a moral teacher, someone who overturned the way the world was with his revolutionary ideas? Are you looking for someone who healed on the Sabbath, told people to pray for their enemies, preached non-violence to power, gave lessons in money management and showed forgiveness, love and compassion for everyone, except for when he was really irritated. Are you looking for an historical figure who lived and died and left behind good teachings that can be summed up in Do unto others as you would have them do to you? Is that enough Jesus for you?

Are you looking for a God you can see and touch in the people you serve, and that others can see and touch in you? Are you looking for Jesus wrapping a towel around his waist and washing his disciples’ feet? Is that enough Jesus for you?

Are you looking for a series of intellectual propositions to believe in – that God sent Jesus to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God and that we will all go to heaven when we die? That is what I used to believe in. That used to be enough Jesus for me. Is it enough Jesus for you?

The Jesus of the Resurrection is all of those beings and more. The Jesus of the Resurrection is a God of relationship. Jesus is the One who can be felt in the deepest parts of our soul when he calls our name, the one we cannot see or touch as Mary could, but the one who permeates our deepest selves. Jesus is someone we can trust, sight unseen. The risen Jesus is in a category beyond our imagining, but not beyond our loving or beyond his loving us. It was Jesus’ love that broke through to Mary, personally and intimately. It is Jesus’ love that can break through to us if we let it on Easter Day and every day. There are many roads to faith and trust. Start where you are and be willing to be open to more. Resurrection means new life, new hope, new faith for us as individuals and communities. Thanks be to God.


     - Rev. Ann Barker