Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, April 20, 2014

Jesus Knows Our Names
[Psalm 103:1-5; John 20:1-18]

            John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection has all the qualities of a classic comedy, according to one Bible commentator -- the characters include Mary Magdalene, a common woman without a good reputation, Peter, a fisherman,  another disciple, two angels and finally Jesus who shows up at the end.  The characters come and go, run to see, bend down, go into the tomb, then see Jesus’ absence and don’t know what to do.  They see, but they’re confused, they weep, they’re afraid. They run back and forth randomly: to the tomb, away from the tomb, back to the tomb.
            We, in contrast, are very scripted on Easter morning, aren’t we?  We’ve heard the story many times and know how it ends.  For folks with young children, Easter means getting up early for egg hunts and Easter baskets… perhaps a sunrise service and breakfast, a highly rehearsed worship experience with our best music, flowers for the cross, lilies, alleluias, the color white and the end of Lenten spiritual disciplines.  Families gather for an Easter feast and perhaps have made the journey back home to visit family and friends. 
            So it’s hard to recreate the original CHAOS of that first Easter. It’s hard to capture the emotions Mary Magdalene, Peter and probably John, the writer of this story are feeling. They were grief-stricken on that first morning.  When it was still dark, Mary was the first to see the stone rolled away from the tomb.  She immediately ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple… crying out:  “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb…” Someone robbed the grave of the one they loved!  Imagine coming to the grave of someone YOU love in our church cemetery. The grave is dug up and there’s a huge hole where your loved one rested, while your grief is still intense… and even some of the flowers still bloom. You are horrified and angry.  So Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb… but the other disciple reached it first. He bent down and looked in but didn’t enter the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings. Peter arrived and went straight into the tomb. The cloth wrapped around Jesus’ head was not with the others, but was rolled up in a corner.
            The other disciple followed Peter in and “believed” – but what did he believe?  Did he remember Jesus teaching that he must die and rise again?  Did those words finally make sense?  Then they went to their homes. What would YOU have done next?
            Mary lingered… weeping.  When she looked in the tomb, two angels were sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. Why hadn’t Peter and the other disciple seen the angels?  The angels asked:  “Woman, why are you weeping?”  And she replied: “They have taken the body of my Lord…
            When Mary turned around, Jesus, whom she did NOT recognize, was behind her:  “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”  Was he the gardener? 
            How could she mistake Jesus, her Lord, for the gardener?  Did Jesus look that different?  Or were her expectations that he was dead clouding her vision so badly she couldn’t recognize him?  She did not expect to see him alive, so perhaps her expectations blinded her.
            When Jesus said her name, “Mary,” she knew instantly who he was and probably wanted to hug him, but Jesus said “No,”… he had not yet ascended to the Father.  He told her to go and tell the others that he “is ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  So Mary ran to tell them.
            One-on-one personal encounter is the centerpiece of Easter. Jesus knows our names… and greets us:  Sue (name names)  Gavin, Amrie, Ian, Alex…Amy and it’s important we TURN, LOOK AND LISTEN TO THE LORD speaking. There are no “second hand” Easter encounters. Until we hear Jesus say our names… it’s just hearsay…it won’t stand up as testimony in a court of law.
            Mary Magdalene’s telling the disciples was the first Easter sermon. It was delivered by a woman who saw, believed and announced. She wasn’t ordained & hadn’t studied preaching.  But Jesus, who was dead, stood before her alive and asked her to tell the others.
Christ is alive.  Go tell someone.  Timid, grief-stricken, denying, falling asleep disciples become bold, joy-filled, testifying, wide awake messengers of hope in a world that still doesn’t expect good news.  Bad news travels much faster and makes juicier gossip. 
The character transformation of those early disciples changed the world.  Something clearly happened on that first Easter morning to THEM.  When a person hears Jesus call their name, it changes them!  Alex, Amrie, Amy, Gavin and Ian have heard Jesus calling their names.
That’s why Amy devotes her Sunday evenings to teaching the children the stories of Jesus.  That’s why Alex, Amrie, Gavin and Ian LOVE to come to church and are comfortable talking about Jesus.  They may be young but they have something profound to tell us this morning.  Out of the mouths of children WE hear good news. Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  Christ rises up in us and through us every time we open our mouths to tell the story. 
How is this day DIFFERENT than any other day in YOUR life?  Who will you tell about it?  Yes, the stone was rolled away, the linen clothes neatly folded, the head cloth rolled up in a corner. Jesus wasn’t there. There were angels, disciples running to and fro:  all circumstantial evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.  Was the body stolen?  If so, how did Jesus appear face-to-face to Mary and so many others?  What do YOU think? Let us pray.
            Lord, we long to hear your voice.  Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.  We want to meet you face-to-face, so that when we talk about our Risen Savior, people will see you LIVING in us and our lives will embody your GOOD NEWS. In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.        

Richard S. Dietrich, “John 20:1-18-- Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2, p. 371.