April 16, 2017-Hearing Your Name in the Garden

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 1 0 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 1 3T hey said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 1 4 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 1 5 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 1 6 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 1 7 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 1 8 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Greetings to you in the name and spirit of Jesus the Risen Christ on this most holy day.

In the summer of 2010, I was spending the summer serving an inner city church in Memphis while I was on summer break from school. As the summer neared its last week, I received news that a pastor who nurtured my family while I was a child had died. The late Reverend William Mahon was the pastor I attribute with helping open the door for my call to ordained ministry, even as a young child.

Soon after I received news of his death the call from his wife asking if it was possible for me to return to Virginia to help lead the Service of Death and Resurrection that would celebrate his life. The timing wasn’t great-I had responsibilities in Memphis that I needed to wrap up. The day came when I raced from Memphis back to Nashville, hitched a ride to the airport with a friend to catch a series of flights back to my parent’s home before traveling to the funeral the next morning. There was little room and time for error.

I made the first leg of the flight from Nashville to Chicago and sat down to dinner before the final leg back to Richmond. The airline called. Storms in St. Louis had grounded the plane that would stop in Chicago to take me and fellow passengers back to Richmond. I threw money on the table for my meal, grabbed my bag, and rushed to the ticket counter to plead my case why I needed to be on the next flight to Richmond. ‘Sorry sir, that flight is cancelled. I can put you on the first one tomorrow morning.’ I pleaded, it must have wreaked of desperation. ‘I’m a pastor and I have a funeral I’m leading tomorrow. I have to get to Richmond or Virginia Beach.’ I ripped open my duffle bag and showed the agent my preaching robe so she would believe my story.

‘Sir, there is a flight boarding for Richmond right now. You have about 5 minutes before boarding is complete. Maybe you can get on stand-by.’ She pointed toward another concourse, called out the gate number, and I took off running with a speed I haven’t replicated since. After what seemed to be several minutes of all out sprinting past leisurely strolling families and folks standing in restaurant lines, I arrived at the gate, doubled over, nearly sick, unable to speak for the air I was lacking. I put my ID and boarding pass on the counter and she asked if I wanted a stand-by seat. I nodded.

‘Adam.’ My head was pounding. Maybe I was hearing things. ‘Adam.’ I turned around and there sat a college classmate whom I had traveled with to United Methodist churches in Brazil and Russia years earlier. I took a seat explaining my predicament, internally grateful to be recognized and called by name in a period of grief and anxiety.

On the third day, Mary of Magdala went to the garden tomb where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had placed the body of the crucified Jesus on Friday afternoon. She approached the tomb and discovered unexpectedly that the stone covering the entrance was moved. She does not investigate but runs to find Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple declaring that Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb.

Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple set out quickly running to the garden to see for themselves what Mary has boldly declared. The Beloved Disciple arrived at the tomb, looked in, sees the linen wrappings that Nicodemus and Joseph used in preparing Jesus’ body, but does not go into the tomb. Simon Peter goes into the tomb, takes notice of the burial linens, and then is joined by the Beloved Disciple. The two return to their homes.

But Mary remained in the garden deeply grieved for she had seen the crucifixion of her friend and Lord, and now faced the possibility that grave robbers or Roman soldiers had desecrated Jesus’ grave and body. She takes notice of two angels seated in place of Jesus’ body and they ask her what is the cause of her concern and weeping?

The disappearance of the Lord’s body is her answer. She turns and there in a glorified body, flesh and blood, is Jesus, her Lord and Rabbi but she doesn’t recognize it. She pursues the same line of conversation with the supposed gardener as she did with the angels. His body is missing but if you sir have taken it, please let me, a friend retrieve it and give it the proper care.

‘Mary.’ Called by name. ‘Mary.’ Now she knows who it is that has spoken to her. Rabbi. Friend. Teacher. Lord. In simply speaking her name, Jesus the Risen Christ has recalled and made known again the breadth and depth of the friendship he had with her before his crucifixion. Then he tells her to go to the others who have followed him during his public ministry and make known and testify to what she has seen and heard.

This is what life looks like when it encounters the Risen Christ, being first called by name and then sent by God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be a living witness of hope and light to your neighbors and friends.

This witness, this joyous news, ‘I have seen the Lord’ is a stark comparison to the aching despair and suffering that prevailed Friday evening as we heard the story of Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and burial. Good Friday worship concluded in this space in the pitch black-you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. That’s what oppression, death, and being nameless does to life with God and our neighbors-for a time it overwhelms and even extinguishes the most persistent flame. But only for a time.

As I told a friend Friday evening heavy in heart because of proximity to suffering, ‘Sunday’s a comin soon.’ Sin, death, and evil never get the last word because Easter is just over the horizon.

On this most holy day, there is no greater news on Earth than God whose power freed Jesus from death’s eternal grip calls each of us by name to live in right relationship with him and our neighbors. When you call someone by name, it’s a sign of a relationship with the possibility of growth in depth and trust.

We have seen this week God act decisively in the world through Jesus the Christ to break the bonds of suffering, addiction, torturous misery, and death in every form. Because of this freedom in Jesus Christ, we are free to live in the presence of God expectant that love, joy, and hope will prevail. We get to live as God’s beloved children, each called by name, and this is a blessing without measure.

Maybe you’ve come here this morning because nobody calls you by name and love is a scarce thing in your life. Maybe you’ve come here because a friend called you by name and spoke words of love and hope into your despair. I know many of you have returned here to this place because like Mary you can declare ‘I have seen the Lord’ and you’re as sure as you are that the sun will rise tomorrow that Almighty God calls you a beloved child without condition.

Whatever you have come searching for and expectant to hear this morning, I assure you that this news is true. We will see Christ the Risen Lord; he will call us each by name and being known to God as a beloved child is joyous news indeed.

May the blessings of the Risen Christ be poured into your life this day and forever more. Amen.