Easter April 1, 2018
John 20: 11-18
“Who Is It You Are Looking For?”
“Who are you looking for?” This is the question that Jesus asks today of Mary as she visits the tomb; and it’s actually a question the Jesus has asked before. He asked this to the two disciples of John who follow him away in the very first chapter of this gospel; he turned and asked them “who are you looking for? What are you looking for?” It’s the question that Jesus asks those who came to arrest him, he asks “who are you looking for?” It’s a question that works on multiple levels for us.
I ask you this morning, who are you looking for? Why is it that you woke up early on this weekend day; on the only day of the week you’re able to sleep in; why did you choose to wake up early enough to find your way into church? What is it you’re hoping to fine here this morning?
For Mary this is an interesting question because it goes further towards what, exactly, is she looking for? Is she, in a graveyard, looking for a person? That question of who are you looking for takes on a significantly different meaning in a graveyard. Is she looking for a living person? Is she looking for a body? On this Easter morning, what are we looking for? Are we looking for a living, breathing Jesus that can speak into our lives today? Or are we looking for a body; a historical Jesus that no longer has anything to say and that we can read things into and place words in his mouth? What are you looking for?
In some sense this question is actually open ended. To a extent, the Jesus you look for is the Jesus you find. Some people come looking for a friend in Jesus. Some people come looking for a father in Jesus, a loving, caring, nurturing, parental figure. Some people come looking for a king to rule their lives and tell them what they need to do. Some people come looking for a healer because they are broken inside and they don’t know if they can continue on, and they need someone to fix them. Some people come looking for a teacher, which still gives guidance and direction, but is different from a ruler in a subtle way.
The good news is that Jesus comes to us in the way that we need. Jesus comes to us as we seek him; even if the answer to that question of who we are looking for changes from week to week. Jesus is still here. The trick though is that you have to be looking for something. Jesus came to Mary in the garden; he didn’t come to Mary before that. You have to still be looking for Jesus. So, are you still looking for Jesus? Hint: that question does actually have a right answer. It’s not open ended.
We must look for Jesus. And we must try and see Jesus in our lives. This is what Mary is doing. Mary has come to the tomb and seen that the stone was rolled away. She’s gone to disciples and they have come to the tomb. We’re told that John comes first and he looks inside and sees that the linen clothes that covered Jesus have been carefully folded and placed at the head and the feet. We’re told in the Scriptures that John saw this and believed. Peter then sees the same thing that John saw and he doesn’t believe. And then they leave and Mary is left in the garden.
When she looks in she doesn’t see the linen cloth, she sees two angels sitting there. And the angels direct her to the outside. But outside she sees a man. And she believes the man to be the gardener. She asked the man where he has taken Jesus so that she can properly bury him. She’s looking for a body. He turns to her and says her name; and Mary recognizes Jesus in that name. Mary’s response is “teacher!” “Jesus!” “Lord!” She runs, at Jesus direction, and goes to the disciples and tells them this story, but they don’t believe her.
Seeing is believing. And that is the case for all the disciples, not just Thomas. He gets a bad rap of being the only one, but all of them except maybe John needed to see Jesus to believe that he could possibly have been resurrected. Seeing is believing. I wonder if that is still the case for us today. But Jesus just doesn’t normally show up outside the tomb for us; doesn’t normally walk through locked doors as we all gather together for church on this Easter morning and show his scars. Yet I believe that Jesus does show up for us even today; that Jesus does come into our lives. Yet too often we speak to Jesus face-to-face and think we have spoken to the gardener.
And so, how do we see Jesus today? Are there lessons we can take from his disciples in their resurrection stories and in the ways that they recognize Jesus in front of them? Are there lessons we can take from these stories that could maybe help us recognize Jesus in our midst? Here at Spring Hill we’re going to take the opportunity in the upcoming weeks to really explore those stories of the resurrected Jesus. Throughout the season of Easter we will continue to go back to those Easter stories and look at how the disciples recognized that this random man they see was actually Jesus, and what lessons we can take in order to see Jesus in our lives.
For today’s story I think we need to recognize all the ordinary things that Jesus leaves in our way. Namely we need to see what the empty tomb was able to show John, but which Peter and Mary failed to see; the faith and the belief that John was able to receive from a couple of pieces the folded cloth in an empty tomb. How can we find that in our lives?
This upcoming Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the mountaintop speech from Martin Luther King, Junior. Rev. King was quoting Deuteronomy in the midst of that speech. At the end of Deuteronomy Moses, who has led the Israelites out of Egypt, and has led them for 40 years to the wilderness, and has lead them to the banks of the Jordan River on the edge of the Promised Land, is told he is not able to lead the Israelites into the promised land. Moses is not able to step foot on the Promised Land. But God shows mercy on Moses. This allows him to glimpse the Promised Land. God takes Moses high on the mountain called Mount Nebo in Jordan and, from the top of Mount Nebo, Moses and Joshua are shown by God the Promised Land.
The land that you can see from the top of Mount Nebo is not very great, at least not today. It’s not a lot of grass, but rather a lot of sand. It’s the Dead Sea that sits in front of you, not the sea of Gallilee. But it was land. And I hope that God was able to show Moses more than what you can see with your normal, physical eyes from that place. But either way, it was land. It was the beginning. It was a promised inheritance to the Israelites. A beginning.
The empty tomb for us is the mountaintop. It shows us the hope of the resurrection. And it’s for us a vision. It’s not something you can scientifically prove. Sometimes people ask us to prove it: prove that God exists, prove that Jesus was resurrected, prove this happened empirically. I can’t. It relies upon faith. It relies upon believing in something that you can’t inherently see, touch, taste, or feel. It requires faith, a trust, in something you cannot verify. It requires faith and trust in something you cannot do yourself; and that cannot be scientifically proven. If it could, then you could do it yourself.
And that’s kind of the point. You need a savior. You cannot save yourself in this world, and recognition of that is kind of the first step toward true salvation. It is that first step of recognizing you can’t do this yourself, you must place your faith and your trust in someone else. Some of my Christian friends say “not only do I believe this, I’m counting on it.” You have to get to that point; the point where you can say that whole phrase. “Not only do I believe it, I’m counting on it. I’m trusting it. There is no Plan B if this doesn’t work.”
There are a lot of Christians in this world that need to remember this; that they are not the ones actually doing the saving of the world. There are many Christians who need to entrust their lives, and the world, to Christ.
Entrusting your life to Christ, truly giving it all to Christ, is a radical change from a life of believing only in what you can see and taste and verify. But giving everything to Christ is indeed a path that leads to many great things. It leads to light in the midst of darkness. It leads to hope in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. It leads to seeing the opportunity of new life in every day. It leads to seeing the resurrected Jesus in the empty tomb, and to seeing a resurrected Family member, friend, coworker, or self in the resurrected Christ.
The empty tomb is our mountaintop. It is our vision of the Promised Land. But we are not there yet. We’re not there yet, but the resurrection provides for us the inspiration we need to keep going. It is the source of the Christians strength. The reason we are able to sing praises in the midst of persecution; the reason we are able to go on with a smile on our face and with joy in our hearts is because we know that the death is not the end and that the worst thing is never the last thing.
So on this Easter morning who is it that you’re looking for? If you are looking for the strength of the Savior, come and join us. Because I promise at The United Methodist Church we are already looking for Jesus anew every day, and we would love to have you come along. Amen.