A Conversation: What are you looking for?

Here is Rev Deborah’s uplifting sermon from Easter Day:

  • Acts 10: 34-43
  • John 20:1-18

Have you ever had a conversation that has been life changing? It may have been a conversation that started on a first date. It may have been a discussion about a wedding. It may have been a one-sided conversation with a baby who responds by saying their first world. It may have been an interview that has changed the direction of your life.

Today’s gospel reading is life changing, not just for the individual, but for the whole world.

Let’s go back to the scene that unfolds on that first Sunday morning, particularly in the conversation that between Mary and Jesus in the garden just outside the tomb, the rolled away tomb stone sitting off to one side, the linen lying there. Mary blinded by despair and grief wrestles with the feelings of emptiness, the darkness, the nothingness that weighs upon her. Her body is still, but deep unrest convulses her spirit. Tears smudge her face. Someone is standing beside her, close to her, but not quite next to her. She is sort of half turned round, looking at him , wondering who he is and where he is from. She has no idea who he is and yet she has a strange desire to reach out to him. She sees but she doesn’t see. She hears but she doesn’t hear.

And then the question. ‘Why are you weeping?’

It seems the most stupid, futile, crass question that Mary has ever heard. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t it already painful enough? He is gone. He is defeated. He is humiliated and now this. Not even permitted the peace of death.

She weeps even more. She weeps for everything that might have been and for everything that was. Her body is wracked with the all too human pain of knowing that the precious beauty of living  is wafer thin and easily broken. Death, sadness, loss. . What can you do but weep and rage? But it doesn’t change things. He was still dead. She just wanted to scream and batter her fists against the awful emptiness of life,  against this man appearing from nowhere and presuming to care and yet the gentle tone of his voice seemed to suggest that he already knew, that he was somehow with her in mausoleum of her grief and not just beside her.’

And then the question, ‘Who are you looking for?

What a question! She didn’t know that any more feeling could be dredged from the pit of her heart. There was so much that she is looking for, but in these last few weeks it had all focused  into one person, the one whose lifeless corpse she was seeking. The one she didn’t know she was looking for until she found him, or rather, he found her. ‘Who are you looking for?’

She wanted to cry out – ‘I am looking for the one who saved me.  The one who taught me how to be myself. The one who accepted me, who gave meaning back to me. The one who rid my world of fear. The one who showed me other ways of living.’

She had followed him. From the first moment she had heard of him to the day she encountered him, to his unequivocal acceptance of her, and his protection when others had scoffed and scorned.

Presuming he was the gardener she blurts out, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.’

There’s a moment’s pause, the warmth of the sun overcoming the coolness of the early morning air. We are on the edge of a moment that will change history. An invitation to inhabit a different world.

He holds her gaze. He looks at her with tenderness.

In one word, he reaches out deep into her being by simply saying her name, ‘Mary’.

And she hears her name. It is like a shot of adrenaline and now she is focused and alert as she has never been before. She turns from the tomb where she has been anchored, glued to the grief and horror of her loss, and she turns to him, like a flower turning to the warmth of the sun.

It is Jesus. She knows it instantly. Her name, spoken by him brings healing and a re-awakening.

Everything changes, brought to life by the uttering of a name. A word of recognition in a world bruised and broken by anonymity. She was known and loved. Somehow Jesus had triumphed, he had conquered death.

‘Rabbouni ‘is her response, ‘teacher’ and she throws her arms around him. She wants to hold onto him and never let him go. But even as she is thinking this, he gently untangles her. Not violently or with rejection, but carefully and  lovingly unwinding  her arms from around her waist. Mary is clinging to the Jesus she knew in his earthy ministry, but she is also holding onto the new creation. It is the same Jesus but the seed that lay dead and buried in the ground can’t be clung to in the same way. It is a sign of the newness of life but also a sign that God cannot be bound up and he will lead us into new definitions and new understandings. It is also about love which grows and multiples and can’t be contained. Love is the same for ever and yet it is born anew every day.

The next stage in the conversation. ‘Go to my brothers and say to them ‘I am going up to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’

Mary is propelled back into the world. She is running, and there is joy and purpose in her stride. She finds the disciples and blurts out the astonishing message of Easter. ‘I have seen the Lord.’ They are at a place where we all must stand – weighing up the evidence, hearing the story and deciding how to respond. Mary is at the place where all she wants to do is share the good news. ‘I have seen the Lord.’

Where do we see ourselves?

Is it in the question, ‘why are you weeping’?

It’s a question for all of us. Over the past year we have been through so much. Loss of a loved ones, loss of job, home, physical illness. And there are the wounds that are more hidden– anxiety, depression, strained relationships. We all have burdens to bear and the risen Christ is able to heal our hurts.

‘Why are you weeping,’ says the risen Christ.

Is it in the question, ‘what are you looking for?’

We are all searching for something. Something that settles our restless soul Something that fills the emptiness inside. Something that gives us wholeness, peace, shalom.

‘What are you looking for’, asks the risen Lord.

Is it the calling of our name? The fact that we are known and loved, something that we all want. In God we know that we are valued and special in God’s eyes.

Our names are spoken gently and lovingly by the risen Lord.

Is it in the statement ‘do not cling to me?’

Are we willing to step out in faith? Are we willing to allow God to work within us, to change us and our world? To let go of the things that we cling onto and allow God’s Holy Spirit to work through us.

‘Don’t cling to me’, says the risen Lord. ‘Let me work in and through you.’

Is it in the statement ‘I have seen the Lord’?

Mary was the first witness – the first person to share the good news. It is Jesus who commissions her. He meets her in her need,  points her back to life and to the proclamation which will be the mission of the church. Are we those people so excited by the risen Christ that we want to share his love to those around us?

‘I have seen the Lord,’ is Mary’s response to the risen Lord.

Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia

What is our response to the risen Lord?

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