What Are You Looking For? Jesus Is Risen!

April 4th, 2021
Easter Sunday
by Pastor Charles Nyamakope
Scripture Reading: John 20:1-18


Friends, I invite you to revisit the story in today’s scripture reading and see if you can find yourself in the scene that unfolds on that first Easter morning.  Particularly in the conversation between Jesus and Mary in the garden just outside the tomb – the rolled-away stone sitting off to one side, the linen cloths lying there, Mary so blinded by her grief that she’s completely nonplussed by the appearance of angels – something that usually sends folks in both testaments shaking’ in their shoes.

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes and listen again to Jesus’ words. First, “why are you weeping?”  Before Mary even knows who it is that speaks to her, Jesus meets her in her darkest hour.  “Why are you weeping?” says the One who heals to the one in pain.  Says the One who comforts to the one who grieves. Says Immanuel, God with us, to the one who is lonely and afraid.  “Why are you weeping?”  It’s a question for each of us.   For some the pain may be raw and open. Loss of a loved one.  Loss of a job, or a home.  Physical illness.  Other wounds are more hidden.  Anxiety.  Depression.  Addiction.  Strained relationships. We all have burdens to bear, for ourselves, for others.  “Why are you weeping?”  Do you see yourself in Mary?

And then, “who are you looking for?”  Does Mary even know?  It sounds more like she is looking for a ‘what’— a corpse, so she can get on with the business of preparing a body for burial.  She is not even really looking for a ‘who’ – her own dear friend Jesus, alive and well.  Or is she?  The touching irony of this scene is that while Mary’s busily looking for Jesus, it’s Jesus who finds her—and it takes a little while before she even knows she’s been found.  “Who are you looking for?”  Do you see yourself in Mary?

And how does she know she has been found?  According to John’s gospel it happens in a single word: “Mary.”  He calls her by name, this friend who knows her so well.  She did not know who it was when they began talking—perhaps tears still clouded her vision—but suddenly that voice sounded so familiar.  How many of us wish we could have been there to see him after his resurrection as Mary did?  How many of us wish we could hear the risen Lord calling out our name? 

If we do see ourselves in Mary Magdalene; if we hear Jesus asking us why we weep; if we hear him asking us who or what it is that we are looking for; if we hear him calling us by name, then we’re also invited to hear how that conversation continues in the garden on Easter morning.  With a word of challenge.  And a call to ministry.

No sooner has Mary turned and recognized Jesus – “Rabbouni!” – than he says to her, “do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  Do not hold onto me?  In other words, he “teaches Mary that he cannot and will not be held and controlled.  We cannot hold Jesus to preconceived standards and expectations of who he should be, because to do so is to interfere with Jesus’ work and to limit what Jesus has to offer. 

Finally, we hear Mary’s call, her commission from Jesus to “go to my brothers and say to them. . .”  Remember, Mary Magdalene is the first Easter witness in both senses of the word ‘witness’.  She is the first to see the risen Jesus, and she is the first to tell others what she has seen.  The message of the gospel is entrusted to Mary and she responds faithfully, going immediately to tell the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!”
God is meeting us where we are, wounded creatures that we are. God calling us by name and giving us the gift of new life. God sending us out into ministry in the world. 

He came first to Mary.  Because the resurrection, for all of its universal significance, was also somehow about Mary herself.  Standing all alone.  Weeping.  Wondering.  Wishing things could be other than they were.  Looking for something or someone able to change her world decisively, for the better, for good.  And the answer comes in the form of the risen Lord himself.  Do you see yourself in Mary? Why are you here this morning?  What are you looking for?  It happens also to be the very first question Jesus asks in the whole gospel, according to John.  “What are you looking for?” he asks two disciples of John the Baptist who start following him instead (John 1:38).  And the question of invitation that frames the entire story is asked of every one of us as we read it.  “What are you looking for?”  “It is a question that asks us to discern and articulate our deepest longings—longings that, to John’s way of thinking, are addressed ultimately and fully only by encounter with God in Christ.

Friends as we relive this Easter experience, we are here this morning because we are like Mary Magdalene.  Like her in our weeping.  Like her in our seeking.  And wanting to be like her, too, in witnessing to the glorious, good news of this Easter day.  May John’s portrait of Mary’s courage, devotion, and faith inspire us to live as joyful witnesses to the resurrection. Amen.