"Blown Away or Called by Name?"
April 7, 1996 message
Once upon a time I invited a friend to church. On the day he finally came, I thought the worship service was not so hot. There seemed to be little energy in the hymnsinging. There were many "heavy" concerns. Worst of all, I felt my sermon was off in left field somewhere. In earlier years I would have termed the morning a "downer." "My friend will never want to return," I thought.
In speaking to him later, I foolishly apologized and invited him back for a second chance when things might be more "upbeat." He corrected me, saying that the service was what he needed. Actually, he said, if it had been any more upbeat, he would have been "blown away," and maybe not return. Instead, he chose to come back, and was later baptized.
For the church, Easter Sunday is one of the most "upbeat" days in the year. We pull out all the stops to celebrate that our Lord is risen - and rightly we should. This is our reason for existence. As the apostle Paul wrote, "if Christ wasn't raised from the dead, our message is worthless, and so is your faith." (1 Cor. 15:14 CEV) In the most vibrant ways we can, on this day we proclaim that Christ is alive! However, don't get "blown away" by our celebration.
You know, the first Easter, as we have received the story, was hardly a day of loud declarations and brass bands. If anything, the message of resurrection first came as a whisper. Walk with me through John's account of what happened. There we read of Mary Magdalene who, alone, went to the tomb early on the first day of the week, following the Sabbath.
What she saw was a grave robbed of its body. Note: the Good News is first experienced as bad news. Her sadness over the death of the one who both healed her broken spirit and taught her how to live, was replaced by the terror of a heinous crime. Who stole the corpse? Was it the Roman soldiers? The Jewish authorities? Some punks out to desecrate a holy place? Could it have even been some of the disciples seeking to stage an event so that the movement could go on, just as the Sadducees feared? Who rolled away the stone and took Jesus?
Mary ran to Simon Peter to tell him, but was Peter a part of this conspiracy? Perhaps doubt flowed behind her statement, "They took the Master from the tomb. We don't know where they put him." Peter and the other disciple then raced to the grave themselves. They each got down on their knees to peer into the chamber through an opening that was probably less than a yard high. They saw the cloth with which Jesus' body had been wrapped, but they didn't see him. John says that the other disciple "believed," but we're not sure what that means, for John goes on to say that "they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead." Without saying a word, each returned home. They didn't begin a search for the body, nor did they celebrate another possibility. Easter was for them, thus far, a big question mark.
Mary returned to the tomb and wept, tears of dismay and anger mixing with tears of grief. Wiping them aside, she bent over and squinted into the darkness of the opening. What a shock it must have been to have four eyes staring back at her. Who were these people? Were they the ones who snatched the body? These strangers didn't say, "don't be afraid," as angels often do. They simply asked, "Woman, why are you weeping?" To which she repeated what she earlier told Peter. "They took away my Lord, and I don't know where."
In perhaps the most peculiar scene in the gospel, Mary then turned and faced a third person behind her. Again, imagine the shock. She thought she was alone in this cemetery. We are privileged to know that it was Jesus standing behind her, but she didn't know that. Given today's insecurities, what would you have thought, had you been her? "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?," the stranger asked. Putting two and two together, she guessed him to be the cemetery maintenance man. Perhaps he had something to do with the disappearance of the body... And so, we come to this odd request, with which Mary accused Jesus of stealing his own corpse. "Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him."
At this point Easter breaks through, but it comes like a whisper rather than a shout. All it took was a name. Jesus said, "Mary!" Her upside down world turned rightside up. "Rabbi!," she said with recognition. The woman who earlier anointed Jesus' feet with costly perfume, thus preparing his body for death (Jn. 12:3), is the first one to see the risen Christ. He is alive, but it took the whisper of her name for Mary to see the truth. From here she became the first to speak the Easter message, "I have seen the Lord."
Isn't that how it happens with us today. It's not through all our "upbeat" celebration that our risen Lord becomes real among us. No one is convinced of this truth through a majestic "Hallelujah chorus." If anything, it can blow us away - especially if a "Hallelujah" is not where we are at the time.
The Easter moment we need, each one of us, is to hear the whisper of our name from the One who died in our place, and who lives. Listen! He is calling your name, just as he called Mary's long ago. The experience of Easter is not merely knowing that there is an empty tomb. Remember, that was "bad news" at first. The experience of Easter is rather being known, and hearing our name called, by the One who emptied that tomb.
Jesus is alive! And this One who lives calls each of us by name to fully live in him. He knows us - as we are, as we truly want to be, as he wants us to be. He calls us to live in him, now, in this life, and in the life to come. We are called by name, each one of us. And when we hear his voice, Easter then becomes a song - a "Hallelujah." Don't get blown away by the celebration, my friends. Instead, listen for the whisper of your name. Then, by all means, share the good news. He lives! And he has called you by name!
©1996Peter L. Haynes
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