Faith United Methodist Church
March 27, 2016
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Prayer of Illumination:
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Risen One. Help us recognize you this day as we make our way to the empty tomb. Come speak to us, that we might be messengers of your love and doers of your word. Amen.
Sermon: The Way to the Tomb
Have you ever had the experience of going along your way, to the grocery store or a concert or the Farmer’s Market, and recognizing someone, only to have no idea how or from where you know that person? You wrack your brain, running through different situations and contexts, but nothing clicks. Have you had that experience? It’s made worse if that person recognizes you. Then you have to pretend that you know who they are and that doesn’t always end well.
To recognize is to identify. To know from past experience. There are several ways that we recognize people. Appearance. Voice. Mannerisms. We might recognize someone’s handwriting or style of clothes.
Expectation also plays into recognition. Like the situation we talked about when you bump into your dentist at the grocery store and just can’t place her because you are used to seeing her poised over your molars, not poised over the red peppers. We expect that we will see certain people in certain places and that helps us recognize them.
On the way to the tomb early that morning one wouldn’t think Mary would have any trouble recognizing her friend, Jesus. She just saw him on Friday. Granted that was the day of his crucifixion. But even before that she’d seen Jesus often, listened to him teach and watched him heal. She shared meals with him and, with the other women, she watched him die. That is not something one would easily forget.
But early on that first day of the week Mary had certain expectations. She probably replayed these expectations, the events of the last few days, in her mind as she made her way to the tomb. She expected that her friend’s body would be laid inside the tomb. She expected that the tomb would be sealed. She expected that death would be final. Instead she found an empty tomb with the stone rolled away. It wasn’t what she expected.
And it wasn’t what the disciples expected, either. Their journey to the tomb was rather swifter than Mary’s. We are told Peter and John practically raced to the tomb, only to find it just as Mary had described. Upon their inspection, they made a hasty retreat, perhaps afraid of what would happen if someone found them there. As the Gospel writer tells us, “….for as yet they did not understand the scripture.”
While Peter and John dashed to the tomb and, then, made their retreat, Mary made her way back to the tomb. Confused, scared and grieving, she likely wanted one more look at the place where Jesus had been laid. Thinking she was alone, I can imagine her startle when she heard a man’s voice. “Woman, why are you crying?” Having no idea she was actually speaking with Jesus she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him….” In the words of one preacher, “Sometimes our expectations…blind us from seeing the very thing we seek.”
So what was it, do you think, that finally got Mary’s attention? Jesus’ physical appearance? His voice? Something else? The truth is Mary wasn’t the only one who didn’t recognize Jesus after he was raised. In fact, the Risen Christ’s followers often need help identifying him, probably because we are too caught up in our expectations to see the miracle right in front of us.
The Good News is that Jesus makes himself known. For Mary it was through calling her name. For the disciples in the Emmaus story it was through the breaking of bread. For Thomas it was through touching his wounds. And at the Sea of Tiberius it was through a miraculous catch of fish. For us today it might be through a word from a friend or the look of a stranger or a report on the news that startles us out of our daily routine.
Our faith tells us that reality is greater than the small, familiar, visible, comfortable world to which we so easily grow accustomed. After that first Easter the early disciples had to learn to recognize Jesus in new ways. Their journey to the tomb was not a death march, but the way to resurrection. The disciples had to learn that the resurrected Jesus might appear different from their expectations. I think we have to learn this, too. When we open our eyes to the resurrection we, too, may find that we are constantly surprised by how Jesus makes himself known.
Sara Dylan Brewer writes about Easter in her Gospel reflections, “Our vision changes. When we take in the new life Christ offers we can see Christ’s presence everywhere.” God raised Jesus from the dead and because of that our Savior is not limited to time and space. Like Mary in the garden, we may encounter Jesus in the most surprising of ways.
So what are the tombs in your life? When do you have trouble seeing beyond your expectation? Where do your preconceived notions blind you from grasping the miracle in front of you? On the way to the tomb, Mary was not thinking about resurrection. She didn’t even recognize Jesus when he stood right in front of her. In fact, “Resurrection does not square with anything else we know about physical human life on earth.” (Barbara Brown Taylor) All Mary knew for sure was that she had watched Jesus die on the cross.
What Mary and the disciples went through that first Holy Week must’ve been devastating. After something terrible or shocking or disruptive happens we often say that we just want things to ‘get back to normal.’ After the crucifixion Mary and the other women were probably thinking of making their way home. The disciples may have been wondering if they could return to their fishing business. But then, the resurrection. The resurrection.
As Craig Barnes put it, “After the resurrection, things do not return to normal. That’s the good news. It’s basic to everything else the New Testament proclaims. After seeing a risen Jesus, we see that there is no normal.” Christ is risen. Christ is Risen Indeed. Nothing can ever be normal again. We are set free to embark on a journey beyond our imagining, beyond our expectations and preconceived notions…. A journey that takes us to the stable, to the lakeshore, to the cross, and to the tomb. And, because the tomb was empty, our way leads not just to death, but to eternal life.
May we let go of our expectations and look for the Good News everywhere. And as we journey along the way may we open our hearts and minds and eyes to see Jesus among us even now. Amen!