Who are we looking for?

March 1st, 2020

John 20:1-18

That first Easter experience is somewhat lackluster, especially in the lives of those first responders. The story involves three persons who were followers of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple are the first to the tomb that morning. John doesn’t tell us why Mary comes. Maybe she is there to grieve. Maybe she comes to remember and give thanks for the life of this savior who had changed her life forever. Maybe Mary comes because she needs some time alone to think and to sort out what the past few days’ events mean to her. John doesn’t tell us.

As Mary arrives she sees that the stone is rolled back from the entrance of the tomb. Immediately she leaves without further investigation. Mary tells Peter and the beloved disciple. Once they know they too run to the tomb, with the beloved disciple getting there first. Peter looks in and sees the place where Jesus had been, and nothing is there. The beloved disciple looks at the same scene, and the Scripture tells us he believes. Then, they go home.

Mary now encouraged by the boldness of the other two wants to take a look for herself. She too sees the place, only now there are two angels, one sitting at the foot of where Jesus had been and the other at the head. “Who are you looking for?” asks one of the angels. Mary begs him to tell her where they have taken Jesus’ body. As she turns around she sees Jesus but does not recognize him. She supposes he is the gardener and asks him if he knows where they have taken the body. If he will but tell her she will go and get the body. Jesus then calls her by name, and immediately she recognizes him. Jesus then instructs her not to touch him and to go and tell his followers, which she does.

What a strange and mysterious story. The greatest event in human history is dramatically unfolding, and the first three eye-witnesses have very strange and mixed responses at best. Mary reduces it to grave robbing, the beloved disciple sees and believes, Peter sees and nothing. After witnessing the empty tomb, Peter and John just go home. Where is all the hype, the celebration, the reality of the fact that what Jesus predicted happened— no party, no ticker tape parade, no news coverage, nothing. Isn’t this just like God? It seems God has God’s way of working in human history. This story sounds very familiar. Just several years earlier in the evening, the Son of God was born into the world in a stable. A few folks showed up but, in light of the magnitude of the event, not much response from the world really. Again God does what God does in the time and way God deems necessary.

Maybe the message in this Easter season is for us to allow God to be who God is, to do what God does, and in the time God deems necessary in our lives. Maybe that is the real power of this story. God acting in history to change the shape and movement of the world, and people just responding in such different ways trying to grasp all that God is doing. The older I get the more comfortable I become with allowing God to be God. I say now—more than I ever would admit when I was younger— that I just don’t know. I am coming to realize that maybe knowing isn’t what this faith business is all about in the first place.

Maybe what this is really about is what God is doing and the power of my just trusting it and giving it the freedom to do what it needs to do in my life and to lead where it needs to lead.

My family and I went white water rafting a few years ago in the Taos Box in New Mexico. Before we climbed in the boat, the guide gave us some instructions about what to do if we found ourselves in the water. He told us to keep our feet up, trust the buoyancy of the life vest, and to enjoy the ride. The movement of God in the world seems to be like that. God is moving and working at God’s pace, in God’s time, and in God’s direction. Maybe our response needs to be to keep our heads up, trust what God is doing, and just enjoy the ride!

John saw and believed. Peter looked in and nothing. Mary recognized Jesus only after he spoke her name. God loves no matter what our response is. That is the good news of this story. God brings resurrection because of who God is. The reality of the empty tomb reminds us God is at work in the world doing what only God can do. In all humility, without much fanfare, and certainly not dependent on the response of people, God goes about God’s business; our lives and the life of the world will never be the same again.

Mary came looking for the Jesus who had died. Peter and John came looking in response to news of a possible grave robbing of Jesus’ body. Why have we, you and I, come today? As we enter this sacred space, who is it we came looking for?

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