A very Happy and Blessed Easter to you all. I love preaching in general and I particularly love preaching upon this Gospel passage from John on Easter morning. This reading is powerfully rich in imagery and emotion and feeling and drama. It is also so very human in that it catches the disciples off guard, it presents them, for example, figuratively and literally falling and stumbling over each other to get to the empty tomb, and to try and make sense of what that really means. It is the story of how we ourselves, people who are humble and meek and ordinary, of how we might react in similar circumstances. In addition, this passage from John sensitively and elegantly tells the Christian story of how Jesus rose from the dead and is now living amongst each and every one of us as we sit here and celebrate the miracle of Easter.
This passage from John also challenges us each year to believe in the almost unbelievable. This Gospel reading summons our Christian faith and asks us to take a leap of understanding in that Jesus died, that Jesus rose again and that Jesus is living now amongst each and every one of us. In our society today that relies so much on empirical based evidence and a detached objectivity for the calculation of truth, it is an odd narrative to follow and difficult to put stock into its claim. We are asked to put our faith into a God we have never seen, touched or heard in a corporeal sort of way.
Many very well meaning Christians today try to deal with this in a familiar and intellectual manner. We accept the creeds as put before us such as we recited at the baptism of Lukas this morning. “We believe in one God, maker of heaven and earth. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ. We believe he died, descended to the dead and rose again according to the scriptures. And we believe in the Holy Spirit”. Amen. What is so incredibly fascinating about the Gospel of John’s rendition of the Easter story is that the encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus at the tomb is anything but intellectual or objectively detached or purely symbolic. In fact the meeting between the two of them is the polar opposite of the theoretical or the abstract. The meeting between the two of them is bursting with emotion, it is deep-rooted in human feelings and it is extraordinarily personal. This passage from John challenges all of us each Easter to reflect upon the ways the resurrection of Jesus may enter into our lives and be in some way as real for us as it was for Mary that early morning beside the tomb.
Let me tell you s true and personal story about myself that I have told few others. There was a period in my life when I was going through a very difficult time. I was not dealing with one large burdensome issue; I was dealing with a handful of them. It was during the time that I was seriously considering following my call and at least start discerning about becoming a Priest. I was finding it very hard to sleep at night and I felt at the time there were few people I could talk to who would be able to understand what I was going through. I prayed to God and even felt the presence of God, but back then even God seemed distant. I happened to be in a store and saw a small brass cross. At the time I had no other religious symbols in my apartment. I bought the small brass cross and when I went to bed at night I would hold onto it. It grounded me. The cross gave me real peace. It felt as if God was with me not intellectually or abstractly, God was with me in a real way. I think in an important respect that small brass cross-helped to get through that period in my life because it was a physical reminder that God really was guiding me on my way.
I wanted to tell you that story because we at Easter are assuredly called to believe in the risen Jesus and are once again asked into a personal relationship with Him. I know for many people that is a very difficult, almost impossible task. How can we believe when there is no hard evidence to speak of? However, let us look at it from the perspective of my story and from that of Mary Magdalene in the garden with the resurrected Jesus. When Mary mistakes Jesus to be the gardener Jesus lets her know who he is by calling her by name. He calls out to the individuality of her and connects with her in a personal way. It is one being connecting with another using human senses and emotions. When I was holding that small cross I to felt viscerally connected to God and felt cared for in an utterly particular and personal way.
I believe that all of us, at least at one time or another, want and desire to be the individual object of God’s attention and grace and love. We want God to call us by name and be a personal and important part of our real lives. This yearning is not intellectual or abstract, it is not a general call to some general God somewhere out there in the universe to be a part of some conventional healing or guidance. From time to time we want God to connect with the deepest part of who we are and relate to us as only the God who knows every part of us can. We want a God who knows the good and bad of us, who knows the ups and downs and disasters of us to call us by name and be there for us. From time to time we want God to be there with us as if in a miracle, as if God turned around in our own garden and revealed Herself to us as Jesus himself and called us by name. From time to time we want a private moment and a private visit with God and we want God to be made known to us so that we may experience His grace, peace and love.
So how does this Gospel from John illuminate how God speaks to us, how God reaches out and connects us and how God becomes evident in our lives? This passage proclaims that when God is most with us, when God speaks to us by name, She does so in mind and body, in our imagination and in the senses, in abstract and in concrete terms. When the Holy Spirit comes to us, when Jesus is there for us He comes in a way that is unique to each one of us and comes into our minds, our thoughts our feelings, our senses and even our subconscious. I believe that God is a very part of each cell in our body and as such reaches us in ways that we are often not even aware of or fully understand. God is a part of the strangers that you meet and have something important to share with you. God is a part of the smell of the dew-wet garden that you walked through and made you think of love in a different way. God is a part of the dream that made you aware of something you need to let go of or something you need to start. God comes to us in images, in ideas, in friends, in family, in the look of a puppy, in the holding of a small brass cross in prayer, in church, and in many other ways.
What this also means is that God comes to us and becomes a part of our deepest emotions, plays a part in our cherished dreams and aspirations, shows us where the light may be in the places of darkness and always, always walks with us on our journey until we are truly home. God is very much a part of our daily-lived experience. But, what do we do if we don’t feel or think or see that fact? What if we do take a leap of faith and still fall short of the feeling of God calling us by name?
In the Gospel of John Mary Magdalene does not recognize Jesus at first; she thinks he is the gardener. Notice though that it is not Jesus playing around here in disguise – it is Mary who does not recognize our risen Lord. Mary does not see Jesus at first because she is distraught and, frankly, was not expecting to see him. We can extrapolate her state to our lives and ask ourselves the question, are we too busy, too wound up, too preoccupied, too worried or too tired to sense the presence of God in our midst? Or is t that we just do not expect God to be interested in us? Surely God has more pressing issues to deal with than my anxiety, we might say to ourselves.
My friends, here is the good news on this day of really good news. Jesus Christ is risen today and that means that God wants to be with you and walk on your journey beside you and wants to call you by name so that you will know you are a loved and precious child of God. We need to know that on this Easter Sunday, this day of really good news, that because of the resurrection of Jesus all things are possible with God. God does not want to be distant or abstract or an intellectual mind game; God wants to have a relationship with you that is bursting with emotion, that is deep-rooted in human feelings and that is extraordinarily personal.
Sometime today or this week or sometime very soon, slow your life down enough and open your heart and soul enough to let the light of God shine upon you, so that you may feel God’s presence. On this day of all days God is saying to you I want you to be fully alive and a part of that is spending some valuable time together. If it takes a leap of faith then why don’t we today commit ourselves to doing just that? Just imagine the range and wave of emotions Mary Magdalene must have felt when Jesus called her by name and she recognized him. If we knew that Jesus sits right beside us all right here, right now wouldn’t we feel the same? It is Easter – all things are possible - the invitation is right there – get ready to say hello. Amen.
The Rev. Patrick Blaney