The Search Is Over (11am)
Topic: Christ's Resurrection Scripture: John 20:11–20:18
Ok, so I want to make a confession to all of you about Easter. I love Easter. I really do. There is no other celebration that means more to me. And the message and truth of Easter has not only reshaped my life but been the guiding truth through which I view and engage every single aspect of who I am and what I do. All that to be said, I think Easter is kind of a lame holiday after you reach a certain age. Again, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the occasion of celebrating the resurrection. It’s the rest of the holiday that just doesn’t get my bunny hopping.
Think about it with me for a second. When we’re kids, we get the chocolate and the baskets filled with that neon grass and we get the Easter bunny. And egg hunts! We get egg hunts! Whoever came up with this idea in the first place is a genius. You take candy, stuff it into colorful eggs, hide those eggs all over the place, and then tell kids to go nuts. It’s awesome. And the older you get as a kid the better it gets. You start to develop strategies and collection patterns. For instance, when you’re at one of those public egg hunts where they put you behind a rope or tape and then tell you to go – you never start grabbing eggs right at the rope. Instead, you run to the middle and grab as many as you can in all directions while everyone is fighting for the eggs on the edges. But you know what no one thinks is cute? A 16-year old joining in the fun. Even less a 31-year old man. It seems like right when you have the process down to a science and you have the algorithm to get more eggs than anyone else, your parents tell you that you’re too old. Boom. The fun is gone. Congratulations. No more eggs filled with candy. But here’s a gigantic helping of ham as a consolation prize. Well, not today.
We’re going to do our own egg hunt right here and right now. In all of our pews there’s a place for our hymnals and then there’s a little section for envelopes. I think the liturgical reason for those little cubbies is for hiding eggs. So go ahead, take a look.
I couldn’t hide eggs everywhere in the sanctuary. I’m sure Phil would have been a little bothered if I tossed them in the pipes of the organ and I’m not sure of the theological ramifications if I turned the communion chalice and baptismal font into hiding spots for eggs. So make sure you share. And, believe it or not, this was not just a way for all of us to relive our childhood memories. It actually points us to what I think is a profound part of not only Easter but the Christian faith as a whole. A searching.
For as long as human beings have had encounters with God, we have been searching. That very first encounter all the way back in Genesis started it all. God forms us in His image and fills us with His breath. The very makeup of our personhood is the reflection and design of our Creator. From that moment, we have sought out God in ways both obvious and subtle to even ourselves. In doing so, we search for the ultimate good and truest wisdom and most powerful love. We search for the person who made us not out of obligation or out of a sheer display of power, but rather He made us out of the very desire to know us and be known by us.
This morning our text is about our risen Savior and three people searching for him. Mary Magdalene and two of Christ’s closest friends and followers, John and Peter, are searching. Mary first comes to the tomb searching for the quiet space of grieving her heart needs and instead she finds the tomb open. She rushes to the disciples to tell them and that sparks a footrace between John and Peter. John is the faster of the two and reaches the tomb first but doesn’t go in. He looks in from a safe distance. Peter arrives and without hesitation, barrels into the tomb and takes in the one thing he cannot explain or comprehend: the missing body of their Rabbi and dear friend.
We learn that their faith was impacted by what they saw. That, in and of itself, is incredible, considering that only days before their beloved friend had been publicly executed. John Calvin talks about what is going on in this empty tomb moment. “Some seed of faith remained in their hearts, but quenched for a time, so that they were not aware of having what they had.” The Spirit does a secret work in their hearts. It restores a faith that they very well thought they had lost. From that small seed and that secret work, a strong and true tree of faith grew. And even though John and Peter have a welling curiosity and the beginning of understanding, they are still far from grasping what has actually happened, and most certainly, what it truly means. Their minds were still reeling and wrestling with doubt; why else would they return home? And then we get to the second half of our text. *Read John 20:11-18*
Now this is one of the most commonly-shared, universal moments for every person. Mary Magdalene is at the grave site of a person she cared for more deeply than she could express. Not only has she lost this precious person but now it seems something has happened to His body. In a rare appearance, she is encountered by angels who ask her about her tears. And then there is another figure there in that place. Because we read this account from outside, we know its Jesus but she does not. And Jesus asks her a question. A question is that is not only of the utmost importance to Mary but really to all persons. Jesus asks her: “Who is it you are looking for?” Still flooded by her grief, she begs him to tell her where he is so she can go get his body. And then with a
single word, Christ changes everything. It’s really one of the most powerful texts surrounding Jesus in all of the New Testament.
Christ allowed Mary to exist within ignorance/grief/misunderstanding for a time, but with a single utterance of her name, he opens both her eyes and her heart. He could have spoken anything to her. A command to see. A plea to stop crying. A calming assurance. But he uses her name. Her name. The most personal and lasting thing about her. It is a moment Christ had spoken of before. In John 10, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and he says the sheep know the voice of their true shepherd. They know the one who values them and who loves them. Mary recognizes the voice of the one who loves her and it changes everything.
Jesus does the same thing with us. He calls each of us by name. He speaks with a voice that is sometimes tender and sometimes firm but always sure and true. Sometimes that voice is familiar to us in the most intimate of ways and, sometimes, His voice is a strong sense of déjà vu. We know it, kind of, and we’ve heard it before. But maybe because of time or maybe because of the other noise in our life, it’s grown faint or silent for a time. But we know it and it draws our attention like no other force on earth could.
Mary Magdalene is now the equivalent of a charged wire. She is coursing with wonder and impossibly powerful joy. Jesus tells her to go to his brothers, his disciples, and to tell them the news and that He will soon ascend to God the Father. The text says she went but we all know this wasn’t a casual stroll or mere jog. She ran with likely the awkward and somewhat ridiculous gait of one with the most precious of news to share. She bursts into where they are and declares: “I have seen the Lord!”
This is a powerful text and a familiar one for some. Even folks who claim to not be religious much at all, know some version of the story this text tells. For us, as a people of the Christian faith, it is the single most pivotal truth on which everything else is grounded. One theologian says, “Without the resurrection, there would be no Gospel to proclaim.” And how true that is. If Christ has not been raised than this place is nothing more than an ornate building, this book (Bible) is merely a collection of Middle Eastern fables, and I’m little more than a spiritually-oriented motivational speaker. So much changes without the resurrection.
It is a truth and reality and event that reshapes so much of existence on a cosmic scale. Supernatural forces are rearranged, removed, or given shape by this event. The resurrection is a force that proclaims victory. Daniel Migliore said, “The light of the resurrected Christ dispels all darkness. His love cannot be held captive by a world ruled by sin and drenched in violence and death.” Any force or power that beckons from darkness or violence or abuse or selfishness or pride is cast away like the darkness in a room when we turn the light on. The resurrection marks something mysterious and supernatural and divine that we can only see the briefest glimpses of in this world.
And that’s where I think sometimes a difficulty arises. The truth and power of the resurrection is everything I’ve just described. And it is so big that I think it can be difficult to find our place in that story. That’s why John and Peter running to the tomb is so important. That’s why Mary’s realization is so powerful. Think about this. John and Peter were two of Jesus’ most devoted followers and when they found his body missing and their faith sparked…they went home. They didn’t know what to do. They were overwhelmed, confused, and probably a whole host of other emotions. Mary continues to weep and grieve. They are searching for something for someone who gives their existence meaning and their lives purpose and yet they do so in the most human way possible. And you know what? In both instances, Christ comes to them.
The search is over…and not because of anything they or we did. The resurrection is a reality that changed the scope of eternity but it is also a reality that met a grieving woman at a grave. It is a force that casts out all darkness and ends the power of death and it is also the gentle whisper of a name. Today is a monumental day of celebration and we get to be a part of that celebration. We get to hear Jesus call us by name with the same voice that spoke to Mary. The same Risen Savior that brought hope centuries ago continues to comfort us and bring hope today.
We don’t get to decide if Christ speaks our name, but we do get to decide how to respond. Maybe we respond like John. We hear the news, we hear the truth about the risen Christ, and we rush toward it only to slow up and stop a safe distance away. We only get so close but we don’t go all in. At least not right away. Or maybe we respond like Peter. We hear and we run and be barrel in with all that we are. Sometimes it takes us into dark places and brings us before things we don’t quite understand at the moment, but we’re there and we’re looking. Or maybe we respond like Mary Magdalene, who, despite hearing the truth of the empty tomb, still grieves. That is, until Jesus literally calls her by name. Maybe we are so burdened and weighed down by the things on our heart that we barely take notice of what God has been and is doing around and through us - until one day we can’t anymore. And then we become just like Mary and proclaim to all we encounter.
Friends, the resurrection is good news. It is THE good news. It changes everything. And it should change us, me, and you. We have a part in the grand and unimaginable story of God and it is because, despite all of our searching, God has been searching for us. Maybe this morning is the moment you hear his voice and hear his call. I stand before you to tell you a truth regardless: The search is over. He has found you. Christ is Risen. He is risen, indeed!