Easter, Year B, John 20:1-18
The following sermon was preached by Alison Williams, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, April 12, 2012.
Isaiah 25:6-9; John 20:1-18
I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't often experience 5am. It is, for me, an ungodly hour. To say I do not enjoy mornings in general is an understatement. Ask my roommates...
But I have had those nights where sleep has been a distant dream. Nights where I toss and turn, generally battling the problems of the world, and worrying myself into some kind of knot that will not allow me to sleep.
And sometimes on those nights, I wander. Sometimes, I walk the length of my apartment. Sometimes I wander onto the porch and listen to the city. Sometimes I wander through my past in old journals or photos of Facebook... And then there are those nights when I cannot even wander, and I lie completely still in my bed, tears in my eyes, lost in prayer.
I'm not sure what Mary was doing so early that Sabbath morning. Perhaps her eyes were puffy from grief and lack of sleep. Perhaps she awoke from a dream she could not shake, a dream about a cross, a body, a tomb. But I think about her life sometime. How she ended up at the foot of the cross with the other women. What was the unedited story of her life?
I wonder why we do not hear much from her until now. Perhaps she never felt like she had much of a voice. A woman, traveling with a group of men. A woman, dining at a table with men. A woman with a past that is shrouded in mystery. A woman very much on the outside. Stuck on the periphery.
And that dark morning, she wandered. And she found herself drifting towards the tomb, her thoughts scrambling for attention, her heart seeking a peace that only being near Jesus ever brought her. Perhaps being near him, even in his death, would do the same. It would give her a moment of peace, just a moment. A space to clear her head and figure out how to wake from her new reality. How long did it take her notice in that dark morning space that the stone was rolled away? That the place and space where Jesus should be bound in linen was quite empty. How long before her feet carried her, running, back into the city, terror filling her steps and coursing through her body?
This was not good news. This was the absence of the peace she was looking for. Now not only was Jesus dead, but missing. And even when the disciples return to the tomb and converse amongst themselves, Mary remains stunned, stuck in that 5am sleepless terror that has become her recent life.
And she breaks. The tears that may have been quiet bewilderment turn into loud sobs. This is what hopeless feels like. Two stupid angels with a stupid question and a gardener with more stupid questions. Would someone just tell her how to go on?! Where is the body?!? GIVE ME JESUS NOW!!!
And then Jesus, with a one word response. A single word. A name. Her name.
And her entire world shifts.
I imagine the fiercest embrace in the history of hugs. One even our Holy Hugger, Angela, could not rival.
It was an embrace that felt like coming home.
Perhaps by then the sun was rising. Long shadows forming across the ground. A city waking up. An empty tomb and a risen Christ. "Mary, don't have to hold onto me. I'm here. Go tell the others."
And... she went. A different kind of stunned on this walk to the city. Disbelief even. Jesus called my name? Wanted me? My voice? Declaring his name? Me. Perhaps still wondering at the words as they form in her mouth, she declares, “.....I have seen the LORD!” If you did not know the end of the story, could you have guessed it? And when Christ called your name and brought you to this place, could you have guessed it? From the first splash of baptismal water to this moment, here in this chapel, I am continually surprised. Jesus called my name? Wanted me? My voice? Declaring God's name? Me.
And there have been times I have doubted that. Friends who have told me I am a woman like that will suddenly change my mind about doing ministry! Strangers who have dismissed me from their hospital rooms. Parishioners who have not enjoyed my tattoos as much as others. One friend who told me that surely I had made up my call and read into the scriptures what I wanted to read. Another friend who is praying for my soul because I support people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. People who have turned a deaf ear on my words simply because of who I am.
And I watch people silence my friends and colleagues in underhanded or outright ways and my heart weeps. Because we know that in our stories, sometimes we are just like Mary. Wandering. Looking for direction. Hope. And there Jesus is. Calling our names. God has called us each by name. And despite our voices that are sometimes presumed unfit, we still declare Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
There are days we forget. Days we cannot shout or even whisper. Days when it does no good to talk because our voices have been ignored or silenced. Days when, for whatever reason, the good news is not on our hearts. And on these days, in these moments...... others shout for us. And the risen Christ STILL calls our name. Still calls to us in the darkness. Still embraces us.
We may linger in that darkness for days, wandering and wondering. But Jesus always finds us. Even on the margins, on the edge of life, at our lowest, at our most frantic and panicked. Restores us with a single word. A name. Our name.
And for this Risen Christ that knows us by name, we shout, loudly, perhaps with fresh tears of surprise in our eyes and that lingering embrace of peace around us, that Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
And Amen. +