Summit Presbyterian Church March 23, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby Called By Name John 20:1-18
It was about 1930, the historians say, when Bukharin, the Bolshevik leader, traveled from
A single man rose and asked permission to speak. He walked up the steps and onto the platform and stood before the huge audience close to Bukharin. The crowd was breathlessly silent as the man looked at those on his left and then turned and looked at those on his right. And finally he shouted the ancient Orthodox Church greeting, AChrist is risen!@ And the whole assembly stood as one and shouted back the response like the sound of an avalanche, Christ is risen indeed!@ Bukharin had been answered. Christians in Russia and around the world shout that affirmation and statement of faith yet today.
Take away that fact we proclaim this morning to each other and the world, take away that fact and what is there that sets us apart from all those in our world who are caring and kind? If you take away the resurrection of Jesus, there is no New Covenant and no New Testament. And without that promise made by God in Jesus, the band of followers of the carpenter from Nazareth would have died out long years ago.
But, the fact is, a crucial part of our faith is, that Jesus was raised from the dead. And that transforms all life.
It transformed the life of the disciple who is called Athe other disciple whom Jesus loved.@ If you read the Gospel of John, you=ll find that phrase a number of times. And each time, it=s a statement of reality, it=s an affirmation of something the disciple knew. It=s not a boastful statement, it=s not a statement of pride. It=s the witness of faith of someone who can joyfully sing, AJesus loves me, this I know.@ The disciple describes himself, not with a name, but by his relationship to Jesus, a relationship that Jesus wants to have with each person, with each disciple. I believe this disciple is named John, the author of the Gospel from which we read on Thursday night and again this morning.
How important it is that we listen to what the Scriptures have to say to us. How often we fill in any empty spot with our own understanding and our own information. When we do that, however, we can lose the unique perspective of the gospel writer. And I think in our passage this morning we have just such a case in point.
You know the story well. Perhaps too well. Mary had come with the word that destroyed everything. She came to where John lived and she went to where Simon Peter lived and she reported, AThey have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don=t know where they have put him!@
And of course the two of them went charging out the door, running for Joseph=s garden and the tomb. John arrive first, and tells us he distinctly remembers he did not go into the hole that had been chiseled out of the rock. He simply bent down and looked in, and saw for himself what Mary had told him. The linen burial cloths lay on the shelf where the body of Jesus had been placed on Friday, before sundown.
What would that sight have said to you? I thing John was stunned by what he saw and must have stood there in amazement. The empty tomb was like a sign, like an arrow pointing. But where was it pointing? What was it=s significance?
As he stood there, Peter came charging up, and without breaking stride, ducked his head and rushed right on in. And then, John says, A...the other disciple also went in and saw and believed.@
And we know what he believed, don=t we? It=s obvious he must have believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. That=s what the passage of scripture says, isn=t it?
Listen again to verse 8, and listen very carefully to verse 9. AThen the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.@
This is what shocks me. I believe John is telling us he didn=t yet believe Jesus had been raised from the dead. I think John believed what we read in verse 2, when Mary came and reported, AThey have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.@
John saw and believed the body was gone, somewhere. Nothing more and nothing less, verse 10 tells us. For in that verse you heard the words: AThen the disciples went back to their homes.@
They simply and quietly went back home. No exuberant running, no joyful shouting, no Ahigh fives.@ Just more mystery, more worry, less reason for hope. And in that fear and worry and depression, I believe he and Peter returned to their separate homes. They returned home and left Mary alone in her confusion and frustration and helplessness and hopelessness.
The watchmen who appeared to Mary were two angels. She showed no fear or excitement at their shining appearance. Perhaps she was still in shock, perhaps she was too numb, perhaps there were too many tears that clouded her vision. And when they asked her why she was crying, perhaps it was with resignation that she responded, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."
And then that other person asked the same, dumb question: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Couldn't anyone understand? Why did everyone need to ask silly questions? Didn't they know the most important person in her world had suddenly been snatched away?
And then Jesus said to her, "Mary." He simply said, "Mary." He called her by name, and darkness was turned into dawn. He said, "Mary." He called her by name, and the promises he had made about his resurrection came into focus. He said, "Mary." He called her by name, and once again she knew wholeness and boundless joy and thanksgiving for God who cares for her and cares for you and cares for me.
That's the reality of Easter. Jesus calls each of us by name, our very own name. And as we hear him call our name, then like Mary, each of us can declare, "I have seen the Lord!"
Mary went searching for some answer, any answer to her pain and her grief and her helplessness and her hopelessness. She went searching for an answer, and she discovered THE answer. She discovered the risen Lord, no longer confined to flesh and blood, to time and space. She discovered that Lord who abides with us, even today, calling us by name, valuing us, forgiving us, praying for us, so we can mature into the disciples, into the children of God we were created to be. She discovered the Lord who is true to his promises, "Lo, I am with you always, to the end of time." The Lord who declares, "I will never forsake you."
And then she was given a task. She was told to go and tell the disciples what she had seen and heard. She was commissioned as an evangelist to those who will become evangelists. And we are the beneficiaries of her faithfulness. Because of Mary, we know how to listen for the voice of Jesus as he calls our individual names. Beginning with Bianca Adger, and moving to Melanie Wright, this congregation is confronted today with a risen Christ who calls us to come to him, to accept the gift of Easter, to accept the knowledge of a gracious, loving God who grants life, eternal life, to all who will receive it. As Jesus was resurrected from the grave, so you and I experience new life through him. That is the gift he offers you and me, to each of us and all of us.
Are you still identified with Mary, before Jesus spoke her name? Are you still peering anxiously into an empty tomb this morning? Don't give up. There is a friend closer than you think. He is calling your name. He is offering you a gift -- the gift of abundant and eternal life. And it is available to all who will receive it.
Take that gift, and then let us join hands and go out into the world that needs to know God's love. Let us go out proclaiming, "He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!"
God, continue to open each of us as you opened the tomb so long ago. Open us to share the good news that Christ is raised from the dead, as you promised. Fill our lives with your Spirit so we are not an empty tomb, but a demonstration of your new life. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.