Sunday, April 12, 2009

“They Have Taken Away my Lord”

[A sermon based on John 20:13 for Easter Sunrise Service 2009; this is the 4th sermon in my Holy Week Series Eavesdropping on Holy Week]

The aftermath of a death is difficult under the best of circumstances. There is grief to deal with because someone we love has been taken from us. There is fear to deal with because we know that things are going to be different for us in the future but we don’t know all the ways in which they will be different. There may be anger to deal with—anger toward our loved one for leaving us, anger toward God for taking our loved one, anger toward others who did not treat our loved one as we think they should have, maybe even anger toward ourselves for things said and done that we wish we hadn’t said and done or things left unsaid and undone that we wish we had said and done. There may be conflict to deal with, particularly if there are some ruptures in the family that, when the added burden of a death is added to them, pull even farther apart.

Most of us know what it is like.

We can imagine, then, some of what Mary Magdalene was going through as she stood weeping outside the tomb of Jesus early on that Sunday morning. Her Lord and Teacher was dead and had been dead since Friday; because of the intervening Sabbath she had been unable to come to pay her respects and now, when she did, she found the stone rolled away and, assuming (correctly as it turned out) that the body of Jesus was gone, she ran and told Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (20:2). So on top of her grief, on top of her fear, on top of her anger, on top of her tensions, she now had to deal with the fact that the body of her Teacher may have been stolen or hidden or destroyed or otherwise disrespected.

Later, after the two disciples had gone to the tomb and had confirmed Mary Magdalene’s story, Mary returned to the tomb. Weeping, she looked into the tomb where, through tear-clouded eyes, she saw two angels who asked her why she was crying, and she said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (v. 13). When she turned around she saw Jesus, who was standing behind her, and when he asked her why she was crying and for whom she was looking, she answered, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (20:15b).

You get the idea, don’t you, that Mary just wanted to know where Jesus was.

She just wanted to know where he was so that she could do something with him, something to honor him, something to respect him, something to love him. It took her a while to realize that no one had taken him and that he had in fact risen from the dead—the fact that is the centerpiece not only of our celebration at Easter but of our celebration every Sunday and of our celebration all the time.

We know now that no one has taken Jesus away; he has rather conquered death and he has paved the way to eternal life for all who trust in him. Still, we may like Mary find ourselves wanting to know where Jesus is; we may find ourselves looking for him. There may be times when circumstances—circumstances of pain, circumstances of loss, circumstances of sin—make us wonder where Jesus can be found.

Well, when we want to know where Jesus is we can find him in the same places that Mary did.

She found him along with the community of disciples. When Mary first started looking for answers to her question of where Jesus had gone, she went to two of his disciples. We too are joined and helped in our seeking by the other disciples, by the other members of the Body of Christ. We are not alone in our quest for Jesus; we have our family of faith as our partners. It is good for us to look to each other and to rely on each other; it is good for us to search for Jesus together because it is in our varied experiences with Jesus and in our varying insights into him that we can together gain a truer picture of who Jesus is and of who he would have us to be. Moreover, we have a heavy responsibility for each other because the others in the body need us to be constant in our search to know Jesus and to learn of Jesus and to follow Jesus.

Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple and the other disciples were in on the quest together; so are all of us in the family of faith today. Granted, Mary Magdalene, because of her persistence, a persistence which certainly seems to have exceeded that of the two disciples, had a remarkable individual encounter with Jesus, but she still stayed in consultation with the others and before long the entire body was experiencing the resurrected Jesus. Our experience with the resurrected Jesus is, after all, an experience to be shared.

She found him right behind her. After Mary told the angels in the tomb that her Lord had been taken away and that she did not know where to find him, she turned around and there he was! I wonder—how long had the resurrected Jesus been standing behind Mary? I wonder—how many times, when we are looking all over the place for him, is Jesus standing right behind us, wondering if we’ll ever realize just how close to us he is and how he longs for us to turn to him? Sometimes we want to go to great extremes to find Jesus; sometimes we think that there must be some special and extraordinary way to seek for him and to find him that will give us a real sense of accomplishment, but the truth is that when we think he can’t be found, the first place we should look is right behind us.

She found him in his word. When Mary first saw the resurrected Jesus she did not know that it was him; it was only when he spoke her name that she realized that she was talking with Jesus. We will also find Jesus in his word. We need to know that he loves us and that he knows us; like he did with Mary, so too he calls us by name; we need to listen for him as he speaks to us in our hearts when we pray and as we walk through our daily lives. We also need to remember that in the record of his words in our Bibles we find the instructions that we need to follow him and to grow in our relationship with him; in God’s grace he has give us our Bibles that contain the glorious words of Jesus.

She found him beyond her and within her. When Mary turned to Jesus he told her not to hold him because he had not yet ascended to his Father; he did later ascend to his Father and there he sits at the right hand of God. So it is entirely proper that we think of the resurrected as reigning in power by virtue of his status as the resurrected Son of God; we must not lose sight of the majesty and wonder and “otherness” of the resurrected Son of God. But we also must not lose sight of the fact that the resurrected Jesus makes his home with us; he dwells in our hearts and in our lives. He promised that he would never leave us or forsake us and he keeps that promise. It is one of the most amazing truths that Jesus teaches us: God in God’s majesty is far beyond us but God in God’s grace and love is right here with us. Thanks be to God.

Do you want to know where Jesus is? Well, the main thing to know is that he is not in the grave—he is risen! But when you still need to find him, look with your Christian brothers and sisters, look behind you, look in his word, and look beyond and within you.

He is alive—and he is here!

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