Called by Our Names

Preacher: Jenn Hosler

Scripture: John 20:1-18

Date: April 9, 2023

Audio for the message can be found here:

From the Perspective of Mary Magdalene – Adapted from John 20:1-18

The sun was not up. It was dark and cold, and I really didn’t want to be out that early. So much had happened, so much could still happen. It didn’t feel safe, but I need to do it.  I needed to be there, to be as close to Jesus as possible—or at least, what was left of him. 

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, I walked to the tomb. I knew that it would be hard. Preparing a body is always hard but brings some closure. We did that on Friday. Anointing it, giving one last effort of love—but still my heart feels broken open. The power of God was walking among us and now, I asked myself, “where is he? Is God gone from among us? What was the point of all that goodness, all that healing, all that love and mercy, if we are only left with pain?” 

I shuffled forward in the dark to the garden and the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed on Friday, somewhat hastily before the Passover Sabbath.  As I arrived, I stopped dead in my tracks, horrified at what could have happened. Instead of a stone covering the tomb entrance, the stone was pushed aside. No! A grave robber came and took Jesus’ body. 

I turned and I ran to where brother Peter and brother John were staying. I told them, “They took the Teacher from the tomb, and I don’t know where they put him.”

Peter and John looked at each other and took off running. I hurried after them, back to the tomb. Out of breath, I stood back. Honestly, I didn’t want to go in, even if it really was empty.  The weight of it all hit me again. He’s dead. He’s gone. His body’s even missing. 

The brothers looked at the grave linens for a few minutes and then left, bewildered. Peter and John both just went back to where they were staying. They didn’t really say anything—they just left me alone, with an empty tomb. 

I broke down and cried. I sat in that garden, tears streaming. 

Sitting there, next to the tomb, I looked over at it and there were two people sitting right where the body should have been, in white clothing. One spoke to me, “Lady, why are you crying?” On another day, maybe I would have made some sarcastic comment about how that’s a strange question to ask someone next to a tomb… but – not today. Just broken, I answered straightforwardly: “My Teacher was buried here, and someone took his body. I don’t know where he’s been moved to.” 

At that moment, I saw another person nearby, standing close. He asked me too, “Dear lady, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” I wiped my eyes and said, “Sir, if you took the body, can you please tell me where it is? I just want to anoint it and care for it.”

The man replied, “Mary.” 

The words hit me like a gut punch, a perplexing wave of disbelief and grief and joy – it was Jesus. “My teacher?” I stood up. It was the Teacher. Alive. Breathing. I spoke to Jesus briefly and he told me to tell the others. Jesus honored me with his message and the testimony of seeing him come back from the dead. I went to find the others to tell them: “I have seen the Lord.”

Inability to See the Miracle Before Us

In the Bible, Resurrection Sunday, or Easter Sunday, is mixed bag. (Might not be something you’d expect to hear a preacher say but hear me out). Like much of life, Easter is a mix of loss and joy. Our scripture text does not start with the disciples standing around cheering a resurrected Jesus. None of the 12 named disciples, the men, are at the tomb. Last time we saw Peter, he had denied Jesus 3 times. They are home. Likely scared and laying low. Mary Magdalene puts herself at risk walking in the darkness toward the tomb, in a city that has been in turmoil. While our context is not Mary’s context, I imagine that a woman walking alone in the dark still carried an element of risk and that she would be looking over her shoulder to get to the tomb. Mary Magdalene is going to mourn, to keep vigil, to process all that she and the rest of Jesus’ followers have lost. Easter is a time of sorrow.

Mary hurries in the dark alone and suddenly finds a shocking situation. The massive tomb covering stone has been moved aside. All she can think is, grave robbers?! Something else sinister – body stealing?! Mary Magdalene runs to Peter and John, who themselves race to the tomb. It’s an odd detail that John indicates who got there first (the Beloved disciple, likely the author himself). John stands there and stares. Peter goes in and gapes at the cloths which had been used by several women on Friday to wrap his body. Both Peter and John look and stare and… leave. That’s it. John’s gospel says that Peter and John “believed” – but some commentators think that means, they finally believed Mary’s words that the body was gone, since they still didn’t understand the scriptures. If Peter and John “believed” in the resurrection, they would have shared some words of comfort or explanations with Mary. Instead, they just go home. 

Even though the male disciples head out, Mary persists in her vigil—and in her quest to find out what happened to Jesus. It’s striking to think about who gets the credit in history: male apostles are typically lauded, while female apostles are conveniently forgotten by many. And yet here, who is the one waiting, keeping watch? Who is the one weeping and asking questions? Who is the faithful one here? Who gets honored as the first witness to the risen Lord? The woman. Sisters and brothers, siblings in Christ, this is the story. 

Mary does not look up from her vigil, even when angels appear and ask her questions. Typically, in scripture, everyone looks up when an angel appears. Apparently, angels are terrifying, because people cower in fear or fall flat on their faces. Almost always, the angels say, “Don’t be afraid.”  Yet not here. Mary is so consumed with grief that she cannot see who these figures in white clothes are. The angels say, “Woman, why are you crying?” Mary answers them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

 Mary then looks around and sees someone else. Maybe this is someone who can fix this missing body crisis. Though Mary “sees” Jesus, she doesn’t truly see him, not until he calls her by her name. The resurrection is so unexpected, and the grief is so deep, Mary cannot see the miracle in front of her. 

At first, Jesus says, “Woman,” and Mary just assumes he’s the gardener. Maybe the gardener knows what happened. One commentator noted that Mary uses the imperative here: ‘If you have taken it, just tell me where the body is.” Then Jesus calls her by her name: “Mary.” 

Earlier in the Gospel of John chapter 10, Jesus spends a bit of time talking about sheep. “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep… My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

Mary hears the voice of the One who knows her and calls her by name. In being known, loved, and called by name, Mary is able to finally see. Jesus is there and alive. “My teacher!” 

The resurrection is unexpected, startling, confusing, and difficult to even recognize. It doesn’t make sense; it is so far out of the schema of expectation. The resurrection is an impossible thought—until Jesus calls Mary by her name, in the early morning light of that resurrection Sunday. Mary then begins her mission of sharing this unexpected and unfathomable good news with the other disciples. Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed.

Our world is bewildering and confusing, often filled with grief. It can be difficult to hope, to see a reality outside of pain and brokenness and greed and violence. But Jesus calls us by our names, giving us eyes to see that the power of God is bigger than the grave. The good news of the gospel is that we are not alone. God is with us, with us in our suffering. Easter demonstrates the power of God, tells us that suffering is not the end, and that death is not the most powerful force in this world. Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God’s love is more powerful than death, that death can be transformed into new life, by the power of God. 

God’s story throughout scripture and throughout history is one of transforming chaos into goodness, darkness into light, and death into life. This pattern is written into the fabric of our universe, by the Creator. God is in the business of transforming despair into hope, brokenness into reconciliation, bondage into freedom, death into life. 

Granted, it is a slow journey to deliverance, to hope, to freedom, to reconciliation, to life. Yet God has entered into that journey with us. Jesus knows loss, sickness, death, and violence. Jesus knows what it means to be betrayed, hurt, and abandoned. The shepherd goes ahead to lead the way, as the first to walk through death and into new life, calling our names along the way.

Sisters and brothers, siblings in Christ, the power of God that brought the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus is the same power that is at work within us through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). During our suffering and the world’s suffering, we walk with a crucified and risen Lord who knows what it is to suffer, who suffers with us, and who promises us that the breaking dawn will come. Jesus calls each of us by name for us to join him in the Sunday morning light, to continue God’s healing and resurrecting work in this world. AMEN. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s