Easter Day – April 5, 2015
Acts 10:34-43 | Psalm 118: 1, 2, 14-24 | 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 | John 20:1-18
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
I’ve had a song running through my head the last few days, a U2 song from the 1980s (yes, I am a white girl of Generation X). The chorus is, ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ It’s a beautiful, yearning song, but I’ve always found it a little annoying at the same time. Bono sings of all kinds of experiences he’s had in his life, love relationships, spiritual experiences, travels to distant lands, but then comes back to the line over and over again – ‘but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ I get what he’s saying, and it’s become an anthem for a certain kind of seeking, searching sort of person. But part of me still wants to ask him, why on earth not?
I Googled to find the whole lyrics online, and in the process came across all kinds of quotes about looking for things. Here are a few, any of which you can have on a poster or a mug, or post as inspiration on your Facebook page:
Sometimes what you’re looking for comes when you’re not looking at all.
Sometimes what you’re looking for is right where you left it.
Sometimes you realize too late that what you’re looking for is what you just let go.
Sometimes, you’re just looking for something that’s right.
And my favorite, a test question:
‘Alice places a prepared slide on her microscope, but when she looks into it, she can’t see anything. Suggest one reason why not.’
The student’s answer: ‘She is blind.’
In the garden, in the cool of the early morning, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, Whom are you looking for?
We have heard this question before. At the very beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus asks it of two men who are following him. They are disciples of John the Baptist and they have heard John call Jesus the Lamb of God, and so they start to follow Jesus. Jesus turns around and asks them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They don’t answer, but ask where he is staying. Jesus says, ‘Come and see.’ After they spend the day with him, they have a new leader, telling their friends, ‘We have found the Messiah.’
On the long, hard night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is approached by a group of men again. This time it is a band of soldiers led by his friend Judas, and they have come to arrest him. Jesus asks them, ‘Whom are you looking for?’ They answer, Jesus of Nazareth,’ and Jesus responds, ‘I am he.’ Or more perfectly translated, ‘I am.’ They fall back in fear at first, but then arrest him and take him away. They have found their criminal.
And now, in another garden, Jesus stands before Mary Magdalene. And he asks her, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? She doesn’t answer, just begs him, who she thinks is the gardener, to tell her where Jesus’ body is. But then Jesus says her name. She is found. And she finds her answer. She grabs hold of him in pure joy, and then goes to tell the world the good news.
Whom are you looking for? What answer do you find? What answer is finding you?
There’s any number of things that might be bringing you here on this beautiful Easter morning. This may be your first time to St Michael’s, and on a day like this, I dare say it looks pretty wonderful – the music and the crowds and the kids and the windows. You are welcome here, and we are so glad you’ve come. Or this may be your church and your congregation, a community you have been part of for years. If so, embrace your loved ones, and welcome and reach out to those you don’t know, because all of us today are making this community, right here and now. And every one of us is coming for a slightly different set of reasons. Every one of us is looking for something.
In the Good Friday service I talked about how all the characters in the Passion story are looking for Jesus to be something or someone other than who he is. They want him to be the one to make things all right for them, or to affirm them in what they already think, or to fit their cultural expectations. But he isn’t that person, and so they run away, turn on him, and betray him. They’re looking, they’re searching hard, but they don’t want who he turns out to be. They see something else entirely; they’re blind to what and who he is, and the life he is offering them.
We might know something about that ourselves. Each of us is looking for something, especially those of us who have got up and come to church today. Each of us longs for something deeper, something to connect us outside of ourselves. Whether it’s simply because of the beauty of the music or the warmth of the community around us, we’re drawn to look for it here. But we might not see that Jesus, the difficult, intense Jesus of the gospel stories, is what we’re looking for. We might be happier with a Jesus made in our own image, who basically agrees with us. Or maybe with a Jesus who stays neatly in his box, a historical artifact from thousands of years ago. We might be happier with a Jesus on call, quietly on the shelf but there when we need him to pray to. And probably all of us would be happier with a Jesus who won’t change us too much.
The other times in the gospel stories that Jesus asks people who they are looking for, they don’t understand the answer. The two disciples who go to spend a day with him call him Messiah, but they have long gone by the time the cross comes around. ‘Messiah’ meant something different to them. They don’t see that this Jesus who pours himself out in love is the Messiah, the one who shows and leads us into life. The soldiers who come to find him in the garden call him Jesus of Nazareth, but they’re looking for a criminal to arrest – not someone who looks them in the eye and says, ‘I am,’ the language and name of God. They don’t see that this Jesus is the full incarnation of God’s love, for them and for all.
And Mary Magdalene, too, is looking for someone else. She is in the garden looking for her friend, her beloved, who is dead – the body of one she has already lost, is already grieving. So when a person approaches and addresses her, and she turns around to talk to him, she doesn’t see what she’s looking for. Only when this unknown person calls her by name does she suddenly see for real, see the one who knows her deeply and is much different than what she expected. One who is full of life, and full of love for her.
He is not just the one she has lost. He is not just the teacher who preached challenging things in story and image; not just the one who fed the hungry and healed the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead; not just the sorry silent one who disappointed everyone as he died on the cross. The resurrection has happened, and now Jesus finally and fully shows who he has been all along. One who knows her, and one who calls her by name. One who loves her beyond all measure, and who is ready to lead her and all of humanity into abundant life.
We search and search and search, and so often we struggle to find. So often all our attempts come up short – to find happiness in our personal lives, to find success in our professional ones. To find answers for all the horrible things that happen in the world. To find a reason to get up every day. We are blinded by it all, unable to see the possibilities outside of ourselves. We can’t find what we’re looking for, either here under our noses, or in our past regrets, or anywhere.
But all the time that we are searching, God is looking for us – looking at us, standing there and waiting, knowing us through and through. And when we are ready to hear, in the midst of our grief and fear and broken dreams, God calls us by name. In unexpected form, in voices unheard, around a corner we have never looked before, God is there – knowing us, loving us, fully alive. Greater than what we were looking for; a whole lot different than what we could make up on our own. It might be that what we are looking for is right there in front of us; it might be that the one whom we seek is the one we have heard of all our lives; or it might be that we have never until now heard the voice of the one who is seeking us. We may have been blind all along. But God sees us – sees all of us – and loves us utterly.
Wherever you are in your search, you are welcome here. Whether you hear and know the voice of Life who calls you by name; or whether you are responding only to the slightest stirring, a nudge from within you or from someone you love; you are welcome. There is room in this community for all of us, all the different kinds of us here today. Different things have brought us here; yet we are all in the end looking for the same thing. What are you looking for? You are looking for the One who is looking for you. Seek, and you will be found, and known, and loved, always.
May God call you in new ways this Eastertide, and may you see and know whom you seek. Amen.