Easter Sunday (Sunrise Service)
April 8th, 2012
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia, Amen.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
I will never forget one Grace member, 93 year old Esther. Like many of our members who can’t make it to church, Pastor and I would visit Esther monthly in her home. And as is so often the case, I would get as much out of our visits as she did. She was a long time Sunday School Teacher, a life-long Lutheran, and even at this age, an avid student of the Bible.
It must have been sometime in the Easter season that we had one particular visit in which we started talking about Jesus’ resurrection. And as we did, she brought up this very passage from John 20 where the risen Jesus meets Mary Magdelene, who is weeping in the garden. Mysteriously, she didn’t even recognize him, and we aren’t told why. But then he says her name. I remember Esther saying, “I just think it’s so profound, so tender, how he calls her by name. Mary.” And as she said it, a tear came to her eyes.
It’s always stuck with me, that Esther would be so touched by this small detail of the Easter account. Jesus says Mary’s name. But it’s not just Mary that he knows by name. It’s you, and me too.
Jesus had died a horrible death that his followers were powerless to stop. Their grief was fresh and deep and bitter. They loved him. The believed in him. For these women who had cared for him during the years of his public ministry, it must have been especially heart-wrenching to have front row seats to his execution. To see his hasty burial on that Friday evening before the feast. And now, Sunday, still in great sorrow, they return to his tomb to pay final respects, and finish a proper burial. And now to rub salt into all the wounds, to find his body had been stolen! Or so it appeared…
Grief can overwhelm. It happens to us, too. We are just like Mary. We forget what God says. We forget who he is. Life's troubles pile up on us and like weeds seek to choke out God's word planted in our hearts. What about Jesus' many promises that he would rise? Why didn't they find comfort in those words?
Or, our own sins weigh us down with regret – what could I have done differently, or better? If only I had said this... If only I was stronger. And so we live in the past sins, rather than the present forgiveness and future hope that he brings. Surely Mary felt some of this, too.
But Jesus doesn't live in the past – in fact your sins are of no concern to him. They were left behind at the cross. And Jesus isn't overwhelmed by the world, he's already taken it on – even death – and now stands victorious. And Jesus doesn't forget his promises to you, but repeats them softly and faithfully. And Jesus knows who you are, even when you forget him.
“Mary.” he said. He called her by name. It's the little moments that are so poignant in the Easter account. The details that come only with a tru account like this. John beating Peter as they run to the tomb. The burial cloths being neatly folded. Mary thinking Jesus was the gardener. Like the moments in the stories we tell about our loved ones – the little memories that stick with us. “Mary.” he says.
He calls you by name, too. First, in your baptism. There you became a partaker of his resurrection. When your old sinful nature drowned and died, and the new creation was born of water and the spirit. We were buried with him, in baptism, and raised from the dead in his resurrection.
Jesus lives. He lives and stands and speaks – Mary – he says. And simply by mentioning her name, he says so much. He says, for one, that he's here, and everything is ok. I'm alive, just like I said I would be. He says, I know you. I love you. You're not dead to me, either. He says put away your sorrow, and rejoice with me in the victory that stands before you. Victory over sin. Victory over death. Eternal life that death cannot contain. And where I have gone, you too will follow.
Surely, Mary would remember that day forever. When her weeping turned to joy on a dime. And it all happened by one little word, her name. When the Lord of Life spoke it to her, from his own living lips. Now, Mary would still, one day, die. But even then she would rest secure in the care of the one who knew her name. The one who lives, and reigns to all eternity, with his Father and our Father, his God and our God.
Not long after our visit, Esther went into a nursing home. Her health was declining, but her faith never wavered. I'd see her a few more times, and after that, she too, died. I was called to the nursing home and I stood next to her husband as we watched the funeral directors respectfully take her body away. But even in death, I knew she was with Christ, her Lord. And I couldn't help but think that Jesus welcomed her with one tender, loving word – Esther.
May the risen Christ, who knows your name, keep you in his care, strengthen your faith, and bring you also at last to himself. For even death is not the end of us. And when we, too, rise from death in our bodies, we will rejoice all the more in the victory of this day. A blessed Easter to you, in Christ our Lord, Amen.