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April 1, 2018 (Easter)

When Jesus Calls us By Name

John 20:1-18

 

When I was in trouble as a child, my mother would often call me using my full name, “Archie Daniel Fowler! You come here this instant!” When I heard my name being called in that way, I paid attention. That tends to happen when someone calls us by name, doesn’t it? For example, when I played baseball in junior high and high school, and the announcer would say on opening day (because that was the only time we had an announcer), “Now batting, Number 13, Dan Fowler,” I paid attention, and hoped the crowd was also paying attention, for one day I would be playing at the Oakland Coliseum for my favorite team, the Oakland A’s, wearing green and gold. And they would say, “Wow, we saw him play ball back in the day!” (Sadly, that dream never materialized). Or, whenever I go to my favorite bagel shop, Little Shop of Bagels, and get my Sunday morning breakfast, and they say, “Archie, your order is ready” (They say Archie because it is the name on my debit card), I pay attention and get excited as I grab my toasted hiker with cream cheese and cup of coffee.

 

 

 

 

In our Scripture passage today, Mary Magdalene has her name called too, and she really paid attention, for the one who called her by name- she thought he was dead and buried. When Jesus called her by name, it changed her life forever, and gave her a faith that would change the world.  Let’s recount Mary’s story, which only appears in the gospel of John.

 

She begins her early morning seeing her world from a hopeless, cynical, rational perspective-She comes to the grave at dawn, perhaps to mourn the loss of her rabbi. Yet she sees that someone has moved the stone away, and that Jesus’ body is no longer there. Her mind goes immediately to a hopeless, rational cynical conclusion- someone has broken into Jesus’ tomb and stolen his body! She then goes to Peter and John and tells them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and John then run to the grave site, see the grave clothes inside the empty tomb, and then John, we are told “Believes”- he does not believe that Jesus has risen- according to scripture, in verse 8 and 9, what he believes is Mary’s account- that someone has taken Jesus’ body. John too believes in the hopeless, rational world.

 

Theologian Beverly Gaventa says,  “In a world of cause and effect, of established rules as to what can happen and how, in a closed structure that allows only for the old and familiar to recur, Mary’s logic is right on target.” Yet the story shifts from logical to mystical.

 

Mary comes back to the tomb after Peter and John have left, and begins to weep. She weeps again over the loss of her Rabbonai. She weeps over the fact that someone has desecrated his grave and taken his body. Then the logical, established rules as to what can happen and how are turned upside down. The rational, reasonable, hopeless, fact filled world is left in shambles.

First two messengers or angels appear inside Jesus’ grave. They speak to Mary and ask her why she is weeping? Mary, still living in her rational, sensible world tells these two people that someone has taken Jesus’ body, and she doesn’t know where they took him.

 

Then the story gets even more non rational and unreasonable- Jesus stand before Mary, and also asks her why she was crying. Mary, still holding onto that rational world view believes it must be the caretaker or gardener of the grave yard and wonders if perhaps he was the one who took Jesus’ body, and if she could then take it away, and likely find a place to rebury it.

 

Then, she hears Jesus call her by name, “Mary.” She recognizes the sound of that voice.  How could it be? How could her dead Rabbonai call her by name? Mary has a profound experience when Jesus calls her by name, and her world view is changed forever. Jesus calls her to go and spread the news of his resurrection, and that soon he would ascend to be with God. Mary runs to the other disciples, and tells them the first confessional statement uttered about Jesus after his resurrection- “I have seen the Lord.” Her logical language of cause and effect is replaced by the language of faith, and of hope. When Jesus calls us by name, the logical world falls away, and a world of Hope is born.

 

How can I know such a thing? How can I believe in a story that seems to be fully appropriate to tell on April fool’s day? How can I preach about a story that seems as farfetched as a rabbit laying eggs? I know, because Jesus called me by name, and my own rational world was turned upside down. I first encountered Jesus as a young child in a small chapel while my mother was praying. I felt Christ’s presence as light streamed through a stained glass window. I didn’t say anything to anyone, but I felt Christ was present, with me in that moment. A few years later, at another church, as I was downstairs from the sanctuary in the fellowship hall, I suddenly felt Christ’s love for me in a way I cannot fully explain in any rational sense. I just knew it was real.

Then when I was away at summer camp as a teenager, in the midst of campfire one night, I heard my name in my head, and felt Christ’s presence with me as I and my friends sang “Kum Bay Ah.” I paid attention from that moment on after hearing Christ call my name, and like Mary my logical language of cause and effect has been replaced by the language of faith, hope and love.

 

 

Because Jesus called me by name, I am sure that the Son is working in the hearts of individuals, helping them change their lives, their habits, and guiding them in pathways of faith. I am certain that the Son is shining in this rational logical world of ours, working for a world where there is peace, where there is enough food and resources for all, where hatred and oppression do not rule.

 

I believe in a resurrected Christ, for I believe that death has been defeated and that there is a place after this, eternal in the heavens, where one day I will have a time of great reunion with those who have died before me. And so I try to hold onto my non rational, hope filled world view in a society steeped in rationality and pessimism. Rationality and pessimism seem to rule the day for the most part.

 

For example, I was a bit surprised to learn that NBC will be broadcasting a live version of Jesus Christ Superstar this evening.  Personally, I’m more of a Godspell fan- I just love the songs in that musical more. Yet for both Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, a rather important element is missing from Jesus’ story, and it is really the most important part- the resurrection. That would be kind of like getting to the end of the Harry Potter saga with Harry just dying and ending up walking off with Dumbledore at King’s Cross instead of coming back from the dead, defeating the dark Lord and then living a happy life with Ginny as his wife, and Albus Sirius as his son- Kind of loses its significance at the end, right??? And if you didn’t know the ending to that series and I just ruined it for you, sorry- I think you’ve had enough time to read the books or see the films by nowJ.

 

Why did Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice choose to leave out the resurrection? According to Stackexchange.com, the original concept album, on which the stage and film versions are based was deliberately ambiguous about whether Jesus was, in fact, anything other than a man. Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice came to the gospel with a humanistic, hopeless, cynical, rational perspective, much like Mary before Jesus called her by name. Lyricist Tim Rice said, “We approached the opera from the point of view of Christ the man, rather than Christ the God. We had been well-coached in the mechanics of Christianity, its legends and beliefs. That was drummed to us in Catholic school. They treated the legends, so we decided to treat the bloke as a man. We read the gospels very carefully and that was it…We stuck to the text and our interpretation of what we think could’ve happened. We tried to humanize Christ, because for me, I find Jesus as portrayed in the gospels as God as a very unrealistic figure.” The Broadway stage version of Jesus Christ Superstar has at best a weak resurrection scene, when the performer who plays Jesus comes out with the rest of the cast for a curtain call. “Wow-He’s bowing, and alive?!?!” Kind of loses the full meaning of Christ’ purpose. So tonight, you can view a rational, reasonable, logical version of the story of Jesus on television, but it is far from the full story. Theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki wrote, “The edges of God are tragedy; the depths of God are joy, beauty, resurrection, life. Resurrection answers crucifixion; life answers death.”

 

Resurrection answers crucifixion. The promise of that resurrection is all around us, even in the midst of a rational reasonable world, if we can see this world through a lens of faith. I cannot explain it or give you a rational perspective on how it is that Christ has risen. I can only tell you that I believe it, because long ago, Jesus called me by name, and my life was changed forever.

 

 

When Jesus calls us by name, hope is born in us- hope that we have access to the Creator of the universe through the Son, the possibility of bringing change in our own lives, from self-preservation to selfless sacrifice. When Jesus calls us by name, we know that God is at work in this world, changing hearts and minds, showing pathways for peace and justice. When Jesus calls us by name, we know that at the end of this life, there is a life that is yet to come, and that one day we will see the saints who have gone before us and rejoice with them in heaven. It is my sincere hope and prayer that Jesus has called you by name as well, that you too may have hope in the promise of new life and resurrection.  If that hasn’t happened yet, may it happen to you one day, so that  you too can pay attention and notice the new life that springs forth each and every day, and so that the rational cynical view of this life will be replaced with one of faith and hope. 19th century Episcopalian priest Phillips Brooks once wrote, “Tomb, thou shalt not hold him longer: Death is strong, but Life is stronger; stronger than the dark is the light, stronger than the wrong, the right. Faith and Hope triumphant say- ‘Christ has Risen!’ on Easter Day.”  Alleluia! Christ is Risen indeed! Amen.

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