Tomorrow is the day! Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are over. We've suffered with Jesus - we've seen him tortured, executed, and buried - and through all of that, we've remembered our own sinfulness, and felt our sadness or shame that these things happened out of love for US.
But tomorrow? Jesus is resurrected. He's brought back to life through God's amazing power, and we know because of that, death can't hold us, either. Our sins are forgiven, we're free, we'll spend eternity with Jesus. We need to celebrate!
To us, it's clear as a bell. This isn't our first Easter. Christ's resurrection is the foundation of our faith. We've been looking forward to Easter all week.
But in the gospel of John, as Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus' tomb in the early light, this morning is all about sadness and broken hopes. Yes, Jesus had told his disciples everything that would happen ... He'd even told them about his resurrection ... but they didn't understand it yet.
The most Mary Magdalene can hope for this first Easter morning is the cold comfort of being near Jesus' grave, to cry and pray and grieve. And when she sees that the tomb was empty, all she can think to do is to run and tell Peter and John, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have laid him."
Peter and John run to see for themselves. The text tells us that John sees and believes; we don't know if Peter really gets it, yet. And then, amazingly, the scripture says, "Then the disciples returned to their homes."
Mary Magdalene is left weeping at the tomb. She had a special love for Jesus and she's heartbroken. But when she looks into the tomb, there are now two angels dressed in white, who gently ask, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
I think they know something she doesn't, don't you?
Mary answers, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." She's truly in despair. Jesus is gone ... now even his BODY is gone? It's just too much.
And then Mary hears the question again. "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"
Mary doesn't recognize Jesus. She thinks it's the gardener. How strange!
The closest I can get to this is going to Publix early one morning, just having rolled out of bed, a complete mess, dressed in jeans and one of my husband's old shirts. A church member came down the aisle toward me, someone I knew very well. Just the day before we'd suffered through a two-hour committee meeting together, rolling our eyes and praying for patience. She looked right at me, full in the face ... and kept going. Finally I said, "LAURIE!" And then, she turned around and really SAW me, and recognized me. Strange moment.
But for Laurie, I was out of context. I looked different. And she wasn't expecting to see me. And maybe that's what happened to Mary Magdalene.
But then ... Jesus says her name. "Mary!" And she knows him instantly. Jesus, resurrected and fully alive, is calling her name ... "Mary!"
This is so far beyond Easter bunnies and jelly beans.
The truth is, Jesus is alive. He's with us and all around us. He's in people, He's in nature, He's in US. But if He still seems out of context, we can miss him altogether if we're not paying attention.
Jesus has all kinds of ways to say your name. He'll call you through other people ... through an interesting cloud pattern or a bright azalea that makes you stop and say, "Wow!" ... He'll say your name in times of trouble, and in the midst of joy and celebration. Don't think you can just go home as if nothing happened! Jesus knows your name, and He wants to make himself real to you. He'll pull your attention back to what's really important - back to HIM - when you've gone too far astray. He wants us to pay attention, to recognize his presence wherever we are, whatever's going on.
Jesus knows your name. It's PERSONAL, and he's speaking to you. Sometimes, what He most wants you to know is, "I love you. Come home."
The resurrection is real! Jesus lived, died, and rose again in great glory and power. He's alive today, right now, right here. He'll call your name and continue to call your name until he has your attention.
Don't keep him waiting! When you truly hear and recognize Him - when you understand that He IS the context - I promise you joy, as deep and wonderful as Mary's, that first Easter near the empty tomb.
Jesus knows your name, and He is risen! Good news!
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.