Missed Church? Pastor’s Sermons


Rev. Betsy A. Garland

Reverend Betsy Aldrich Garland


Moosup Valley Church UCC

Called by Name

John 20:1-18

April 1, 2018

All of our four gospels have a resurrection story – although they differ in how many women went to the tomb, the number of angels that greeted them, and other details.  Mark, the earliest account, is the shortest and the most barren with its ragged ending: the women fleeing in terror and amazement, afraid to tell anyone what they had discovered.

John’s story is different.  It’s the longest and the most dramatic, like a good book, full of description or a movie, full of suspense.  It’s full of running feet, confusion, grief and longing – and an encounter with the risen Christ in the garden.  John’s story is about love that survives death.  Perhaps Easter is better understood by our hearts than by our minds.

In John’s gospel, Mary comes alone to the tomb, driven by her love for Jesus and not for her own safety, a woman alone in the darkness with soldiers roaming about.  She finds the stone rolled away and runs to tell Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.”  (What does that mean?  Didn’t Jesus love all the disciples?)  The men race each other to the tomb to see for themselves Mary’s news.  Is this good news?  Where is Jesus’ body?  Not in the tomb, that’s for sure!  Has it been stolen?

Peter and the other disciple return home, satisfied that Jesus is not there, but Mary remains.  Something holds her.  Now she not only grieves Jesus’ violent death and the loss of his mesmerizing leadership for the followers and his compassion for the people, but she also grieves the loss of his mortal remains.  She just can’t believe that he is gone, and so she bends down to take another look.  Sometimes we find what we’re looking for when we look again.  Persistence is rewarded.  This time, two angels greet her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  And then she turns around, and Jesus – although she doesn’t know it is Jesus – repeats the angels’ question, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

We, like Mary, do not expect to see dead people rise from the grave and walk around and ask us questions, so she thinks he must be the gardener – until Jesus calls her by name:  “Mary!”  She turns and replies, “Rabbouni!”  We can only imagine her intake of breath as she reaches for him.  He is alive!  How can this be?  This is surely not a resuscitation, a return to things as they were before.  This is not a mending of ripped hands and feet, a repairing of a pierced side, a rush of air into collapsed lungs.  This is something different.

According to John, Mary looks Jesus in the eye, sees the turn of his lip in that garden smile, listens to him speak with the lilted voice of a trusted friend, hears the fall of his foot’s arch in wet grass at sunrise, and still doesn’t recognize him.  Then, perhaps when her back is turned, he speaks her name, “Mary,” and the sound of his voice calling her name helps her to see him.

Who among us does not long for the voice of a loved one – a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend, long since gone – calling our name just one more time?  John portrays Mary’s recognition as turning on the fact that Jesus calls her by name.  We long to be known by God, to matter to God, who loves us and cares for us individually, as he cared for Mary.  We want to be seen and known in our most intimate places for who we are, in spite of ourselves.   We want to be called by name.

Perhaps the resurrection is better understood as a feeling and not as an idea.  We can engage the resurrection better through our senses than with our minds.  And this morning, we engage the resurrection together, in the embrace of this beloved community, in the warmth of each other’s presence, in the solidness of this beloved building.  We engage the resurrection in the laughter and greetings of friends, in the sound of our favorite hymns, in the taste of communion wine.  And whenever we call each other by name.

Yes, Jesus is loose in the world, not trapped in a tomb.  The world thought it had put love to death on a cross, but no, Jesus is risen.  Jesus is risen indeed!  And so we come here on this Easter morning, in spite of our personal tragedies, and the world’s pervasive social injustice, and the twin treacheries of violence and greed, as testimony to the faith that divine love – embodied in scripture and tradition and worship and in each other! – cannot be killed or locked away.

We encounter the resurrection better with our hearts than with our minds.  And when we do, we can shout with Mary to all the world, “I have seen the Lord!”

May it be so!  Amen.

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