The risen Christ knows you by name, knows about death, knows how to give life, and draws you into the love of the Triune God forever: you don’t need to know much when such a God knows us and loves you.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Resurrection of Our Lord, year B
text: John 20:1-18
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
He called her “Mary.”
That’s when she knew. She knew her world had changed again.
Before he spoke, there was so much she didn’t know anymore. She didn’t know the tomb was going to be open. She didn’t know why his body wasn’t where she saw it buried. She didn’t know how she would live without this person of God who knew her, loved her, had given her her true self.
In the devastating hours since Friday afternoon, Mary Magdalene was overwhelmed by what she no longer knew. It was like those terrifying days before she met him, those days of her possession, when she didn’t know who she was, couldn’t control her thoughts, wasn’t able to live or function. When there were so many other voices in her head there was no room for her voice anymore.
That day when she first heard his voice, when it called to the depths of her soul and found her, the real her, called her back to herself, sent away the voices, drew her out into her life: that day was the beginning of life. That was birthday. Friday’s unspeakable horror destroyed everything. Now she was back to knowing nothing, standing by an empty grave, because the one who knew her, the one who brought God to her, was murdered.
Then he said, “Mary.” That unknown man in the garden spoke, and she knew. And once again she was born.
Listen: our hearts are not far from Mary’s.
We long to be known for who we are, really known, really loved. We often have competing voices inside us that devalue us, challenge us, confuse us, even if we wouldn’t go so far as naming it possession. At our core we desire to have someone call us to our true selves. We dread not being known and loved; we fear it might not be possible if our truths were known.
Sometimes we have sensed that God knows us, loves us. We have found ourselves in God’s love. Sometimes others have told us of this, they have known us on behalf of God, they have been God’s loving presence to us. Sometimes we have known what it is to be known by God, and it was new life.
There are other times, though. When we face our internal pain, our fears, our worries. When we deal with shame and what we’ve failed. Times when death seems far more powerful a reality than God to us. We have dark nights of the soul when we doubt God could love us, we fear God is absent and is not coming back. When we know nothing about anything, but that we are alone.
Maybe this is a comfort: “Not knowing” seems to be the normal for disciples of Jesus.
Before the cross, the disciples constantly don’t know. To hear John today, nobody knows anything after Jesus dies, either. Twice today Mary says she doesn’t know where Jesus’ body is. John and Peter run to the tomb, and all they know is it’s empty, grave cloths lying where his body was. They don’t know about the resurrection. Later this evening, Thomas doesn’t know Jesus is risen because he didn’t see him himself.
There’s so much we don’t know, too, about life, about death. There is so much we don’t understand, about ourselves, about the world, about others, so much beyond our control. So we are afraid. We lock up parts of our hearts as surely as the two disciples ran back and locked themselves into their upper room.
There’s so much we don’t know about God, especially when we’re struggling in darkness. So we are afraid. What if we aren’t good enough? What if God has abandoned us? What if death really is the end? We go to those places in our hearts where there is pain and death and sadness and we stand there, like Mary at the tomb, wondering what’s next.
As we stand with them, locked away, or looking at the tomb, we come here to listen to God’s Word today and we hear a voice speak.
We hear a voice that is familiar to us, a voice that comes through the locked doors of our hearts, and to our side at the gravestones of our lives. We hear the voice of Christ here, risen from the dead, and calling us by name. Knowing us.
We don’t know many things, and we fear them all. But Christ has faced them all – suffering, betrayal, sadness, abandonment, pain, death – and knows them intimately. And this morning we are told once again that none of them, none, have any power over Christ, the one who knows you, who calls you by name.
Listen . . . listen: nothing, nothing, can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Not life, not death. Not the present, not the future. Nothing.
So we don’t need to be afraid anymore. This day is birthday for us, today we come to life.
But Christ Jesus says another thing: this life, this knowing, is his to give, not ours to control.
Mary wants to hold on to him, I’m sure hug him, hold his hand, and probably in her mind she thinks, “this time I won’t let him go.” But he says, “Don’t hold on to me.” He needs to go places, do things. Christ needs to ascend to the Father. He needs to go to meet other disciples, in locked rooms, on lonely roads leading out of town, on sandy lakeside beaches. The Christ knows others, has others to reach, others to love.
Peter learned this too. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,” he says in an Easter sermon today. Despite what Peter thought he knew, Christ Jesus is reaching out to all people, not just those first chosen. Even Gentiles are welcomed into the love of the risen Christ. No partiality. Christ knows all who need to be found.
We can’t hold on to Christ Jesus as if we own this life, as if we own God. We can’t cling as if we can control when we sense the presence of the Triune God or not. We have to learn to trust, like Mary and Peter, that we, too, are known, and loved. Christ will come to us again, always. But we don’t control wherever else our God is going to know and love people.
He called her “Mary.”
That’s when she knew. So it is for us this Easter morning, as Christ calls us by name. We meet the risen Christ in this place, hearing God’s Word alive in our midst, meeting our Lord in this meal of life, seeing all these who are also known by Christ, who embody God’s loving grace and presence for us, who call us by name.
Most days we don’t know much else. But we are known by the Triune God and loved forever, with a love that is going to bring life out of death for all the people of this world.
That’s really all we need to know. Ever.
In the name of Jesus. Amen