Look Again!

John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Let us pray: O risen Christ, open us to the power of your resurrection as we hear it proclaimed again this day, that we too might rise to new life in you. Amen.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple go running to the tomb. It’s a foot-race, I think. They’ve just heard from Mary, who loved Jesus so much she went in her despair to care for his body while it was still dark. Imagine the dismay of Jesus’ closest followers. Their whole world has been rocked. Their Lord is dead, and now it looks like his body has been stolen. After this troubling news, they need to go with Mary and look again. Surely she missed something.

Maybe we’ve missed something too. We have looked at this story before, many of us. But have we seen what we need to see? Let’s go look again.

NRS John 20:1-18 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

According to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene came first to the tomb, alone in the darkness. When she saw the stone rolled away, she ran to tell the disciples. Peter and the beloved disciple, presumably John, come running. The anxiety and raw emotion of this moment is clear. They are operating on a faulty but natural assumption – someone has taken his body. Now remember what a miserably dark couple of days they have had with Jesus dead. What can they see but despair? What can they see but dead ends to their vision of Messiah? What can they see but many reasons to fear their own death, now that Jesus, accused of treason, is gone. They are still in shock that he is actually gone. They are angry, confused, disappointed, scared, sad -- the same emotions we experience in times of loss and grief.

But now look again! The tomb is empty. The beloved disciple looks once but doesn’t go in. Peter went in. He sees the linens from Jesus’s body left there. John needs to look again. When he does, he believes. Is it not the same for us? we need to look twice.

“It is interesting to note that the beloved disciple does see and believe something about who Jesus is, but Peter, standing in the same empty tomb, has no such moment of belief. Why the difference? Could it be that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” sees something different in the empty tomb as a result of Jesus’ love for him? If that is his primary defining characteristic, then might we conclude that not only the empty tomb, but all things and all people, are perceived differently if viewed through the lens of Christ’s love? This is certainly a notion worth reflecting on in light of this text!” (Lee Koontz, Reflectious.com)

The disciples leave but Mary stays. She is weeping still, and decides to look again. One commentator said, “Those who seek with affection and with tears are most likely to see Christ.” (Matthew Henry)

Hear the poem by St. Anselm on Mary Magdalene:

Saint Mary Magdalene,
You came with springing tears
To the spring of mercy, Christ...
How can I find words to tell
About the burning love with which you sought Him
Weeping at the sepulcher
And wept for Him in your seeking?...
For the sweetness of love He shows Himself
Who would not for the bitterness of tears.
-- St. Anselm

Mary’s looking again allows her to see more of what’s going on with this empty tomb. This third look, she sees angels. They ask her why she is weeping. She tells them that someone has taken Jesus and she doesn’t know where they have put him.

At that moment she sees Jesus but thinks he’s the gardener. An old preacher once said, “Those that seek Christ, though they do not see him, may yet be sure he is not far from them.” (M. Henry) Interesting to think that Christ could just that near to us, even sitting beside us and we don’t realize who it is right there – right in front of us. Sometimes I lose my keys or my coffee mug or my cellphone, and it is sitting in a very obvious place but I cannot see it. Sometimes I have to leave the room, re-enter and look again. Sometimes I need another person to look with me. Sometimes our eyes cannot see the spiritual world behind the material world, but God is constantly using the material world to demonstrate to us who God is and how much God loves us. (Nikolai Velimirovich, The Universe as Symbols and Signs) We need the encouragement of one another in the church to see as we need to see.

You know that commercial where there are smiley faces in everything, in every piece of architecture, every item of food, everywhere? You do not naturally see that smiley, unless you are looking for it.

Mary does not recognize Jesus, but he responds to her grief with questions to confirm her desire to see him. He gives her an opportunity to express herself. “Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” We need to put words to our tears and express our desires. But Mary is still presuming him to be the gardener and so she almost accuses him of taking the body away, which is funny if you think about it.

It is at that moment that Jesus calls her by name, “Mary.” And with that, she looks again at the man she thinks is the gardener. It is Jesus! Looking again, she now sees. And because Jesus is alive again, he can indwell all of creation, including all people. Look again at the person who frustrates you and see Jesus. Look again at the person, getting paid to the yard work in your neighborhood. Look again at all people, and see Jesus. See Jesus’s smiling expression of love everywhere you turn.

Look again. Jesus is calling your name, inviting you to see more than the obvious. Don’t dash off unimpressed after an initial impression, as the disciples did, but linger like Mary.

Keeping searching for the living Christ in all of your life, in all of the people around you, and especially in worship as we hear the Word and experience the Sacrament. Don’t stop looking. Mary saw the Lord because she persisted in looking. Those who truly seek Christ, even through their tears, will never be disappointed.

Do you see only an empty tomb? Look again and you might see linens left by Christ – secondary material evidence. Do you see only the wrappings of Christian faith, look again, and maybe you’ll have a mystical experience of angels. Do you only see angels, look again. There may be a gardener, tilling the soil around you, a gardener who is more than a gardener. Look again with your ears and you may see the Flesh becoming Word, just as the Word became flesh. You may hear Jesus, asking you about your grief, allowing you to express your raw emotion, your loneliness and fear. Look again. He is here, but he is will not let you hold too tightly.

He tells Mary not to cling. As much as he is alive and real and present to us, Christ is still elusive, and not to be controlled by us. We are allowed to see only as much as we need to believe and bear witness to the truth of his existence.

Look again at the Easter story. Look again at your life, especially the people and the angels around you. Look with others who love Jesus, search together as long as you can. Find hope in the evidence of his resurrection. Then turn and look again at Jesus and really listen to him. He’s calling your name. If you will just linger long enough and keep looking, you will hear him, calling your name.

Let us pray: O God, Open our eyes anew to the Easter life you give us. May we continue to see more of you, Christ Jesus, than we’ve ever seen before, that our hearts would be filled with gratitude for your triumph over sin and death. Liberate us by your Word and Holy Spirit, to be your joyful and loving servants, we pray. Amen.