Looking for Jesus?

Our Gospel lesson for today is a lesson about many things. Foremost, as I was saying to the children in the kids message, it is a lesson about faith and belief. It is also a lesson about searching, looking for someone.

And as you heard the Scripture read, it was Mary who was the first one who was searching and looking, Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb early in the morning just before dawn. And she gets to the tomb to find that it has been opened and Jesus is not there. Mary is terribly shocked and surprised and not sure what to do. So she runs to tell The Twelve, the faithful disciples who are holed up in fear somewhere away from the scene. And she tells them, "They have taken the Lord and I do not know where they have laid him." The disciples aren't quite sure how to respond, but Peter and the beloved disciple take off running. And it becomes a foot race that any school-age child could appreciate. "Who can get there first?" In their excitement, but also their bewilderment over what has happened, they race to the tomb. The other disciple arrives first, sort of glances around looking for Jesus, but doesn't see him. Then Peter arrives and actually goes into the tomb and looks at the place where Jesus was lying. And all he sees there are the linen wrappings. So Peter, looking for Jesus, does not find him. The beloved disciple comes in and takes a closer look, also looking for our Lord, and he is not present.

They leave the tomb and leave Mary there who also had come in by this point and looked, just as they had, only to find no Jesus. So she remains there weeping, not sure what to do. The other disciples had had a different experience. Peter who looked, didn't see Jesus...and we don't know what he thought or if he knew what to think...he left the tomb. The beloved disciple, when he looked and saw Jesus wasn't there, believed right away. But we aren't sure what he believed from what we read in the Scripture story. We know from our sensibilities that he believed that Jesus has risen. But perhaps he just believed that Mary was telling the truth, that Jesus was not here, that we came and saw for ourselves.

Mary, left behind weeping and mourning, has an experience of even deeper loss, loss deeper than the crucifixion and death of Jesus. But now his body has been taken. She is beside herself with grief. And as she's peering into the tomb, there are two angels there. And they ask her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She says, "Well, they have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." And as she is speaking to them, Jesus is standing right next to her. Even though she is looking for Jesus, in her grief she doesn't recognize him. Jesus says, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away."

Mary, in the presence of Jesus, speaking to him, does not know that the man she is looking for is standing right in front of her. It's not until he says, "Mary!" that her eyes are opened and she realizes it is Jesus. And immediately and instinctively she responds in Hebrew, 'Rabboni," meaning 'teacher.' Her eyes were opened, her heart, you can imagine, was just filled and overwhelmed with joy. And she holds onto him. It doesn't say that in the Scripture, but it does tell us that Jesus says, "Do not hold onto me," implying she is already embracing him, "because I have not yet ascended to my Father. Instead, go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my God and your God." So Mary leaves and runs back to the disciples and tells them, "I have seen the Lord." Sounds like mission accomplished for Mary who was the first one to go looking for Jesus. The other disciples went looking for Jesus too but did not find him. But in her persistence, she is rewarded by seeing Jesus, the first one to be in his presence and to actually embrace the risen Christ. How wonderful that must have been for her!

But if we go back to the point of where Mary is weeping and standing in front of Jesus and she doesn't recognize him, even though she was clearly having conversation with him, it brings me back to the thought: would we be in that same position? Would we not recognize Jesus? Surely, as people of faith, we might think, "Well, maybe we would have been one of those disciples and if we had been there, we would have recognized Jesus right away." Perhaps.

So let's move ahead into our modern time. We, the people who follow Christ, seem and appear to be looking for Jesus today. Maybe not walking down Baltimore Street or at Kennie's, but we are looking for Jesus. Do we recognize Jesus in the crowd or in the faces of the people that we see? Do we walk around with a sense of mourning that Jesus is not present with us as he was with the disciples back in that time? Where is Jesus for us? Are we looking for Jesus or are we looking for something else? Are we looking for salvation and new life and transformation? Are we looking for comfort during our mourning? Are we looking for guidance at the difficult times in our lives? Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes, to all of that. We are seeking and looking for those things.

But are we looking for Jesus, as Mary and the disciples were looking for him? To my mind came things such as that in my passing, there is where Jesus will be, right next to me. But I think the words that came from a small child during one of the children's messages when we talked about, "Where is Jesus," I think that little child gave the perfect answer. "If we're looking for Jesus we can find him in our hearts." That's where she said Jesus was when I asked, "Where is Jesus?" I was not expecting that answer at all, but it was a wonderfully profound answer. And a profound answer for us today, those of us who come to seek and to celebrate his resurrection, the promises of faith that we have received that we will rise with him and have new life with him, everlasting life for eternity.

Part of that hope that we come to church seeking, we find. But we may also find the living Christ, the risen Jesus, right here with us in our hearts. And if he's in there, we may even be able to start seeing him in the crowds, to see him in the faces of the people whom we love...and maybe people we don't love so much. We may start to see Jesus everywhere. Wouldn't that be wonderful, to have some real Jesus sightings today? Not from the bearded long-haired Jesus, but the living Christ who is in our hearts and works through each one of us and through other people of faith out in the community. Those are the real Jesus sightings.

And I hope that on this day, when we look at how Mary and the disciples were searching for Jesus so intently, that we might be inspired to look deep within ourselves and then look at the community and the people around us, that we might search intently to find Jesus in others. If we can do that, we won't just celebrate our own resurrection of faith, our own joy, but we will celebrate joy together as a growing and connected body of Christ. May it be so, and may we be filled with the resurrection hope.

Let us pray.

Gracious and eternal God, your wisdom is too great for us to fully understand. And yet we try. With your guidance, we wish to understand all of these things that you have done for us, these miracles that we can only touch a small foundation of. Make plain to us, O God, your ways. Well up within us in your Spirit. Well up within us with the calling of Christ, that we may understand that Jesus is with us and in us, and that Jesus is in the crowd and in the people who we see every day. Inspire us to not only look for the comforts of faith that we seek, but to look for and to follow the risen Christ wherever he leads us and wherever we find ourselves, for it is in his name, and in your glory, we pray.


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