But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’” 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. John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
Have you ever had a deja vu moment? Perhaps you know what I’m talking about. That moment when, for just a second or two, you have a feeling that you have previously experienced what you are experiencing in that exact moment. You have a name for it now. Deja vu. We didn’t. But, it was what I experienced that morning. That first day of the week.
My name is Mary. No, I’m not that Mary--Mary Magdalene--the woman who was first to the tomb. First to see Jesus alive. First to tell all of us--the first apostle to the rest of the apostles.
And, no, I’m not that Mary--Mary, the mother of Jesus--the woman who stood at the cross and watched her beautiful baby boy, now grown, being crucified. The mother who Jesus ensured would be cared for by the beloved disciple. The act of a devoted son.
I’m also not that Mary (There are a lot of Mary’s, aren’t there?). I’m not Mary of Clopas or, as you might better know her, Mary, the mother of James, one of the Twelve. Who also stood with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross.
I am the Mary of Bethany. Of “Mary and Martha” fame. Sister of Martha and lazarus. You know me. I’m the one who sat at Jesus’ feet while my industrious sister worked to prepare a meal and serve it to Jesus. The one who got into trouble with her. And with Judas, when I poured oil on Jesus’ feet, oil that cost nearly a year’s salary.
I know. I’m not very practical. My sister says my head is often in the clouds. That I’m too emotional. Not level-headed enough. But, it’s my way. And I wonder if it’s because I am the way I am that led to that deja vu moment that morning.
When Mary returned to the place where we had been staying, the place where the twelve and the rest of us disciples who had been close to Jesus over the three years we had followed him. When she returned to the place where we were hiding. And when she announced that she had seen Jesus. And as she continued to tell us the story of her experience. That, at first, she didn’t recognize him. But, then, when he called her by name. Mary. It was as though her eyes had been opened. And, as she was telling this amazing story, it was at that moment that I felt I had experienced this once before.
I had. It was only a week or so earlier that I had experienced all of these same emotions. The deep sadness I felt at the death of my brother Lazarus. The feeling of abandonment by Jesus--that he could have prevented Lazarus from dying, but that he didn’t. The anger I felt when, finally, Jesus arrived and it was too late. The deep grief as I watched him weep, just as I was weeping. And, then, the surprise, when Jesus called his name--just like Jesus called Mary’s name in the garden that morning--and Lazarus came out of the tomb. And, then, the ecstatic joy and freedom I felt for my brother, when Jesus told people to unbind him from the grave clothes. To unbind him and let him go.
When Jesus died on that Day of Preparation for Passover, I felt the same range of emotions. Sadness. Abandonment. Anger. Grief. But, there was one more I felt. One more we all felt. And that was fear.
Our fear came early that morning after the Sabbath. Mary had gone to the tomb. When she arrived she saw that the stone that had been placed in front of the opening had been removed. She never went inside. Instead, she ran back to find Peter and the beloved disciple to tell them that “they” had taken the Lord from the tomb and that “we” didn’t know where they had put him. Do you notice how she reaches what one could argue is a very rational conclusion? They had taken his body. Grave-robbers at it once again.
That’s what we do, isn’t it? In the middle of irrational moments, we jump to the most rational conclusion. Trying to make sense of everything. Trying to make meaning in the midst of chaos. Trying to fit everything into a neat, little box. Into our neat, little box. Lacking imagination and refusing to be open to the possibility of something extraordinary.
We should have known better. Because we had already witnessed the extraordinary with the resurrection of my brother. But, we forget all of this, don’t we? Even though, when we look back our our lives and our experiences and we see how God has continuously brought new life out of death and light out of darkness, we fail to remember. We limit our imaginations and the possibilities. We pack them tightly away. In our fear, we pack them tightly away in our neat. Little. Boxes.
Mary went back to the tomb after telling Peter and the other disciple. And, as she stood outside, weeping, angels appeared to her. “Why are you crying?” they asked. “Whom are you looking for?” And then the gardener--or the man she reasonably thought was the gardener--asked the same questions. “Why are you crying?” “Whom are you looking for?”
I wonder if, at that very moment, Mary had her own deja vu moment. Because, we had heard Jesus ask that question many times before. “Whom are you looking for?” Yet, she still didn’t recognize him. Only after he called her by name. “Mary.” It was then that she recognized Jesus. Alive. Standing right in front of her. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Whom are you looking for? How are you limiting the possibilities? Do you jump to worst possible conclusions, doubting the life--the abundant life--that God has promised? Do you limit your imagination from believing in the extravagance of God? In your fear, do you seek to control everything around you and keep it in your own neat, little box? Afraid to let loose. To let go and see what God might do? When the Good Shepherd calls you by name, do you follow?
Whom are you looking for?
Set your imagination free. Unbind it and let it go. And experience the unexpected. Experience the freedom that Jesus gives. Freedom from everything that keeps us away from him. Freedom to answer his call. Freedom to live into your call and to be transformed by the experience. Freedom to let Jesus into your neat, little box. And to blow it to smithereens.
Come and see the possibilities. Come and see and experience what freedom looks like in the presence of Christ, our risen Savior. Come and see that those deja vu moments teach us to move out of our fear and into the joy and abundant life of the resurrection.
Jesus called me. Jesus calls you. Calls each one of you by name. Come. And see. And be free. Amen.
Preached April 1, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Psalm 118:21-29; John 20:1-18