“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’”
Preached by The Rev. Todd Miller
“So, Miller,” said my one of colleagues, as he sidled up to me at clergy conference, “Bones and all?” “Absolutely!” I said, laughing at the way he asked me if I believed in Jesus’ bodily resurrection. “Absolutely! Bones and all!”
An answer which is of course the “right” answer, and the Church’s “answer.” The answer upon which all Christian doctrine hangs – “On the third day he rose again,” we say in the Creed. The answer upon which all Christian hope relies: “If Christ has not been raised, then we are of all people most to be pitied,” Paul writes (I Cor 15). “Absolutely,” I say, “‘Bones and all!’”
But… people don’t just rise from the dead. I bet no one here has ever seen somebody rise from the dead. And I doubt if anyone here knows anyone who has seen somebody rise from the dead. Those who are dead – especially someone who has been crucified and dead three days – just don’t come back to life!
So, which is it? Did Jesus really rise from the dead, “Bones and all?” Or was Jesus’ “resurrection” just a story, something metaphorical, meant to convey a truth while not actually being “the truth?”
Probably all of us here have had doubts about Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Probably we have wondered if Jesus rose from the dead, “really.” Perhaps the reason we may feel tepid in our faith is because we’re not sure about the resurrection. Perhaps the reason so many say they have no faith is because of the resurrection! I wonder how many who would have sailed upon the otherwise healing waters of the Church, upon seeing the jagged rocks of Jesus’ resurrection looming on the horizon, jumped overboard and abandoned ship, rather than risk what looked to be certain shipwreck.
I wonder, though, if those of us caught in this tension of “Of course he did!” and “There’s no way he did!” aren’t exactly where the Holy Spirit would have us be. I wonder if, in her wisdom, the Holy Spirit leads us to ask questions about the resurrection because the most fruitful place to live, the most fruitful place in which to be human and to be alive, is to stay “on board” this ship and to learn to navigate the “rocks of resurrection.”
Recognizing that we cannot prove anything one way or the other about the historical Jesus’ death and resurrection; recognizing that there is something about Jesus that nonetheless draws us, that has brought us here this morning; while at the same time acknowledging that we have questions and doubts about resurrection… if in these tensions we can stay “on board,” we discover that God gives the grace to navigate the “rocks.” And navigating through the “Scylla” of “Bones and all!” on the one side, and the “Charybdis” of healthy skepticism on the other, it is possible to come to an extraordinary place: it is possible to come to a place where we are fearless of death
When I say that it is possible to become fearless of death, I don’t mean that we live without fear of death – everyone has fears, and death is probably our greatest fear. When I say we become fearless of death I mean that we learn to live beyond our fears. We learn to focus, not on what really did or did not happen at the end of Jesus’ time on earth – nor on what may or may not happen at the end of our time on earth – but rather we focus on where we are now in the present. Focusing on the “now,” we discover that, as we stay “on board” and continue to engage the mystery of resurrection, and as we are forthright about our doubts, both with ourselves and God, it is possible for us to look our fear of death in the eye move past it into a place that is beyond our fear of death.
Which is the place in which I think Mary Magdalene found herself in today’s gospel. Mary Magdalene was one of the few who stayed with Jesus at his crucifixion – she was not afraid to be around death. Mary was the first to come to the tomb on Easter morning and, after the other disciples had already left, yet Mary lingered and looked into the tomb – Mary was able to function beyond her fear of death. And today’s gospel offers a clue as to how Mary came to this place, how she navigated past the tension of her belief in Jesus’ resurrection, on the one hand, and whatever doubts and skepticism she may have had, on the other.
Back in John chapter 10, John writes that Jesus is the Good Shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.” Notice how, in this morning’s gospel, it was in the moment that Jesus said her name – “Mary!” – that Mary recognized Jesus. As soon as Jesus said her name, she was able to set aside the past and, say, memories of Jesus’ death; she was able to set aside the future and, say, any worries of where Jesus’ body might be; and she was able to be present now, right then, right there, with Jesus. When she heard Jesus call her name, Mary passed through the “rocks of resurrection,” moving beyond concerns of belief or doubt(“Did he or didn’t he?”) and coming into the open space that all our hearts crave – standing now in the presence of the One who knows us intimately and loves us infinitely.
The same voice that called Mary outside the tomb on that first Easter yet calls us today. Jesus is calling you, Jesus is calling me – by name! Jesus calls us by name at each and every moment of our day, hoping that we’ll hear, hoping that we’ll follow. Perhaps we who are here this morning will stay “on board,” engaging with the Bible’s stories and the Church’s teachings of resurrection on the one hand, and, on the other, being forthright with ourselves and with God about our doubts. Perhaps we will persist in this tension and learn to navigate the “rocks of resurrection.” Perhaps we, by God’s grace, will learn: to live in the “now,” to become fearless of death, to live beyond our fears of the past and the future, to live moment by moment hearing his voice and following him. And there is nothing more joyful the human heart, nothing more satisfying to the soul, than – like Mary – to hear Jesus call our name, to be brought into the “now” of his presence, and to know – regardless of what we may feel about ourselves – how ridiculously much Jesus loves us.