Have you seen Jesus? Sermon on John 20:1-18

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What does it mean to see Jesus in our day and age?

lease listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

March 27, 2016 - Sunday of the Resurrection / Easter Sunday

"Have you seen Jesus?".  Text is from John 20:1-18

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Have you seen Christ?

This is the beginning spiral of Christian evangelization and it all starts out with Mary Magdalene, who we find shockingly as a lone unmarried woman walking around in a graveyard in the very early hours of the morning before the sun had come up. She is mourning, distraught, obsessed. She has yet to process the loss of this wonderful man who rescued her from a demonic possession, whom she has been following for the last few years and whom, some say, especially if you go by depictions in modern motion pictures, she has been in love with.  And she approaches this dark tomb, its stone being unexpectedly rolled away, she sees no body inside and goes into shock. Is it any wonder she is frightened? Is it any wonder she ran off in search of some trusted friends? Particularly those who were closest to Jesus, Simon Peter and the unnamed disciple who Jesus loved. 

And, like typical men, their first impulse is rather than ask poor Mary Magdalene how she is, they must go see for themselves what has befallen the body of their Lord.  We hear that the unnamed disciple was a fast runner, and surpassed Peter, for what reason, we do not know, but that he arrived there first and noticed first the burial shroud. And Peter arrived, braver than the other, and went into the tomb confounded, while the other one, now emboldened, set foot inside and finally believed.

But they left the tomb, and poor Mary Magdalene standing outside crying. Even when angels were inside the tomb, Mary yet cried. Even when Jesus himself spoke to her, Mary yet cried, confusing him for the hired help. It was not until he spoke her name, "Mary."  

You can be sure that John intends for us to remember his quote from chapter 10: ""[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name ... they know his voice." Indeed, because the moment she heard his voice saying her name, she knew him for who he was.  And his words of being the risen Christ were enough for her to finally believe and be the one to proclaim the Gospel.  The first disciple.

This the only gospel which has Mary Magdalene, alone, in a graveyard, rather than in the company of two other women.  It is odd, because even as she is alone, she nevertheless tells Peter and the other disciple that "we do not know where he is." This is also the only gospel which goes into such detail to provide for us the information that Mary Magdalene was the first to meet the risen Lord, and the first to proclaim the good news that he was now not dead but returned.

18 Jesus Rises.jpg

Have you seen Christ?  Mary was there and saw him, even though he ought to have been dead. And soon the others would see him as well. And these important people, Mary, Peter, the unnamed disciple who Jesus loved, known to this, the fourth gospel's writer and the people for whom he originally wrote, were privileged. It is quite possible that when these words were written, the deaths of Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple were as of yet in the awareness of the community for whom they were written, first-hand witnesses to the resurrection of Christ whose very words instilled faith among those who did not see him but trusted in the very first-hand accounts of those people they knew.  

But what of us? 1,900 years after this gospel was written, what are we to make of these texts. I know I am not the first 21st century Christian who, as a child wished for a time machine to take me back, back, back to the days of Jesus Christ, so I could see for myself exactly what took place. So that the lingering doubt which I thought I alone had and once declared sinful and evil would be extinguished once and for all and I would have perfect faith. That I could watch the healings and see the miracles and hear the parables and witness the scenes at the tomb. Take my Polaroid camera with me, snap shots of everything that took place... and then build myself an explanation to those poor 1st century Judeans as to what exactly the "click" "whirrrrrrrrr" of the little photograph appearing out.  Hiding the print as soon as it emerged. In the pockets of my garment.  

Okay, so I admit, this was an elaborate fantasy of mine as a child, which I had all bases covered. And maybe not everyone got into such detail of wondering.  Particularly how I would account for the batteries running out or getting more film or heaven forbid, my time machine breaking down! Still never figured out an easy way to know Aramaic or Greek, for that matter, but I did have two years of Latin by the 11th grade so I could at least get by with the Romans! Somewhat. 

But all this, my sisters and brothers were in the name of myself becoming a trustworthy witness, with unblemished faith, able to say for all of you: Yes, I have seen Christ, and he doesn't quite look like you thought he did. Here, I have a photograph that I took right here and even though it's just a bit blurry...you can clearly make out that he's our Lord and savior. Maybe 1 out of 3 Poloroid photographs look good, unless you really have time to set it up.  But I saw him myself and here's the proof!  

But as you can well imagine, I never got to have my own time machine.  I never got to travel back in time and witness the miracles and parables and stories and eating with prostitutes and tax collectors and suffering and death on the cross and resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ. 

Have you seen Christ? What does it mean to answer that question in an affirmative yes, without having been witness to the physical walking and talking and living and breathing of the man of Nazareth beside you, as with Mary and Peter and the other disciple and all of the 12 and everyone who knew him? What does it mean for us to take the word of Mary Magdalene that she has seen the Lord as Gospel truth and deeply ingrain it in present being, right here, on March 27, 2016? 

Part of the miracle of getting older--and I know that there are those in this room, myself included, who can attest that it indeed a miracle that we have somehow made it to our age--is that we have the privilege of encountering the goodness of Christ in the world around us. Even amidst the sorrow that we often find out there, on the streets, in the world, we can discover that under the dirt and the grime of every day life there are kind hearts helping one another to survive, being the hope for the world that impels their individual lives forward.  

We look to each other. One of the great gifts that comes along with the gift of God's grace is that our hearts open up to each other. We are able to listen to them pulling us toward our fellow human being, and discern when they tell us that something is wrong with our friends, knowing that it is without knowing what it is, we find ourselves needing to comfort them and give them hope and strength to make it through another day. 

We look to our community. One of the wondrous things about Lutheran Church of the Cross is the great deal of service we are able to produce with such a small number of people. While our spaghetti dinner is at the very center of it, we find ourselves wanting to do so much more, and then find ourselves able despite our occasional misgivings. We become beacons of hope in the lives of the neighborhood and the city. We become shining examples out there in the world and able to draw others toward our way of doing things.

Have you seen Christ? We look to the cross, set there before us at the front of the sanctuary, empty save the gold and white fabric draped around it. A symbol of hope and joy and comfort and grace in a world that has so many symbols of other things. We know through faith by the amazing gift of grace that we are given because of his crucifixion and death and defeat over death, evil and the power of the grave, and by his glorious resurrection that he yet is there, in front of us, the son.  

Have you seen Christ? We never stop seeing Christ, and it calls us to proclaim his resurrection to all, that they may become disciples. That they may become fishers of humankind. Like Mary Magdalene, really the first to proclaim the good news that he was no longer dead but back from the dead. That she had seen the Lord, and that she knew all was good.  And that along with Mary and Paul and the other disciple and the twelve and the ongoing, unbroken, great cloud of witnesses both then and since we can proclaim that we too, have seen Jesus Christ; the good news and salvation for all humankind.

Amen.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on March 27, 2016 3:01 PM.

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