April 8, 2012 - Easter Sunday

"What I'm Looking For"
Jason W. Crosby, preaching

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John 20:1-18

Let’s get right down to it, shall we?  As a child, I never was a Sunday School pupil who easily accepted what was dished out to me, and I am afraid it may be too late to change that now.  I guess due to my nature, I cannot in good conscious stand before you today and not address what I perceive to be the elephant in the room, which is: Did it really happen?  Did Jesus actually die and then rise three days later?  And, if you’re anticipating that I will say yes, I know for an absolute fact what happened that day, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  Because if I were to stand before you today and proclaim to know with certainty this happened or that happened, I would be lying to myself and to you.  I just can’t do that.  If I were to do that, I should submit my letter of resignation and walk away from gospel ministry altogether.  The truth is, I do not know what  happened that day.  I wasn’t there.  There’s no historical evidence beyond the bible to tell me what actually transpired that day and to be quite honest the bible doesn’t give us much detail to begin with.  The bible does not give us resurrection specifics.  And, I haven’t seen any authenticated video footage of Jesus rolling back that stone and walking out of that tomb.  I just don’t know exactly what happened.

“Did it really happen?” may be the big question that lingers on most of our minds this morning.  Perhaps, however, that is not the question we should be asking ourselves.  Perhaps, we should turn our attention elsewhere.   

John’s gospel repeatedly poses a question to his listeners.  “What are you looking for?”  These are Jesus’ first words in John’s gospel, directed at John the Baptizer’s disciples in John chapter 1.  “Who are you looking for?” is one of the questions posed by Jesus to Mary Magdalene when they meet following the resurrection in John 20.  This question, “What or Who are you looking for?” is one that rises to the surface many times in between chapters 1 and 20 as well.  This gospel, then, asks us to delve into the depths of our souls and explore one of life’s fundamental questions.  Not, “Did it really happen,” but “What is it that we are looking for?”           

John 20:1-18 is a mini-play that can be broken down into 3 acts.  In the first two acts of the play, those who come to Jesus’ burial site come looking for a dead body.  In the other gospels, those who visited the tomb brought spices and oils with them to tend to Jesus’ body.  In John’s gospel, the adornment of Jesus’ body already occurred, however.  It is likely, then, that Mary Magdalene came looking for closure after the death of Christ.  In John Mary comes in the dark, not at dawn.  I imagine that in the quietness and tranquility of pre-dawn darkness Mary approaches the place where Jesus’ body was laid to rest to be near the corpse of the one who meant so much to her to say her final farewells.  Her mission is disrupted, however, when she sees that the stone covering the tomb had been rolled away.  She quickly concludes that someone stole the body.  She runs to the disciples, seeking reinforcements.  She goes looking for help to solve this mystery.  She finds two willing want-to-be detectives.  Simon Peter and another disciple set off running back to the tomb like two policemen in a police car with sirens wailing racing to the scene of a crime.  These two disciples come to the empty tomb looking for evidence as to where the dead body could be.  When they arrive they examine the scene.  Peter enters the tomb first.  They find what they are looking for.  The linen and cloth in which Jesus was wrapped was left in the tomb.  John reports that the other disciple believed, but did not understand.  One gets the impression that the other disciple, upon review of the evidence, believed the body be to stolen, but not that anything more had transpired.   

It makes sense that those who first come to the tomb come looking for death.  We live in a death obsessed world.  Death is the one common denominator that none of us can escape, that unites and haunts us all.  Consequently, much of our lives are defined and driven by death.  On our better days, the threat of death compels us to slow down, smell the flowers blooming, and spend more time with those we love.  On many other days, however, the threat of death, enables us to justify our more unsavory thoughts and actions.  Life lived defined and confined by death may lead us to seek immediate pleasures without concern for how our own self-satisfaction affects others.  Life lived defined and confined by death may lead us to cut throats in order to move up the professional or financial ladder so that we can leave our mark on this world before we go.  If the biggest question on our minds this morning is “Did it really happen?” we’re approaching the empty tomb from a perspective that concedes that life is confined and defined by death, and run the risk of walking out of here this morning the way Peter and the other disciple walked away from the tomb, and the way we walk away from so many of our lives other endeavors – unchanged, underwhelmed, and confused.   

In the third act, the story shifts back to Mary.  Whereas previously Mary came looking for closure around Jesus’ corpse, now I imagine Mary comes looking for some hope.  We find her weeping.  It is in that moment, when Mary seemingly has given up her man-hunt, indicates that she is fed up with being grief-stricken, just plain tired of living a life entombed death, a life filled with days of looking for the dead among the dead, when she is broken down to point that she cannot even recognize angels in her midst, when she reaches a point where she is just looking for something more, Jesus appears.  He gently, tenderly speaks her name, “Mary,” and she turns around and finds what she was looking for.  She now sees and cries out, “Rabbonni.  Teacher.” 

Jesus abruptly informs her, however, “Do not hold on to me.  For I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Maybe he could hear it in her voice, how she wanted him back the way he was so they could go back to the way they were, back to the old life where everything was familiar and not frightening like it was now.  “Rabbonni!” she called him, but that was his Friday name, and here it was Sunday – an entirely new day in an entirely new life.”[i]

In other words, I believe Jesus says that if you are looking for me now with vision entombed within the walls of death and expect to find me shackled there, you’re wasting your time.  If you wish to see me now, you must look for me with eyes of belief, with eyes that believe that what prevails now, will not prevail forever.  It’s as if Jesus is saying, now there’s more to the world than the cocoon in which you find yourself.  Believe there’s more, look around, look above, look beyond. 

So, this morning I stand before you singing with conviction Christ the Lord is Risen Today, not because I know what happened, but because I believe it.  When I lift my gaze from this death crazed world and believingly look for the Risen Savior, I find a Risen Savior.  I proclaim He Lives because when I push the aside my heavy stone of death and disbelief, a ray of light pierces into my darkness, when I peer through the cocoon that envelopes me and I see dimly blue and red, pink and violet butterflies dancing in the air.  I proclaim he lives because when I look for him beyond the confines of death in belief that I will find him, he taps me on the shoulder, calls me by name, and embraces me in arms of love.       

Yes, believing that when you look for a Risen Savior that you will find one is difficult.  It was difficult for Mary Magdalene then.  It’s difficult for us now.  No matter the era, there will always be plenty of reasons to remain entombed and cocooned and to stuff Jesus back into his grave as well.  But, you know what?  You know what’s more difficult for me than believing?  Being scared to death of death, letting anxiety and worry get the upper hand over my life, worrying about how war and weapons might snuff out the life of my son prematurely, listening to politicians and pundits fight pointless battles, watching people demonize others because they don’t vote the same way or understand theology the same way, standing by while racism, sexism, homophobia, and death turn this world round and round.

But, there’s more.  When I believe and go looking for the Risen Savior, not only do I find him and his love, I begin to see so much more.  I find a spark of courage to help me live life a little more often beyond the shadow of the fear of death.  I find some peace to quiet my anxiety and fear from time to time.  I find a blueprint to follow to help me create a more beautiful, equitable, and just world.  I find an escape hatch to get me out of the cycles of violence that enslave me.  I find myself really and truly thinking that the end is not the cold, sinewy grip of death.  Rather, that life and love will prevail.  I begin to see a life for myself that transcends my dark and deathly tomb.  I begin to see that I too my break from my cocoon and go dancing with the butterflies.  I too begin to believe that a new world, a new creation just may be possible.  And, like Mary, I find myself running to anyone I can find to share this grand and glorious, “I have seen the Lord.”  Alleluia, Alleluia, through eyes of belief I have found just what I am looking for. 


[i] Barbara Brown Taylor. Home By Another Way. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 1999. p.111.