Who Are You Looking For?
“Who Are You Looking For?”
April 9, 2023
Cobleskill United Methodist Church
Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who 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.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Happy Easter, everyone! It is good to be together on this day with the sunlight streaming into these beautiful windows and the flowers spread out around the Sanctuary. Many of you who have been attending throughout Lent might have noticed that the Wonder Wall is gone. It was right over here and it was a big board where each week our kids and adults alike were encouraged to put sticky notes with questions that came up for them as we read the stories of scripture. The Wonder Wall is no longer here, but the questions are. Inspired by our beautiful lilies, it brought me great joy to make a piece of art with your questions. Questions like… “How do I know I've been born again?" and "Why do bad things happen to good people?" And the classic from week 1 in Sunday School, “Did the tempter have a girlfriend?” These questions have grown into more than what they began as.
Questions do that, though, don’t they? Once we give ourselves permission to wonder, and to ask, one question opens a curiosity that leads to another curiosity and so on and so forth.
Children are the best at this. They let their curiosity guide them. How many of you have ever been on the receiving end of a child’s impressively relentless line of questioning? When every answer you give is met with another, but why? But why? But why?
This Friday my daughter had the experience of going to her first Good Friday service. She’s almost eight and growing quickly in her maturity and curiosity about the world. It shouldn’t have surprised me then that not only did she listen to every word of the Good Friday scriptures, but she also wanted to watch the service a second time when we got home since it was recorded and posted on our church’s YouTube channel. After watching it again, the questions began. Deep, thoughtful questions. Most adults have heard the narrative of Jesus’ death enough times to know the story line pretty well. In fact, we’ve heard it so many times we actually stop asking questions, stop wondering. It all becomes customary, poignant and moving, but not something we question.
I found my daughter’s good and thoughtful questions taking me back into the story in ways that were new and fresh. Wonder is good for us.
And so this morning, I have a wondering about you. Who are you looking for? This is the question that leaps right off the page from our scripture this morning and lands at our feet. Who are you looking for?
I ask this in English but originally this was Jesus’ question to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of John and he would have asked it in a language called Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew. But when translated more literally, the question actually is more like, “Who do you want?”
When we show up on Easter morning, who do we want?
The truth is who we are looking for on Easter depends on what scars we carry. Some of us are looking for a Jesus who can take away our pain. Others of us are looking for a Jesus who can put a stop to addictions or forgive a sin. Others of us might be looking for a Jesus who will back up our worldview and support our opinions. Sometimes we’re here looking for a Jesus who can give us answers to our most pressing questions. Other times we’re just looking for a trustworthy companion.
Who are you looking for? Which Jesus do you want?
When Jesus asked Mary this question she was at the end of her rope, so much so she couldn’t even tell who was asking her the question. What else could go wrong after seeing the teacher you loved most die at the hands of people who wanted to kill his movement of love and peace. What could be worse than losing what you love the most? What could be worse than losing hope? I’ll tell you what. Feeling alone. All Mary wanted was to know where Jesus was. Even if it was just his body. His presence brought her purpose and now, even his body had been taken from her. It was adding insult to injury and she wept bitterly. She wept for all that had been lost. She wept because of the loneliness.
It was in this moment, while Mary was weeping that a man stood by the tomb with her and asked her that question. “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for? Who do you want?”
All she wanted was to know where Jesus was. His absence had left her empty and her grief and the trauma of these three days had disoriented her. Mistaking him for the gardener, she says, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
And the man responds with one word. “Mary.” He says her name. This voice that speaks her name suddenly has new meaning. The truth was literally dawning on her as the sun came up. She hears her name and suddenly she understands that this not a stranger, she is not alone. This is her beloved Jesus. The very one she was looking for. The very thing she needed, to know where he was, was the very thing he was giving to her. His presence.
Who are you looking for?
We carry a lot of grief, just like Mary. We visit the tombs of what has died in our lives and we wish for something better. We go looking for answers to our questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there so much tragedy in the world? Why is my loved one sick? Why is life unfair? Why does injustice have such a loud voice?
But in the end we find those are not the questions that Easter answers. There is only one question Easter answers. Are we alone? And the answer is a resounding, no! Because the one you are looking for, no matter the scars you bear or the weight you carry, is the one who will show up in between your tears, at the end of your rope. The one you are looking for is the one who will say your name in such a way that makes you feel like you are home. Death and trauma and fear and grief… none of it can separate us from our Lord Jesus who speaks to us through our tears.
Jesus can’t take away your pain. Jesus can’t take away addictions. Jesus can’t fit into the boxes you want to put him into. Jesus won’t wave a magic wand and make everything better in your life. But what Jesus will do is show up at your side on your worst days and be an unwavering, undeniable, unkillable presence with you while you go through every up and down. Present with you when you’re sobbing through your worst pain. Present with you as you attend your first AA meeting. Present with you when you head into the doctor’s office. Present with you when you reconcile with the one you’ve been arguing. Present with you when you decide to start taking better care of yourself. Present with you when you don’t even recognize him.
Our children are just beginning to hear this story. They know it is a story that carries tremendous amounts of meaning. They ask questions. They wonder out loud. But most importantly, when we create spaces where questions are okay, where figuring out who you are by encouraging curiosity and exploring the sacred stories that help make us who we are, they learn and grow.
You, my friends, are closer to your childhood wonder than your age or callousness would let you believe. Allow yourself to wonder. Allow yourself to ask questions of your faith. Allow yourself to wonder, who is it you have come here searching for? I promise you will find an answer.
Lost and Found, a prayer poem by Rev. Sarah Speed
Standing in the garden,
soft dirt under her feet,
sun still tucked away,
sleeping under the horizon.
The other disciples left,
but Mary stayed.
tears running down her face.
She said, They have taken my Lord away,
and I don’t know where they put him.
But here’s what Easter taught me:
if you think you’ve lost God,
if it feels like heaven has slipped through the cracks,
if you feel like the night will never end,
then know, there is no hide-and-seek with the divine
that doesn’t end in you being found.
God is closer than you think.
Grace and Peace,