Call Me, Jesus
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3-31-2013
Based on John 20:1-18
Have you ever watched a good “Who done it” mystery and found yourself so engaged in the story that you realized that every movement the character was making, every gesture made, every innuendo presented, you were looking beyond the surface and trying to figure out if that one piece had something significant to say about what would see later on in the story?
If we take this morning’s scene at the tomb here Jesus had been laid just a couple of days before we can see a number of suggestions in which to think about such as: Mary going to the tomb while it was still dark, one disciple out runs the other and yet doesn’t enter into the tomb, while the other after getting to the tomb, rushes in, they both see the wrappings lying on the ground, yet the head dress is neatly wrapped and placed by itself. The tomb was totally empty with the two disciples, but when Mary Magdalene went back, she was speaking to two angels. Why didn’t she recognize Jesus in her conversation, yet when hearing her name spoken, she then recognizes who she has been speaking with? Is there any hidden meaning about Mary needing to turn around before she realized that Jesus was standing behind her? Why are there only three members of Jesus’ group going to the tomb? Is there something important about John believing, but neither he nor Peter understanding scripture?
There has been a group gathering during the Lenten season and studying a book by John Crossan and Marcus Borg titled “The Last Week”, which follows the last week of Jesus’ life as written by Mark. As we started to study this book, it quickly became apparent to me that I too often do not look deeply enough into what is going on behind the story. This book challenges a lot of historical understanding that many of us have grown up learning about the ministry of Jesus. Much of what most of us understand about the Good News that Jesus’ ministry proclaims has been romanized over the centuries, minimizing the actual message of Jesus.
As a culture we have come to understand Jesus as a non-political figure, whose mission was healing the sick and teaching about the love of God. We view the story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as only speaking about the resentment from the Religious leaders and not recognizing that it was a signal to Rome that Jesus was being seen not only as a King, but as a King, He was also a Son of God. This was a direct attack upon Caesar who as Empire was thought to be the true Son of God, by virtue of his birth from the original Caesar who was declared a God. We see the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers as a way of his cleansing the temple from an activity that was somehow forbidden by God. Yet, the money changers were actually there to do a service for those Pilgrims who journeyed from their homes afar to worship at the temple. What Jesus was doing in that demonstration was to disrupt the business of the temple, which had over time bought into a system that rewarded the wealthy at the expense of the poor, a direct violation of God’s law. Over the decades, the church has taken the crucifixion of Jesus and built a theology of “substitution” for our sins; Jesus died upon the cross sinless and by doing so, took upon himself all of our sins thus allowing entrance into heaven. Yet the phrase, “take up your cross and follow me”, doesn’t point to substitution but rather toward a theology of “participation.”
What then was the ministry of Jesus? What was His message, the Good News that He was preaching? Jesus was preaching against a system that held most of the resources at the expense of those who had little to begin with. Jesus’ message was that God created enough for all, but because of the greed of humanity, we tend to operate with a philosophy of “scarcity” which leads to the excessive accumulation of resources and hindering the just distribution of God’s resources. This can be understood through the story of the “feeding of the 5,000.” Jesus was seen by Rome and the religious leaders of his day as an insurrectionist, which was the only crime that Romans use crucifixion as punishment. Jesus was not an innocent man being unjustly crucified, he was a man who was exposing a corrupt system and was demanding change.
It was in this crucifixion on Friday that the Empire, who perpetuates this system of domination, said, “We are in control, we have the power, and we can stop you.” Comes Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene goes to administer the ritual for the dead and finds an empty tomb. The only thing that she can think to do is to run and tell Peter and John, who run to the tomb to see for themselves that the tomb is empty. What they find is curious to say the least, for grave robbers wouldn’t have left the linen wrappings if they had taken the body, or if they did, they would not have taken care in folding the cloth that had wrapped Jesus’ head, first clue! Scripture says that after John see’s the evidence “he believes, yet they do not understand the scripture about Jesus must rise from the dead.”
This poses the question: does a person need to understand an experience that is between them and God in order to believe? I often have conversations with people where at some point they begin to share experiences that cannot be explained by our current knowledge of the laws of physics, yet they firmly believe in those experiences. For example: We hear stories of people who had feelings of danger if they take the scheduled flight they have booked, cancel their plans, and then learn about that particular flight ends with the plan crashing. When we hear stories such as these, we have no physical proof about to back up these claims, but because of the deep sincerity of their sharing, we believe what they are telling us as truth.
Then there is Mary’s story at this empty tomb. She is the one who goes early in the morning to tend to Jesus’ body and finds the tomb empty. After telling Peter and John, she finds the courage to return to the tomb after they have gone where she encounters two people that she supposes to be angels. She is weeping over not finding Jesus’ body. It isn’t until she turns around that she realizes that there is a third man at the tomb. She doesn’t recognize who she is speaking with until he speaks her name “Mary”, then she realizes this is Jesus, her beloved teacher.
I wonder how many of us have conversations with angels over and over and do not recognize them to be of God? I wonder how many times many of us have encounters with Jesus and do not recognize it that is until we finally hear our name spoken? An empty tomb – not really, for once she is able to open herself up to finding Jesus in a form she was not expecting to find, she was no longer alone, the tomb was no longer empty.
What I gain from this story comes from the different reactions of Peter, John, and Mary. Peter is never said to “believe” while at the tomb, but eventually becomes the cornerstone of the church. John, doesn’t need much to believe that Jesus is alive, yet doesn’t need to understand what scripture says about Jesus rising from the grave. Mary doesn’t seem to pull it together until she hears her name called by Jesus. We have three differing experiences and all three come to recognize that Jesus is not dead, but alive. This gives hope for each of us that we don’t have to react to the message of Jesus’ resurrection in just one particular way, but can honor our own experiences in what “Jesus resurrected” means to each one of us.
The ultimate message about the empty tomb comes back to what the message of the crucifixion. In the death of Jesus, Rome was saying that the god Caesar won. In the empty tomb the message to the world is that God won, that death was not the end, but that Jesus is still alive, alive in his disciples and alive in the church today. The empty tomb has put those who live by the theology of scarcity on notice that God is still in the game and through those who chose to participate with Jesus working toward creating God’s kingdom here on earth. Amen