Easter Sunday Worship Service, April 4, 2021 “Seeing the Lord Comes in Different Forms”
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The message “Seeing the Lord Comes in Different Forms” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
“Seeing the Lord Comes in Different Forms” April 4, 2021
GOSPEL OF JOHN 20:1-18 (NIV)
R: The Gospel according to John, the twentieth chapter.
C: Glory to you O Lord.
R: 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’
‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’
She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
R: This is the Gospel of our Lord
C: Praise to You O Christ.
How would you know if you had seen the Lord? How would you know if you had an encounter with the Risen Christ? Would you recognize Jesus if you saw him? Would you know it was him by the feeling you had? Could you tell it was him by something he said? Would you need someone else to help you realize it was him?
I would like to propose today that seeing the Lord can come in many forms, and I think the encounter that we just heard about from the Book of John gives us some idea of what these different forms might look like. It is interesting to me that after Mary has her experience with the risen Jesus, she runs back to the disciples and tells them, “I have seen the Lord!” Mary doesn’t try to prove that Jesus is risen with some sophisticated theological argument. She doesn’t try and demonstrate that Jesus is risen by quoting scripture and relaying her knowledge of the ancient prophecies. She simply shares her experience. She just gives her eyewitness account. She just testifies to what has happened. What is it then that happened which convinced her this was indeed the presence of Christ that had been with her?
I think first of all it had to do with Mary experiencing a moment of genuine care and empathy, where she felt like she was really seen. When Mary goes to the tomb to honor Jesus after he has been crucified, she is shocked to see that the tomb was empty. She knows he was buried there so logically the fact that there is no body there means that someone could have robbed the grave and taken the body of Jesus. This causes Mary to be distraught. She feels helpless and isn’t sure what to do, so she begins to cry. She turns around and there is man nearby whom she thinks is the gardener. The gardener is actually Jesus who asks the same question that the angels ask, “Why are you crying?”
Jesus takes the time to notice Mary and to empathize with her situation. He reaches out to her with spiritual care to ask why she is upset in the moment—to see how he might respond to her. He sees her and senses that things are not okay.
Have you ever had someone see you for who you were in the moment? Have you ever had someone empathize with your situation or reach out with spiritual care? Have you ever had someone notice that you were struggling and ask how you were doing as if they genuinely cared? Then perhaps you have seen the Lord.
When Jesus asks why she is crying Mary says it is because she thinks that they have carried away the body of Jesus and she doesn’t know where they have laid him. She still doesn’t fully recognize who he is until he responds and says “Mary.” Jesus says her name and that is when she fully recognizes him.
There is a power in someone knowing our name. Our name is the thing someone uses to gain our attention. It starts with our parents. When they want us to come, stop, act or listen, they will use our name. Our siblings start next, uncles, aunts, grandparents, then our friends, our teachers and so on. At every stage our brain registers that when our name is said, someone wants our attention, and someone is focusing their attention on us. When we hear our name we turn towards the speaker, it’s been ingrained in us so long it’s instinctual. It even causes us cognitive dissonance when someone uses our name to call someone else. It takes us a few seconds to realize they aren’t talking to us. By the time we reach adulthood there is a whole social dynamic now attached to our name. When someone uses our it, we know they know us.
How does it feel when someone knows you by name? Have you ever had someone remember your name whom you thought had forgotten it? Have you ever had that feeling of comfort or security or joy when a loved one has called you by name? Then perhaps you have seen the Lord.
When Mary realizes it is Jesus who is talking to her and he seemed to be alive again she must have given him a hug, or grasped his hand or knelt down and touched his feet. She must have grabbed him somehow because the Scripture tells us that Jesus said to her, Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary wants to cling to the Jesus she knew, but Jesus has a new calling to answer for himself and he has a new calling for Mary. Jesus is being transformed to grow into a new role where he will be ascending into heaven to be with God in order that his Spirit may expand and fill the earth in a new way.
Part of that process means sending out his disciples, including Mary. It means she can no longer simply cling to the memories of the past and the old relationship she had with Jesus. She needs to open herself up to now going out on her own, beyond her comfort zone to share what she has learned about the risen Christ. In doing so she will grow, and the message of Christ’s love and resurrection will grow as well.
Have you ever wanted to cling to something the way it was in the past even though you might have known it was time to let go? Have you ever had someone remind you that you can’t hold on to the way things are forever? Have you ever had someone help challenge you or encourage you to seek a new calling that may have been outside of your comfort zone, but helped you grow? If you have, then perhaps you have seen the Lord.
Seeing the Lord can take many forms. This is important to remember because it is easy to think that what Mary experienced only happened way back when. It is true that Mary had a unique experience of the risen Jesus, but at the heart of the Christian faith is the belief that the power of the resurrection still lives today and that the spirit of Christ still stirs within our world. We just need to be alert to how this spirit still shows up.
Recently, a story came to my attention that I think is an example of the spirit of resurrection. It came from my wife who saw it on social media. The story is about a young man from Italy who had moved to England, then became stuck there unable to travel home due to the pandemic. His name is Giorgio and he had been an avid musician, but you might say his passion for music had died and his piano keyboard had sat for months without being played. Giorgio was feeling isolated and lonely during the lockdown due to the pandemic and was unmotivated to play.
But then one day a new neighbor moved in next door and around two o’clock the next Saturday Giorgio heard a faint sound coming through the wall their apartments shared. It was a piano playing. This intrigued the young man and after a couple weeks he felt inspired to begin playing his own piano again. Then he wondered if the neighbor would play a duet with him. He put a note under the neighbor’s door and asked, “Could we play our pianos as a duet? I’ll play a few lines then you finish.”
Unsure what would happen, Giorgio waited until 2pm on Saturday then played a few measures on his piano. He picked the song he had first heard the neighbor play, “River Flows in You.” After the young man finished playing he stopped and listened. Would the neighbor continue the piece? He waited. Then it came. The reply from the piano on the other side of the wall.
This began a weekly ritual every Saturday at 2pm that began to pick up the young man’s spirit as once again he played his music and grew in his skill on the piano. The young man wrote on his social media, “This was our way of saying ‘I don’t know who you are, but I’m here. You’re not alone.” As nice as the duets were, however, Giorgio couldn’t help wondering who the neighbor was. How long had she or he been playing piano? Did he or she live alone like him? What would it be like to meet him or her? And why did they play every Saturday at 2pm?
The young man finally got up enough courage to introduce himself to the neighbor. He found out that the neighbor did live alone. The neighbor’s name was Emil. He had immigrated from Poland years before. He was a 78-year-old widower who had lost his wife to COVID early in the pandemic. Emil had moved to the apartment temporarily while his house was being sold, then he would move to an assisted living home. He played every Saturday at 2pm because his wife had loved music and that is the time he used to play for her.
Giorgio and Emil continued their duets until Emil’s house sold and he had to move out. Emil told Giorgio how grateful he was for their piano duets on either side of the apartment wall. He told the young man how it had kept him motivated and gave him company during a time when he was grieving and felt very lonely.
Several months passed and word got back to Giorgio that Emil had passed away. The young man was sorry to hear the news, but knew that Emil had gone to be with his beloved wife. As Giorgio was sharing the sad news on social media, he expressed how grateful he was that he had met Emil and how the older gentleman had helped the younger man also feel less lonely through the power of sharing his music. Emil might be gone, but Giorgio felt that Emil’s spirit had touched him and revived the passion for the piano that Giorgio thought had died.
You might say that through their interaction the two neighbors on either side of the wall had seen the Lord. You might say that although the older man had died, the love of music was resurrected in the younger man. You might say that although we wait for Jesus to come again, the spirit of Christ still rises even now in many little ways, if we only take the time to notice. Amen.