Rev. Geoff McKee’s sermon for Easter Sunday (01 April 2018) discusses worldliness: concern with material values or ordinary life over a spiritual existence. Jesus knows our names and he calls each of us by name. The challenge we face is to keep looking to Jesus rather than (competitively) at the person next to us.
John 20:1-18 (New International Version)
The Empty Tomb
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise 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 toward 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.
One of the surprising aspects for first-time Commissioners to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in Edinburgh is that, for many, the most moving moment of the Assembly occurs during the final session on Friday afternoon.
Some Commissioners don’t even last that long and are on their way home when the names of those ministers who have died since the last Assembly are read out by the recently retired Moderator along with the name of the last Parish in which they served.
It’s usually a long list but one finds oneself listening intently to all the personal names and all the Parishes and by implication the people who have served their local churches through the ministries.
It’s very moving.
It’s moving because it means something when a name is spoken. We all have names which are, of course, personal to us.
I’ve told you the story about ‘Fruit Stand’ before but it’s worth telling again!
When the 1960s ended, San Francisco’s Ashbury district reverted to high rent, and many hippies moved down the coast to Santa Cruz.
They got married and had children. But they didn’t name their children Melissa or Jack.
People in the mountains around Santa Cruz grew accustomed to their children playing with the likes of ‘Frisbee’ or with little ‘Time Warp’ or ‘Spring Fever’. And eventually ‘Moonbeam’, ‘Earth’, ‘Love’ and ‘Precious, Promise’ all ended up in public school.
That’s when the nursery teachers first met ‘Fruit Stand’.
Every autumn, according to tradition, parents bravely apply name tags to their children, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus.
So it was for Fruit Stand.
The teachers thought the boy’s name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it.
“Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?” they offered. And, later, “Fruit Stand, how about a snack?”
He accepted hesitantly.
By the end of the day, his name didn’t seem much odder than Heather’s or Sun Ray’s.
At bell time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. ”
Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?”
He didn’t answer. That wasn’t strange. He hadn’t answered them all day.
Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn’t matter.
The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word “Anthony.”
We may like our names – or we may dislike them or even be indifferent to them – but they are personal to us.
It matters when our name is uttered and we are recognised and included.
Mary did not recognise Jesus until her name was uttered.
In John 10, Jesus said in relation to the Good Shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Mary recognised him when he spoke her name.
For more than 50 years, Lale Sokolov lived with a secret.
It was one born in the horrors of wartime Europe, in a place that witnessed some of the worst of human outrages.
It would not be shared until he was in his 80s, thousands of miles from that place.
Lale had been the Tattooist of Auschwitz.
The journalist, Heather Morris, has written a book – The Tattooist of Auschwitz – based on how he tattooed a serial number on the arms of those at the camp who weren’t sent to the gas chambers.
“The horrors of surviving nearly three years in a concentration camp left him with a lifetime of fear and paranoia,” Heather Morris says.
“The story took three years to untangle. I had to earn his trust and it took time before he was willing to embark on the deep self-scrutiny that parts of his story required.”
He feared that he would be viewed as a Nazi collaborator.
Keeping the secret, or what he described as a burden of guilt, would protect his family, he thought.
It was only after his wife Gita died that he “unburdened” himself, revealing a tale of survival.
In April 1942, aged 26, Lale was taken to Auschwitz, the Nazis’ biggest death camp.
When the Nazis came to his hometown, Lale had offered himself as a strong, able-bodied young man in the hope that it would save the rest of his family from being split up. Unlike his siblings, he was unemployed and unmarried.
At that time, he did not know of the horrors that went on at the camp in occupied south-west Poland.
On arrival, the Nazis exchanged his name for a number: 32407.
Prisoner number 32407 was set to work like many others, constructing new housing blocks as the camp expanded.
Partly because of his skills with languages – he knew Slovakian, German, Russian, French, Hungarian and a bit of Polish – Lale was made the main camp tattooist. It was his horrific job to remove the names of every person before him and replace the name with a soul-less number.
Jesus knows our name.
The wonderful good news – on this Resurrection Day – is that he turns to us and calls us by name.
We only know a little bit about the early Church.
We know some things because they are stated in the New Testament. We know other things by reading between the lines. But one of the sure facts that we do know from a considerable amount of biblical evidence is that the New Testament Church was beset by rivalry and competition.
Paul wrote at the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?
Rather depressingly, the new Church struggled with the destructive implications of in-fighting.
So it comes as no surprise that the beloved disciple – who is presumably John himself – and Simon Peter are described in John’s Gospel as racing one another to the tomb.
We have a footrace for truth.
John is fleeter by foot and sharper in intelligence.
While it’s true that Peter entered the tomb before John, John understood the implications of its vacancy long before Peter did.
Now, I don’t doubt that the writer of John’s Gospel intended no slur on Peter – instead, he wished to emphasise that the disciple who experienced a special love was quick to respond to that love.
Nonetheless, the rest of the New Testament conflict tradition is not far from this story, a fact that is especially apparent when we remember that John’s Gospel is, in all likelihood, a late first century document, written in the context of church rivalry.
On this Easter Sunday, we are reminded of our worldliness.
In other words, our tendency to look at the person beside us, instead of looking to Jesus.
The challenge is to listen for our name, because it will be spoken by the Saviour who loves you as intently as he loved John. And, when we hear that name, to take off in pursuit of the new age, the new creation that dawns on this Easter day.
We will not allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the ways of the old creation. Instead, we go in, we see and we believe.
May God bless you all on this special day.
Image: The image linked to this post was taken at the Easter Sunday Sunrise Community Service at East Beach, Lossiemouth.