Sunday, April 18, 2010

Do You Love Me? A Sermon on John 21:1-19

“Do you love me?”

There are so many ways to ask that particular question.

There is the tentative, newly-in-love lover… holding his breath, hardly able to ask for fear he’ll wither up and die if the response is not what he’s hoping for.

There is the angry, betrayed lover… wondering what has happened to this love, what has happened to this relationship, demanding to know what to expect next.

There is the playful child, trying to distract mommy or daddy from those tasks that seem so very interesting and important to them.

There is the friend making a request that they know may push at the boundaries of friendship—a room for a couple of months, a loan, a job.

There is the parent, fearful, perhaps pushing at the boundaries of their own pride and dignity, asking the now grown child what they can do to help now that the caretaking shoe is on the other foot.

“Do you love me?”

The composers of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” put these words in the mouth of the protagonist, Tevye. His world has just been turned upside down by his daughters breaking age-old tradition by choosing their own husbands, rather than allowing the matchmaker to find them spouses. His daughters say, “I love him, Papa.” Tevye turns to his wife Golde—they were brought together by the matchmaker, after all—and he asks her: Do you love me? To which she responds, “Do I what?”

“Do you love me?”

These words are in Jesus’ mouth this morning, in this third successive week of resurrection appearances by Jesus courtesy of gospel of John. It’s odd to find ourselves back in John’s gospel, because, do you remember how last week’s reading ended? As if it were really, really the ending of the gospel? John wrote (and we read),

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. ~ John 20:30-31

That sure sounds like the end of the gospel to me: Cut, print, it’s a wrap! But, intriguingly, there’s more—another chapter beyond that chapter with a pretty final-sounding ending. It’s as if John suddenly remembered something so vitally important, he said to himself—oh, I can’t leave this out, I just can’t. Whatever it is, it seems to have something to do with Simon Peter. And so another chapter begins. “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias [that is, the Sea of Galilee]; and he showed himself in this way.” After all the excitement and confusion of Easter morning—Mary and Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved—and then the further excitement and tension of Easter evening—the disciples minus Thomas, frightened and hiding out—and all the tension and doubt of the appearance one week later—Thomas, and his declaration, “My Lord and my God!”—well, it’s as if it’s all just a little too much for the disciples. Any of you who have ever been a witness or participant in a major life transition knows at least a bit what this feels like. After the birth, or after the death. After the wedding, or after the separation and divorce. Sometimes, you just need to do something that feels normal again. Simon Peter announces, “I’m going fishing.”

Peter. Peter, whose biography reads, in part, “Said to Jesus, ‘I will lay down my life for you,’ only hours before he denied three separate times that he even knew Jesus.” Peter whose head and heart must be filled with the most fascinating and difficult maelstrom of memory and regret, elation and hope. Peter tells the others, That’s it. I’ve had enough of whatever this is and has been. I’m going back to something I know, and know well. I am going fishing. And the other disciples, hard pressed to come up with a better idea, tag along.

Except, you don’t really tag along fishing. You don’t just go along for the ride. And, unlike our experience with fishing poles and streams, you don’t have much opportunity to relax and daydream while waiting for that nibble. Fishing with nets on the Sea of Galilee is something that requires serious concentration, and even more serious strength. It requires well-coordinated team effort.

Peter and company set out in a boat, fully aware of all the above—after all, this is what they do, or did, in the days before Jesus beckoned them along the Way. But their efforts, their teamwork, their patience, their strength—all is for naught, apparently, because they don’t notice even the slightest ripple on the water all that long night.

Night on the Sea of Galilee. What do the disciples do that long night while the fish are not swimming into their nets? Do they need to be silent so as not to scare away the fish? And if they are silent, are they all lost in thoughts that are pretty much identical? Or can they simply not stop themselves from murmuring to one another, again, all the events of the past weeks? Are they too lost in quiet conversation to notice a silver fin when it does slip quickly through the water?

Morning comes, at last, and with the light they can see that a man is standing on the beach. Once again, just as before, they don’t know him. They don’t recognize him. The risen Jesus is different. They don’t understand that it’s Jesus, not until his explicit instructions on where to cast their net yields a staggering bounty of fish. And then they see, and then Simon Peter—the one who was trying to get away from it all to begin with, the one who, perhaps, had the best reason to want to get away—Peter jumps into the sea to swim, as fast as he can, to Jesus’ side.

“Do you love me?” It’s later now. They’ve eaten a breakfast of bread and barbecued fish, and the hard work of waiting and then hauling is making them, perhaps, drowse in the warm morning sun. And Jesus asks Peter—or Simon, as he calls him, harkening back to the early days, when they were just beginning to know one another—he asks, “Do you love me?”

And Simon Peter, perhaps grateful to have the opportunity to say it, and say it to Jesus’ face, says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” It’s a relief, after all that denial and obfuscation and hanging out and hiding out. It’s a relief to be able to say it, to be able to make it plain: I love you. “Feed my lambs,” Jesus says. And we might assume that he would be satisfied.

But Jesus is not satisfied, because he asks again. Now Jesus sounds a little like that tentative, fearful lover, as if he’s saying, “Really? Do you really love me?” And Peter replies, again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Tend my sheep,” Jesus says. Is he satisfied now?

Evidently, not. Jesus needs to ask one more time. Peter feels hurt, we are told. But Jesus asks anyway. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” You know, Peter replies. You know. You know everything. Of course I love you. And Jesus nods, Yes, I know. Now. “Feed my sheep.”

Do you love me? What is this strange exchange all about? Is it about Jesus’ need? Or is it, maybe, about Peter’s need? Peter is given an opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus once for each time he denied it before. And along with the opportunity—to heal the breach, to unring the bell, to un-say the words (even though we can never really un-say the words), he is given his commission, his call. It’s as if Jesus is saying, alright Peter, now that we’re past that—now that you and I have no more unfinished business—it’s no longer about us. It’s about them. Feed them. Tend them. You know what to do.

This odd epilogue chapter seems to want to say something about the leadership of the early church. It seems to want to place that leadership squarely in the hands of Simon Peter, even at the same time it acknowledges his frailty, his humanity, all the things people might ponder when considering who they want as their leader.

But in the end it’s not about Simon Peter. In the end, it’s about the flock whose care has been given into his hands. It’s about their call. It’s about our call. It has been said (by Rob Bell) that the church is at its best when it gives itself away. So a chapter of John’s gospel whose point is to tell us who Jesus left in charge ends up being, instead, about the church’s responsibility towards God’s people. And that is where the Easter message comes home to you and to me.

Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Blessing is always instrumental. (Thanks again, Rob Bell!) When God blesses us, it is never so that the blessing will end there: as if God says, I’ll bless this one, but not that one. That’s not how it works. If we are blessed by God, whether with faith or fortune or gifts or gratitude, the intention is that we become a conduit through which the blessing flows. Peter receives this immeasurable blessing of being able to affirm his love for the Lord he denied. He receives his assurance of pardon. But the blessing isn’t supposed to end with Peter. It’s supposed to equip him to bless others. Do you love me? Feed my sheep.

We are so deeply blessed, here, in this place: with an ancestry of strong, resourceful forbearers, with active and involved members who are willing and able to serve in all capacities, with a love for music and a passion to share it, with a tradition of raising up pastoral leadership from within our midst, with a gorgeous and functional physical plant, with the thriving ministries of our counseling center and our Pre-School, with endowments—the treasure of those who came before us… and the list doesn’t stop there. We are so deeply blessed. But the blessing cannot and should not and does not stop with us. Do you love me? Feed my sheep. That is the call to every one of us: that the blessing of God should flow through us to a world that is hungry, for bread and for love. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Painting: "Pentecost" by Alexander Sadoyan.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Holy Hilarity Meditation on John 20, 19-31

In 1948 the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, sent out an urgent call to the Chicago monastery of Poor Clare nuns. Clare of Assisi founded what were then called the Poor Ladies, with the help of her friend Francis, back in the 13th century, part of a great church renewal. They are an order of cloistered, contemplative nuns. That means that, once they take their vows, it is their firm intention never to leave their monastery again, but to live their whole lives there, lives of service through prayer and contemplation. In 1948, apparently, the Archbishop felt that Roswell, New Mexico urgently needed the presence of such a group of women. And so seven Poor Clares, who had all thought they would live and die within the Chicago enclosure, boarded a train for Roswell, to found a new monastery there. One of the women, Sister Mary Frances, would eventually write a book describing their adventure.

Fast forward to 1973. I am a bored seventh grader who is roaming the house, in the days before computers and iPods and text-messaging and DVD’s. I am disgruntled, and in need of something—anything!—to read. My mother picks up Sister Mary Frances’ book and places it in my hand. And I can’t put it down. I am absolutely gripped by this story. And I didn’t even know the parts about the spaceship and the aliens—she never mentions that stuff. What was it that so enthralled me about this book? Was it the romance of the cloister—living as a bride of Christ? Was it the promise of life close to the earth, reading about the nuns growing and canning all their own vegetables (no small feat in the desert climate of New Mexico)? Or was it this: The book is called “A Right to be Merry.” That title comes from a quote of Saint Francis. He was under fire because of his unusual rule of silence. Most monasteries, then and now, had a certain period of the day in which silence was mandatory. Francis’s and Clare’s monasteries had this feature as well. But the reason they was under fire was this: their rule of silence allowed laughter. When asked about it, Francis said, “My poor ladies have as great a right to be merry as any in the world!”

A life lived with the confidence that the love of God gives us a right to be merry sounded good to me when I was twelve years old, and it still sounds good to me today! And so, today, we join with churches all over the world in proclaiming today, the Sunday after Easter, Holy Hilarity Sunday! Also known as Holy Humor Sunday, or Bright Sunday. The tradition began in the third and fourth centuries, in response to the writings of the church fathers—Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostum, Augustine of Hippo—all of whom agreed that God had played a tremendous joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. God had a cosmically wonderful sense of humor.

But just think what an uphill battle it is in some folks’ minds—the idea that church can be a place for joy and laughter, the idea that God’s marvelous actions in and through and beyond history give us something worthy of the greatest belly laughs. There is a story about a pastor who spotted Groucho Marx in a hotel lobby- a man who was clearly a pastor, decked out in his clerical collar. He rushed over to Groucho, grabbed his hand to shake it, and said, “Thank you, Groucho, for bringing so much joy into the world!”

“Thank you,” Groucho replied, “for taking so much joy out of it.”

That is what we’re up against. And, frankly, the most recent headlines to do with all things church are no laughing matter. The church of Jesus Christ is a divine institution that has been given into human hands, and… sometimes, we don’t do the greatest job with it. Sometimes, the proper posture of the church is on our knees, begging the people’s forgiveness.

I want to suggest something that may sound somewhat radical—or, at the very least, somewhat strange. The first step towards being a properly repentant church may just be learning to take ourselves a little less seriously. Lightening up. People who can’t laugh at themselves are often the very same people who don’t know how or when to say “I’m sorry.”

Let’s take today’s gospel lesson as a case in point. When our lesson begins, it is the same day as it was last Sunday—it is Easter, that first resurrection day! The disciples—the friends and followers of Jesus—have just heard the astonishing news from Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter and that annoying Teacher’s pet—I mean, the disciple whom Jesus loved. They’ve heard that the Lord is alive! So naturally, they are holed up in a room with the doors locked tighter than a drum. So, apparently their logic is, The Lord is alive! Let’s go hide.

And, one can only imagine Jesus, standing outside that very locked door—Jesus, who was not held at bay by the stone in front of the tomb, a massive stone which probably weighed about as much as that Ford F-150 in the parking lot. Jesus, whose body apparently is not entirely subject to the same rules and regulations as ours now that he is risen. Jesus, who—whoops! Is inside. Standing right there, in front of them.

Saying, Peace. Salaam. Shalom. Which, I take to mean, rather than “Peace be with you,” something more like, Now that I’m here, peace is with you. So, you can all stop hyperventilating. It’s going to be ok. And then Jesus gives this very fallible group of people—remember all the hiding, the running, the abandoning? Remember Maundy Thursday, when our Tenebrae enacted something very much like rats fleeing a sinking ship with each passing reading, with each dimmed candle? Surely there is no greater evidence that God, and Jesus, are the funniest beings in the universe than this: To this group is given the job of forgiveness. To this group, which has a lot of explaining to do, whose members have probably been having nightmares of remorse all weekend long, is given the amazing responsibility of bringing forgiveness to a world that is wracked with anguish and guilt. Our God is a funny One.

There’s something else funny about this story: Thomas gets this adjective forever affixed to his name, an adjective which actually gives a parent or two pause when choosing names for their newborns. Doubting. Doubting Thomas. And that is so, so unfair. That is unfair because all Thomas wants is what all the other friends of Jesus have already gotten: a front row seat at the resurrection.

To dwell on Thomas as a “doubter” is, I think, to miss something sweet and subtle going on in his part of the story—something that is actually aimed at us. The point is this: for those of us who come later—who come to faith slowly, or painfully, or with many twists and turns, or with questions that still remain unanswered— in Thomas we have a friend, an ally, a patron. In Thomas, we have someone who says “I’m sorry” with astonishing flair: “My Lord and my God.” In Thomas we have someone who, like us, gets to say “Oops,” and have our ears turn red when it turns out Christ is standing right next to us, wounds gaping.

And that happens so, so often. Every day, in fact, we have opportunity after opportunity to see Jesus Christ risen from the dead. This is not a metaphor. He is quite clear with us. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36) Every day we have countless opportunities to look Jesus in the eye, and to blush at the fact that we didn’t recognize him right away, and to say, My Lord and my God.

So let us be merry! Let us be glad and rejoice! For we follow a risen Lord of whom it has been said,

"This was no gloomy Messiah. We know that children were attracted to Jesus, and flocked to be near him. In any age, children are never attracted to melancholy or stern grumps. It was clear that Jesus was the antidepressant of the early Christians." (Malcolm Muggeridge)

So let us give thanks for that Lord who was the antidepressant of the early Christians. (Maybe we can figure out how to put that on our sign out front.) Let us be thankful that we are in the season of Easter, when the whole of creation conspires to urge us to joy and merriment, and that we have as great a right to be merry as any in the world. Let us be thankful for Jesus, who says to us, “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” [John 16:22]. And, “Let us then be thankful that, when the Gates of Heaven swing open, mixed with the celestial music there is the unmistakable sound of celestial laughter.” (Malcolm Muggeridge) Thanks be to God. Amen!

The Missing Maundy Thursday Meditation

Oops! Forgot to post this.

“A Love Story”
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Maundy Thursday
April 1, 2010

The more I read scripture, the more I read the gospels, the more I am convinced that the whole thing, from start to finish, is a love story. The love affair of God with humanity has its beginnings in the poetry of Genesis, a God who creates, not because of a deficit or loneliness or neediness within God (and, let’s be frank, that’s how many of our own love stories seem to begin), but because God is love, and God contains an excess of love and a longing to lavish it on someone, something. And that someone, something, has its beginning as a mud pie, and then has life breathed into it, and then turns out to be you, and me. And so it begins: God loves us; we are loved.

Tonight’s gospel passage says it all again. Jesus is at the Passover celebration: Passover, the ancient Jewish feast of liberation, the story of God’s hearkening to the anguished cries of God’s beloved children and responding with power to bring them to wondrous freedom. And Jesus is at this celebration with his friends—his own, the passage calls them—and he knows what lies ahead. He knows it is his last night with them in the old, familiar way, the way we can be at the table with those friends who know what is on our mind before we speak it, the ones who know that a joke is about to come out of our mouths by the glint they see in our eyes. Jesus knows it is the end of something powerful, even as it is the beginning of something glorious. Here he is with his own, those he has loved. And he must do something with them, and for them, to try to help them truly come to terms with the nature of his love for them.

So, oddly, he gets a towel and a basin, and proceeds to kneel in front of these friends, his own, and to wash their feet. We talked about this not too long ago. Washing feet was a common enough practice in the dusty middle-eastern climate. Still, it was an action most often performed on oneself. The only person who would wash the feet of another was a slave. And this is why at least some of Jesus’ own balk. This is why they are outraged. They have been following this Jesus for three years, and they have taken on the yoke of his teaching, and they have called him Rabbi and Lord, and your Rabbi or Lord does not wash your feet. It is just wrong. I don’t know if we can really bring to mind a modern day parallel. I was going to suggest that it was as if the president of IBM would come to the home of the entry-level programmer and—I don’t know, de-frag her computer? Or maybe change the oil in her car or clean her broiler? But as US citizens we like to believe that we live in a class-free, or at least a class-mobile society, so I don’t think any comparison can have quite the punch of the original. Suffice to say: Jesus’ friends were stunned. They were appalled.

And they go back and forth with Jesus on it, or, more accurately, Simon Peter does. No, don’t do that. Oh yes I will. No, really, don’t. Oh yes I will. OK, then, do it this way, so I can be marginally less appalled. No, I won’t do it your way. I’ll do it my way. I’ll be a slave for you.

I’ll be a slave for you. What an astonishing thing for this Lord and Rabbi to insist to his own. What an astonishing thing for the one who is one with God in heaven, as John reminds us frequently, that same God who is responsible for the rescue of the Hebrew slaves being celebrated by this little gathering. I’ll be a slave for you. I’ll serve you. I’ll wash you. And unless you let me do these things… well. Just let me do these things.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And in the end he needed to demonstrate in a vivid way the form that love would take. It would take a self-negation, a self-emptying that no one had ever before associated with their Lord, or their Rabbi, or—how is it even possible?—their God. Just let me do these things for you. This is what love looks like. I am giving you an example—one you’ll remember, if only because you are so appalled. This is what love looks like. Now, go do this for one another.

The gospel of John is the only gospel that doesn’t talk about what happens during the meal—when Jesus says “Take, eat, this is my body,” and “Take and drink, this is my blood.” John doesn’t dwell on that, I suppose, because that aspect of the supper was already so well known and established by the time this very late gospel hit the presses. But John explains something about the supper that is absolutely vital for us to understand. The meal is both for us and not for us. It is for us in that it exists to bring us together, and to remind us of our connection to Jesus and to one another, and to impress upon us that it is God who nourishes us, first, last and always. But the meal is not only for us, most profoundly. The meal is not only for us, and we cannot afford to forget that. The meal exists so that we will be strengthened for service. The meal exists so that we will be given the courage and the will to make ourselves servants, even slaves for others. This is what love looks like: a meal given to nourish, so that we can, in turn, nourish others. This is what love looks like: allowing the One with all power to serve us, so that we can, in turn, serve others. This is what love looks like, as God designed it from the very beginning: an endless dance of giving and receiving, in which the joy is in the dance.

God loves us. We are loved. Love is our bounty and love is our calling. We are welcomed to this table to receive the bounty and to respond to the calling. The whole thing is a love story, from start to finish. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Image from Nathalie Kelly, borrowed hopefully.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

In the Garden: Sermon on John 20:1-18

This is the day… this is the day on which it all hinges, really. This is the day on which our entire faith rises or falls, the day on which it matters or is irrelevant, no more significant than any other competing philosophy in the great marketplace of ideas. As the apostle Paul says, “…if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” If Christ has not been raised, “we are of all people most to be pitied” [1 Cor. 15:14,19]. Either we proclaim with all our hearts, “Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!” or we may as well just close our hymnals and go home to the Sunday paper and our Easter brunches right now.

This is the day that begins in the garden. Have you noticed that a number of crucial moments in the story of our relationship with God occur in a garden? God plants a garden in Eden—God is a gardener!—and then places the newly created man and woman there, walking with them in the cool of the day. And all that disastrous business with the serpent and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil…the willful disobedience, the agonizing confrontation, confession and banishment…it all takes place in a garden.

A garden figures prominently in the stories we have been hearing throughout this Holy Week, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion and death. After Jesus’ final meal with his friends, the little band heads out across a valley to a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. John’s gospel proceeds immediately to the arrest of Jesus. But the other gospel writers tell of Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden called Gethsemane, a prayer raised while his friends sleep peacefully beneath the rustling leaves, inhaling the fragrance of juniper and hyacinth.

And then there is the crucifixion. John mentions, almost as an afterthought, “there was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in that garden there was a new tomb…”[John 19:41]. I confess: I had completed my second Master’s degree in theology before I noticed this detail. Jesus was crucified in a place with a garden. And there he was buried. This is the day that begins in the garden. There is a well-known Victorian poem, a fragment of which has become famous:

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer to God's heart in the garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

I suspect that poet spent some time pondering gardens and our salvation history. From the creation and great expulsion from Eden, to the suffering and death of Jesus, to this morning’s encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, God’s heart does seem to be beating in a garden. It seems to be beating there for us.

It is the morning of the first day of the week, and coming to the garden tomb while it is still dark, Mary finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. She rushes to tell two disciples, Simon Peter and the one Jesus loved, and they in turn rush to the garden to investigate the scene. The beloved disciple believes, though it isn’t clear yet just what it is that he believes.

And then we come to Mary, weeping in the garden. Morning is breaking. Perhaps it is getting a bit lighter. The birds are awakening and beginning to call to one another. The dew is still on the roses. As she weeps, she bends over into the tomb. She sees two white-robed angels who ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Her answer shows that Mary is focused on what she believes has happened. She clearly believes that the horror and cruelty of these three days has been compounded by a further cruel act: she believes Jesus’ body has been stolen. Resurrection is not a thought Mary is prepared to entertain. She expects to see a dead body, and finding it gone, she accounts for it logically. Resurrection is not logical. It’s not an option.

Alas, the angels are no more helpful than the disciples. Mary turns away only to encounter Jesus himself, standing there, though she does not recognize him, and he too asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” He also asks, “Whom are you looking for?” Mary supposes he is the gardener. Mary supposes he’s the gardener! Is it possible—could Jesus actually be—gardening?

Mary tells her sad tale again, hoping for a better outcome than the two angels were able to provide her. Jesus speaks, but he does not say, “Don’t you recognize me? It’s Jesus! I’m alive! Isn’t it the darnedest thing?” Neither does Jesus launch into a theological discourse on the resurrection of the body, or a scriptural explanation of how his presence here is the fulfillment of prophesies that extend back to Isaiah and beyond. Thank God, he doesn’t do any of those things. What he does takes our breath away. He says, simply, “Mary.”

Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name. “Mary.” And it is only in hearing her name called that Mary is able to consciously admit into her wounded soul the possibility of something new, something completely unexpected and illogical. It is only in hearing her name called that Mary is able to conceive of the possibility of resurrection. It is only in hearing her name called that Mary is able to understand that in the garden, she is indeed near to God’s heart, that it is still beating, and that it is beating for her.

Maybe there is something to this idea of Jesus as the gardener. He did love to talk about seeds… seeds sown in all kinds of places…rocky soil, footpaths, the good, brown earth. He loved to talk about tiny seeds that yielded amazing bounties. Jesus loved to talk about God’s love for us in all kinds of ways that might occur to a gardener … he said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” hinting that we are already one with him in the most organic way imaginable, that it is almost impossible to know where he ends and we begin. Jesus said that God cares for every flower, every lily of the field, despite the fact that flowers do not earn their keep, and that as beautiful as lilies are, we are even more precious in God’s eyes. Maybe Jesus was gardening that morning, as the light grew stronger and the woman in front of him wept for her lost Lord. Maybe it felt right to him, after all he had said about green, growing things, to put his hands into the good earth and work to bring something out of that darkness, as he himself had emerged from the darkness of the tomb.

This is the day on which it all hinges. This is the place where our faith hits the road or ends crumpled up in a ditch. Mary saw, and heard her name called, and believed. She encountered the risen Lord. So what did Mary have that morning that we don’t have? What do we need so that we too can experience the resurrection joy this Easter morning?

Mary came to the garden heartbroken, grieving the loss of her rabbi, her teacher, her Lord, the most important person in her life. Mary came with a profound, heartbreaking loss. Mary came, though she didn’t even know it, with a deep and burning need for resurrection. Do you come with a loss? Do you come in need of resurrection? Have you lost mother, father, husband, wife, the love of your life? Have you lost a child? Grandparent? The best friend in the world? The best teacher, boss, aunt, uncle, kin by blood or by love? Let’s face it: almost every one of us is longing for resurrection, and almost none of us would ever admit it in polite company. It’s too primal a wish; it’s too illogical. For a long time—nearly a year—I kept a pair of shoes in a bag in my closet that I had worn to my mother’s burial. It was right after a big snowstorm, and the cemetery was muddy. For a long time the dirt from my mother’s grave clung to my shoes, and I was not willing to brush it off. It’s not reasonable. It’s not logical. It’s what Joan Didion calls the “magical thinking” that occurs when you are grieving. On some level I was holding out for another outcome, for a mother who was still vibrant and full of life and not riddled with cancer. How about you? Are you still hoping for another outcome, no matter how irrational that might seem? Are you heartbroken, full of grief and loss? Thank God. You have come to the right place. This is the day the Lord has made, and you have come to the garden.

Mary asked questions. “Where is my Lord? Where have you taken him?” When a matched set of angels—angels, mind you—did not give a satisfactory answer, she went looking for someone more knowledgeable—like a gardener. Do you have questions? Are you willing to keep asking them? Are you willing to ask everyone you meet until your questions are answered, even if they are not answered in the way you expect? Thank God. This is the day the Lord has made. Welcome to the garden.

Mary opened her mind and her heart to hear the voice of her Lord calling her by name. Even though she did not know it, the voice of Jesus was the only voice she wanted to hear. And her own name—that intimate knowing of who she was, in all her grieving humanity—was the only word, whether she knew it or not. She wanted to hear it so desperately she finally admitted the possibility, despite the illogic of it all. Do you have a desire—a deep, burning, restless desire—for an encounter with the risen Christ? Do you have a longing to hear God call you by name, for God to know you intimately, a desire so great you are willing to open your heart and your mind to what cannot be proven or measured? Thank God, for this is indeed the day the Lord has made. You have come to the garden.

Friend, why are you weeping? Woman, man, child of God, what sorrow burdens your soul? Whom are you looking for? Whose heart are you seeking? There is One who has been looking for you, who has been calling you by name. There is a gardener who wants to plant the seed of resurrection faith in your heart. There is One whose heart is beating—his is risen indeed—and it’s beating for you. This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made. Alleluia. Amen.