WHAT DO YOU SEE?
About four or five years ago now, during the Lenten season, I remember arriving at church, early one Wednesday night, directly from a York College lacrosse game. When I walked in a handful of people were already there, including one man who was an apparent visitor. I went over to this man in order to introduce myself, but after I said, Hello, he asked me a question. He asked, “You don’t recognize me do you?” I looked at him closely and admitted that I did not. He then showed me a class picture from Redeemer Lutheran school. It was of the combined first and second grades. I immediately recognized the picture because it was my first grade class. He then pointed to a boy in the second grade. He asked if I knew who it was. “Of course,” I said, “That’s David Boyd.” He said, “That’s me.”
A similar thing happened about a year ago. A family of four came to worship one Sunday. I knew they were visiting and made sure I went over to talk with them after the service. Not long into our initial conversation, the man asked me if I knew who he was. I looked at him a little closer and admitted that I did not. He then told me his name was Randy Ruckert.
Randy was one of my closest friends in elementary school. After he revealed himself, I could see it. I could understand why I did not recognize David Boyd. We saw each other in school, but that was about it. Randy was a different case. I can’t tell you how many times he came over my house, and I his, in order to play ball and hang out. I should have recognized him, despite the thirty plus years that had gone by since the last time I saw him. I guess it was just that it was so unexpected.
When we look at our Gospel lesson, we see that Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb of Jesus early on Sunday morning. She went there, initially with Jesus’ mother and Salome, in order to anoint Jesus’ body. When they get there they see something that is completely unexpected. The stone, that huge, terribly heavy sealed stone, had been removed from the tomb’s entrance. Mary’s reaction is immediate. She runs to where Peter and John were staying and tells them what only seems to be the only logical explanation. She tells them that Jesus’ body has been taken out of the grave.
The three of them run to the tomb. They arrive at different times because some are faster than others. Peter and John find the tomb just as Mary had said. It is indeed empty with the stone removed. But by going into the tomb these two disciples observe something else. They see Jesus’ burial clothes just lying there and the linen that was wrapped around his face folded up by itself.
This is all very odd. If someone stole Jesus body, why in the world would they take off his burial clothes; and why would they take the time to neatly fold up the linen that covered his face? It just didn’t make sense. Now, we are not told Peter’s reaction to all of this at this time, but we are told that John believed even though he didn’t fully understand.
As Peter and John make their way back home, Mary lingers. She has a hard time making any sense out of any of this. As she struggles to hold back the tears, she looks into the tomb and sees two angels sitting where Jesus’ body should be. They ask her why she is crying. She responds by telling them what she assumes has taken place. She tells them that someone has stolen Jesus’ body and she doesn't know where it is.
At this point Mary turns around, away from the tomb, and sees Jesus standing there. But she doesn’t realize it’s Jesus. She thinks it must be the gardener. I mean, who else could it be? It is not until Jesus speaks her name that she realizes that it is Jesus that she is speaking to. Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead!
Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus at first? To a large degree, I think, it was because seeing Jesus alive was so unexpected. Just as I did not expect to see my childhood friend, Randy Ruckert, in worship last year, Mary just did not expect to see a body, brutally executed, come back to life. How many of us would? And yet, there he was.
Mary did finally come around, as we know. She came to recognize her risen Lord as the one who brings forth life, even in death; as the one who conquered sin and the grave on our behalf; as the one who offers forgiveness and life to all who would turn to him in faith. And she responded by sharing this Good News with others.
What do we see when we look at Jesus? After his betrayal of Jesus, when Judas looked back and saw Jesus, all he saw was his sin which lead to despair. When the religious leaders saw the reality of the empty tomb and saw the risen Jesus, they felt threatened and concocted a story that suited their purpose. When Peter, still wrestling with the anguish of his denial, knew that his Lord has risen from the dead, his heart was filled with hope. What do we see when we look at our resurrected Lord?
Using the law to suit his own purpose, Satan would certainly have us follow the Judas road, having us see a pointing Jesus, as he brings to light the consequences of our sin and not the deliverance. If that effort would fail he would have us follow the path of the religious elite, having us see a threatening Jesus; a Jesus that threatens our point of view, our lifestyle, or our choices. And thus, he would have us create a Jesus of false reality; a Jesus that fits our own narrative.
As people of God, as people of faith, we are to have the vision of Peter. Like David when confronted by the prophet Nathan, Peter knew the depth of his depravity. But instead of being driven to despair like Judas, or becoming defensive like the religious leaders; Peter turned to his risen Lord and saw for forgiveness and new life. Peter knew that in Jesus, and only in Jesus, could he find hope.
What do we see when we look at our resurrected Lord? When I look at Jesus I see my Savior. I see the one who gives me victory over my sin. I see the one who wants me to have the forgiveness he earned on the cross. I see the one who wants me to share in the life of the resurrection. I see the one who wants me to know and share his redeeming love. I see the one who stands victorious over the grave.
Jesus’ rising from the dead is what changes everything. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 (13-20) “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Because of the resurrection when we look at Jesus we don’t have to be driven to despair; we don’t have to feel threatened and forced to create our one narrative. When we look at Jesus he wants us to see forgiveness earned, forgiveness offered, and a new life that begins now and is brought to perfection in the life to come.
When you see Jesus standing in front of the empty tomb, what do you see?