More Than We Are Looking For
Sunday, April 17, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner
My family and I recently watched Spielberg’s update of West Side Story. If you’re not familiar it’s a Broadway musical set in the late 1950s, about two street gangs, from two different cultures battling for turf in their New York City neighborhood, at the center of this rift are two star-crossed lovers, a boy named Tony from one gang and a girl named Maria, from the other. With a story like this, you know it’s not going to end well, right? After all, the plot is based on Romeo and Juliet. It’s a tragedy. There’s no happily ever after for Tony and Maria. There’s a whole bunch of misunderstanding and deceit, that leads to all the more grief. At the end of the movie, we were left with the unsettled feelings of resignation. Disappointment. And a sense that it just wasn’t fair.
That must have been how Mary felt as she approached Jesus’ tomb early that first Easter morning, before the sun had even crested the horizon. Resignation. Disappointment. Bewilderment. It wasn’t supposed to end at a cross. Can you sense the pit in her stomach, the weight of grief she must have been carrying as she approached the place where her friend, her teacher, her Lord had been laid to rest? This couldn’t have been the first time someone she loved so dearly had been laid in a tomb, not the first time she carried that weight of grief. You probably know that weight too. We’ve all experienced it these last couple years as plans have been cancelled, rescheduled, and often cancelled again. Family gatherings and traditions were upended. Routines rerouted. Futures deferred. Loved ones gone, sometimes without an opportunity to say goodbye in person.
Maybe that’s why today feels so grand, why resurrection feels more palpable this year. Collectively, we’ve experienced resignation, disappointment, and bewilderment in so many ways. We know what we’re bringing to the tomb this morning. Thanks be to God we know there isn’t a tragic ending waiting for us today – but the good news that God has turned our resignation into rejoicing. We find at the empty tomb so much more than our dead-end expectations. So much more life in what lies ahead in Christ.
It takes time to move into resurrection – from dead ends to unthinkable possibilities. From where Jesus finds us, to where he is leading us. Remember, the first time Mary arrived at the tomb she was struck with fear that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. No rejoicing for her. When the two disciples arrived after hearing Mary’s account, the Beloved Disciple was only brave enough to peak into the tomb. And though Peter marched right in, he didn’t find what he was looking for at first, just grave clothes. No rejoicing for them yet either. All of them were looking for Jesus, but not as they expected him to be.
I’ll be honest, I appreciate that no one recognizes Jesus for who he really is at first. The delay makes it feel like there’s hope for all of us to be changed by Jesus, wherever we are in faith and our lives. I know for some the power of Jesus hits them like a ton of bricks and changes their life in one grand conversion. But that’s not an experience I hear about very often. I’m not always quick to sense when I’m standing in the presence of resurrection. Maybe you aren’t either. Maybe the hustle of life has you spinning more plates than you can handle. Maybe the efforts of caring for a loved one or keeping pace with work or staying mentally or physically healthy slows your perception, and keeps you looking, but not finding the full life Jesus offers. For a lot of us, it seems that resurrection comes like a slow stream of life, rather than a flood. It seeps in through the challenges and distractions, and gently calls us by name, until we hear it and can respond.
When Mary returned to the garden outside the tomb, Jesus asked her, “Whom are you looking for?” Again, it took her a while for this resurrection moment to set in. Mary could only see who it was when Jesus called her by name. And isn’t that the way it so often happens for us? That new life, resurrection life only feels true when it becomes personal, not only through knowledge but experience and relationship.
A few years ago, I met Aki. She was a visiting professor from Japan. She lived near the church I served and had been invited to come to worship by a member. She told me that she wasn’t a Christian but being in worship gave her a deep sense of peace. Soon, she was showing up every week. She was invited to stay after worship for conversations with others. When she was struggling with things people prayed for her. They called her by name. Little by little resurrection was seeping into her life. About a year and a half after she started coming to worship, she told me she wanted to be baptized. We met several times to talk about what it means to be a Christian. She found a Bible Study led by a Japanese Missouri Synod pastor and started to attend regularly. Through the Word and relationships, resurrection was seeping into her life. A week before she returned to Japan, we gathered around the font on a Tuesday morning – Aki, a few of her friends from Zumbro, the Missouri synod pastor and his wife, and me, and she was washed in the waters of new and abundant life. Aki heard Jesus call her by name. It was an Easter moment.
You see, Easter is the moment we are met by the ridiculous generosity and love of God. A love so vast and unexpected that it’s nearly impossible to wrap our heads around. Yet, here’s the thing, God raised Jesus from the dead so that we might not just know, but experience new life. In this Easter moment there is more life, more hope, more possibility for you than you could ever find on your own. To experience it, to have it seep down deep into your being; in order for it to change your life, you’ll need to hear Jesus’ question to Mary as Jesus’ question to you. “Whom are you looking for?” Or maybe more plainly, “What are you looking for from Jesus?”
It’s not a trick question. It’s an invitation. An invitation to follow Jesus to new and abundant life. An invitation to hear Jesus call you by name, that you may seek find more than you could possibly know. Alleluia! Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!