Who are you looking for?
Bible Text: John 20:1-18 | Preacher: Stephanie Haskins | I hate to argue with God, but if it was me—I would have done the resurrection differently.
If I was staging the whole thing, there would be a bit more pizzazz involved. I’m not saying I would have had Jesus bursting out of a cake to say: “I’m baaack!” or “Here’s Jesus!” I’m just saying: Where are the tap dancers? Where are they?
We don’t know how the resurrection happened. The gospels don’t know how the resurrection happened. The showstopper of this drama takes place off-stage. And why? For a simple reason. No one was around to see it. Nobody knows how it happened. They just know this. That Jesus was dead. Dead as dead can be. And then he wasn’t. And I wonder if his friends realized it—as Jesus began to appear to them one by one and two by two and then all at once, because the risen Jesus is still asking questions. Can you believe it?
Jesus has (literally) been through hell and back…and he’s still asking questions! The gospels record that Jesus asked 307 questions during his ministry, and that of all the questions he was asked, he answered about eight of them. By this point, by Easter morning, he has been brutally murdered by the Romans through the conspiring of his own people, he suffered a painful and humiliating death, and then, remarkably, he experienced a resurrection of the body and the spirit, and after all of that, Jesus is still, in a way, exactly who he always was. Because he is still asking questions.
At the heart of this Easter story is the most important question Jesus ever asks. And he asks of it of Mary, he devoted friend and follower. It is Mary who gets up before dawn, before anyone else is awake, to go to the tomb where her friend is supposed to be buried. We don’t know exactly why she’s there. There’s a garden nearby. Many people find cemeteries peaceful. Maybe Mary just wants to be feel close to Jesus. But Mary quickly discovers that there’s a problem. A pretty big problem. The heavy stone at the tomb has been rolled away, and there’s nobody—literally, there’s no body—inside. This is not good. This is a crisis situation of epic proportion. Mary runs to Simon Peter and John, to tell them the bad news. And then all of them run back to the tomb to see what’s what. And it’s just as bad as Mary said. Not only is Jesus’ body gone, but someone left his linen wrappings on the floor. On the floor. I mean, on a dirty tomb floor. How could they? How could anyone do this? Who would do such a thing?
The guys go home, probably in shock. But Mary stays outside the tomb, trying to take it all in. And then that’s when she sees them. The two angels, sitting where Jesus’ body should have been. Right there, in the tomb. And of course, what do they do? They ask Mary a question. “Why are you weeping?” they ask, as if they don’t know. And Mary is in such a state she just answers them. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” And that’s when Jesus shows up, except Mary doesn’t recognize him. Maybe Jesus is in her peripheral vision, or maybe her brain simply can’t handle the information. Standing there, Jesus asks Mary the same question the angels asked her. “Why are you weeping?” And then: “Who are you looking for?” And if I was Mary, I would have been thinking: How many gardeners are there? But she’s too distraught. Look, she says: “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” And then Jesus says: “Mary!” And all at once, she knows. Who this is, and what has happened. The questions could have been (maybe should have been) the first clue that it’s Jesus talking to her. But she doesn’t really put the pieces together until Jesus says her name. The sweetest word you can say to any person: their own name. In this case, Mary. Mary. And then she says the name she always called him, Rabbi. Rabbi.
Just outside the sanctuary of the Lutheran church I was baptized in, there hung a painting of this scene. I must have looked at it every Sunday until I was twelve years old. It was probably kind of cheesy, but never let it be said, on this Easter Fool’s, that God doesn’t work with cheesy! In the painting, Mary sits on a bench in a beautiful garden, surrounded by flowers. Her hands are half-folded over her eyes, and she looks miserable. Clearly, she’s having the worst day of her life. But just behind her, dressed in a white robe, is Jesus. Just behind her. The artist managed to capture the exact moment that Jesus was present, and Mary didn’t know it.
Pick any situation you like, but especially the one that keeps you up at night. The kid you’re worried won’t be okay. The money you’re trying to stretch. A new possibility that may or may not come to pass. Or pick something in the news. Really, almost anything in the news. Anything that makes you want to weep, or to worry. Anything that causes you to cover your hands with your eyes or makes the tension in your shoulders tighten. Pick whatever situation you like: they all apply. And hear this. That no matter what kind of bench you sit on—that Jesus is standing right behind you. Now maybe you can’t see him. Maybe your back is turned. Or maybe he’s standing in your peripheral vision. On the edges and the corners of your life. But at this moment, whether you recognize him or not, he’s standing there. Right behind you. Or maybe, just maybe, Jesus is hiding in plain sight.
Who are you looking for? Jesus asks. This time, he doesn’t ask what we’re looking for; he asks who we’re looking for. And that makes this question the best he’s ever asked. Because God knows we are obsessed with what. We’re always asking “what” questions. What do I need to do today? What can I say that won’t hurt her feelings? What kind of money do I need to retire? What kind of car do I need? What kind of school should I send my kids to? What’s my calling in life? What do I want? What kind of world do we live in? What’s going on? All of these what’s. And it’s not that they’re not important. They are important. It’s just that there’s an even better question than what. The better question starts with who. Who are you looking for?
Who are you looking for? If you can answer that question, you have an Easter made out of more than just eggs. Who are you looking for? Because Jesus, for once, is happy to answer this question. Because Jesus has already been looking for you. In fact, Jesus has risen early, and he’s out of the tomb, wandering, apparently, in the garden. Searching and searching for you, and ready to call out your name. Sherri, Jonna, Bill….Who are you looking for? He’s calling your name. All of your names. And I promise you, we won’t need the tap dancing if we can find it in us to say this: “Jesus. It turns out it’s you. It’s always been you. It’s you I’m looking for.”
 Once again, we use Martin Copenhaver’s excellent book, Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2014).