Several months ago, I had reason to go looking for my Passport. So I went to the place where I keep it and other important documents and important items. And it wasn’t there! So then I went to the back-up location, expecting to find my passport there. But it wasn’t in that spot either! And I started to get a little worried. So then I went down the line of all the places where I keep things, and as I checked each one of them, and as the passport didn’t show up, I got more and more worried. I started thinking about all the work that I would have to do to renew my passport, and the possible issues I might have to deal with if I really did lose it. I tore up my place looking for it, and spent time trying to remember where I last saw it, the sense of dread picking up as time went on.

If I had this amount of worry and dread come up for something like a passport, imagine the amount of fear and dread that the disciples would be facing when they realized that Jesus’ body was missing.

Imagine the questions that must have come through their minds at first with the most obvious one being: Did we come to the right tomb? 

First they question themselves, and then, in anger, they question others. Mary, no stranger to conspiracy theories, blames the nebulous “they” when asked what she is looking for by the angels at the tomb: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Then she turns around and sees the gardener, and he asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” And she accuses him of stealing the body: “Sir, if you have taken him away, please tell me where so I can take him away.”

And Jesus has to say, “Mary! Come on, now. It’s me!”

Isn’t that just typical? When we are in the midst of our grief, when we are in the midst of our own thoughts and priorities, when we are engrossed in our own issues, we tend not to see God, even if God is standing right in front of us.

Up until she recognized Jesus, all that was on Mary’s mind was what she had lost. And not just her, but what all the disciples had lost.

Mary, and all the disciples had lost a friend. They had lost someone close to them, someone they could confide in, they could trust. Someone with whom they had spent time eating, playing, laughing, and joking. But now he was gone. And their minds were focused on that loss. 

Mary and the other disciples had lost a courageous leader. Jesus had fearlessly confronted the representatives of the people, spoken truth against their lies, called out their attempts at oppressing the people. He made sure that they knew that he stood against their misuse of the scripture to manipulate the people and control them – all for their own personal gain and amassing of wealth and power. The disciples’ minds were not only filled with the loss of that leadership, but their minds were filled with fear at what their association with Jesus might mean now that he was no longer there to confront the leaders of the people.

Mary and the other disciples had lost a miracle worker. They had watched as Jesus had done the unimaginable. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, he had fed 5000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, he had turned water into wine at a wedding, healed a man blind from birth, and had walked on water. They had seen Jesus doing the unimaginable, and now they could not imagine a future without him.

Mary and the other disciples had lost hope, because they expected Jesus to be the Messiah, the mighty one who would free them from the hands of the oppressive Roman regime, and return them to a country that governed itself. They had expected him to be the messiah, the one who would conquer the world with his mighty hand. And instead, he suffered ridicule, torture, and death on a cross. And their minds were filled with that type of despair that comes only when you lose the hope you have clung to for so long.

All of this is on Mary’s mind when she stands there at an empty tomb. She’s suffered incredible loss. And now this. Jesus’ body is gone.

It’s no wonder then, that she looked at the gardener and asked him where he took the body. “Tell me where you moved him.” It’s no wonder she looked at the gardener, and didn’t realize who he really was: Jesus. Risen from the dead.

To go from this sense of loss to the realization that Jesus was alive would have been an incredible shock. And would have required an enormous amount of change in understanding – who was this Jesus really? How could he be alive? What does it mean that he is not still dead? How can this happen? What does all this – his life, his crucifixion, his death – mean to me now?

The church year is structured for exactly this. So that we might come to know Jesus, and realize what was lost. From his birth as a bouncing human baby boy, to the death on the cross, and the resurrection, we become intimately aware of who Jesus is: human like us, baptized in the river, where a voice from heaven announces his true identity as the son of God, tempted in every way like us in the desert, transfigured on the mountaintop to display his true identity, working miracles among people who were more interested in the results of those miracles than in understanding who he was, betrayed by a close friend, arrested and tried for blasphemy, tortured and nailed to a cross, and finally, dying in agony, carrying the sin of the world upon his shoulders.

The church year is structured for exactly this. So that we might come to know Jesus, and understand what was lost. And this is why people were often baptized on easter. And also why we renew our baptismal vows on Easter. Because Easter is the day where we realize just what Jesus’ death on the cross meant, and, even more importantly, what his rising to life again means for not just us, but all people, the whole world over. If Jesus’ death on the cross conquered sin and opened up the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary of God’s presence for us, then the resurrection of Christ conquered death and opened up for us an abundant life, a life of courage in the midst of a world that perpetuates cycles of death, rather than cycles of life.

The church year is structured for exactly this. So that we might come to know Jesus, and feel that sense of loss that the disciples felt. But more importantly, that we might feel the joy that Mary felt when we see the risen Christ standing in front of us, calling our names, and saying, “Come on, now. Don’t you recognize me? It’s Jesus!”

In many ways, that question of recognition is more than what it seems. It is not just reciting the facts, or making declarations; it is internalizing the truth of who and what Christ is. It is, in fact, the same question that Jesus asked his disciples just before he was transfigured into glory on the mountain: “Who do you say that I am?”

If the first half of the church year is structured so that we might come to know the person of Jesus, and realize what was lost when he died on that cross, then the rest of the church year is structured around our response to the question: “Who do we say that Jesus is?” so that we might come to truly understand and internalize what it was that Christ has accomplished for us.

It might have taken the disciples some time to work through their grief of losing a friend, a teacher, a mentor, and leader, but when they finally put all the pieces together they were able to proclaim loudly from every corner of Jerusalem that Jesus was the messiah, the son of the living God, the one who conquered sin through his death on the cross and who conquered death through his rising again.

They were transformed, given new life, changed from scared and frightened people into bold proclaimers of truth.

Where they had previously watched Jesus confronting the powers of the world, speaking truth to evil, calling out injustice, and standing up for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, they now looked to Jesus as an example, and continued the work themselves. From denying Jesus three times, to being the rock on which Jesus built his church, Peter was reborn as a new person. From doubting that Jesus had even been resurrected, to evangelizing an entire continent, Thomas was reborn as a new person. From abandoning Christ when the authorities came to arrest him in the garden, to standing before those same leaders, unafraid and with an authority that came from a higher power, these disciples were transformed, they were reborn as new people. People who carried themselves with the confidence that the Almighty stood behind them.

Where the disciples had previously watched as Jesus had done the unimaginable, they now began to realize that God was working miracles in their midst. Instead of looking for the miracles as a show of mighty power to prove Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples now saw these miracles take place because they were showing the power of God’s eternal ministry.

Where once they thought that their Messiah had died, they now realized that God’s view of salvation was greater than merely Israel, and included the entire world. “For God so Loved the World.” They went from people who had hope that they might be saved, to people who had a hope and a vision that all the world might see – and feel – the presence of a loving God.

They went from meek and mild, to bold and brave.

They were reborn, made new, birthed into a fullness of their calling as disciples of Jesus, because they suddenly realized that death in this life is merely a speed-bump on the road to glory

If they need not fear death, then what on earth would they ever need to fear?

We are not passive listeners of old stories, we too are disciples of Jesus. A Jesus who is alive, and whose power working in us, can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. A Jesus who looks at us and asks, “Come on, now. Don’t you recognize me?” 

How much excitement our lives hold depends on how we answer that question.

[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on March 31, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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