Happy Easter! Another year without a bunny in my basket, but I’m holding out hope! More importantly, Jesus is alive! I love the Easter story, I love the way Jesus presses his sacrifice into my heart a little deeper each year, and that it is something that can keep on changing us all year long.
My favorite kind of teaching is the kind that spends time unpacking verses and words, bringing context and cultural understanding — things I would probably never bother to sit down and figure out on my own (Judah Smith from Seattle is really good at this). I am no biblical scholar, but occasionally, things jump out at me with no Greek translation or contextualization needed and I get a little excited about it. This happened to me this morning at our Easter service.
In John 20: 11-18, Mary is at the tomb where Jesus was laid. She came expecting to see Jesus body, wrapped and laying inside, and to sprinkle spices over the body as was the custom. She has a mission, and she is prepared, mentally and physically to carry it through. But Jesus isn’t in the tomb and is (at first) no where to be seen. Mary’s expectations are not being met here, and she begins to weep because she doesn’t know where Jesus is. Two angels appear to her, yet still she thinks someone has taken Jesus’ body and moved it. Then she turns around and Jesus is in the entrance to the tomb.
15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
She doesn’t even recognize Jesus at first, she’s too caught up in the fact that Jesus is not where she expected Him to be. It takes two angels and the Messiah himself calling out her name before she realizes that Jesus is in fact standing right in front of her.
As I listened to our pastor read this scripture this morning, something struck me about the entire situation Mary was in, and how so often I find myself in a proverbial empty tomb, surrounded by signs and wonders, yet still completely missing Jesus because my expectations were for something else completely.
It’s the human thing to do, to make plans, to form expectations, to dream, and to put one foot in front of another in an effort to see those things come to pass. But what happens when they don’t? What happens when the car dies completely and the little extra money that was headed for savings now has to go into a car payment? What happens when the nursery is painted, the onesies have been decorated but the baby doesn’t ever come home from the hospital? What happens when the college applications are submitted, the scholarships applied for, but your very last hope for housing falls through?
We have these great expectations, dreams and plans, and they are wonderful, but what if they’re not what Jesus has planned for us? Do we find ourselves staring into an empty tomb crying out, “Where have you gone, Jesus? Where are you?” Do we miss the first sign of hope, that there is in fact money in the budget for that car payment? That the baby went straight to Jesus’ arms (please do not misread this and read that we should not mourn in these situations. This is one of the worst things I can imagine having to survive and I ache for those of you who have to!), or that there is still time to find a new housing situation for the fall?
“Where have you gone, Jesus? Where have they taken you?” You cry out to him in agony, because sometimes the pain of loss is just too much to bear. “This isn’t what I’d planned, Jesus.”
And he stands in the entrance to the empty plan, the unmet expectation and says, “Why are you crying? What are you looking for?”
You spread your arms out around you and show him all that you have lost, without recognizing him because, like with Mary in the tomb, Jesus wasn’t where you expected him to be.
And then . . . he says your name.
The blinders fall off your eyes as your Savior speaks your name– the Bible doesn’t say He shouts or whispers, He just says it with an exclamation point, and that’s enough. As if He’s saying, “Stop, look. See me!” He says your name and suddenly everything comes into focus and you see that He has come to meet you in that empty tomb. He’s coming to meet your plans and expectations in His own way, the way He has been preparing for all of time. Selah.
“She turned to him and cried out,
“Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary finally sees Jesus and calls him the name by which she knows him, “Teacher!” But Jesus is quick to point out that things have changed. “I haven’t yet ascended” he says, in other words, “I’m not back back. I still have to go back to Heaven.”
Mary has to realize that things are not going to return to the ‘normal’ she knows, where Jesus is physically with them always, talking, teaching, and performing miracles. Things have to change, they will never be the same. He has more to do in order to fulfill the promises of God, so he can’t stay here on earth.
We also have to come to that place as we see that our plans have fallen through, that our expectations were different than what Jesus has planned. He is there with us in that moment, though. We recognize him now, but we can’t go back to the way things were. We have to move forward, change our plans, change our dreams, because Jesus has shown us a new plan, a new dream, and new expectations.
What circumstances are there in your life where you find yourself staring at an empty tomb, missing Jesus because things don’t look like you expected them to? We all need to look up and see that though Jesus isn’t where we expected Him to be, He is exactly where He intends to be.
Take heart dear ones, we are not alone. He suffered a sinner’s death so that we might have abundant life. Whatever your ache is today, I am praying that as you read these words, Jesus says your name and calls your attention to Him, and that in that instant you find peace and comfort as you run to His arms. So much love for you today, friends!