Sermons That Work

Abandonment…, Easter Day (A) – 2005

March 27, 2005

Abandonment is one of the greatest losses a human may experience. True, there are other losses that can scar us. Coming home to find we’ve been robbed produces a feeling of violation, particularly if the robbery includes the loss of objects we associate with our past. And we all know children whose lives were dreadfully unsettled by the loss of a parent or sibling. Obviously, human loss is greater than loss of a television or a DVD player. Indeed, the loss of a television might not be such a bad thing.

In the longer version of the reading from St. John’s Gospel, we meet Mary Magdalene in the garden. She’s weeping bitterly. She has lost the most important person in her life. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

There’s a double tragedy here. Jesus, her beloved, is dead. She can’t even find his body. She can’t spend a few minutes with his body, mourning, remembering, crying, loving.

We know very little about Mary. Did she have living parents or brothers and sisters? Usually, in those days, an extended family existed, ready and willing to close around a bereaved member in love and support. True, she had the fellowship of Jesus’ family, and her new family, Jesus’ followers. But at this moment, in the garden, she was unable to reach out to anyone else. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
In an alternative Gospel for today, we are told that Mary had not only seen the place where he laid, but was told to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Jesus there. There’s the hope. There’s the teaching. But neither hope nor teaching were enough. Mary weeps.

Through her tears Mary sees someone who she thinks is a gardener. Those of us who love gardens and gardening know what a special place a garden may be. Gardens are a place to recover peace. Maybe a gardener can help Mary. But in answer to a repeated question about where she can find a corpse, the “gardener” says, “Mary!”

When we were baptized, the priest used our names as he poured water over our heads. There was a time when the priest asked the parents and godparents to “name this child.” Being named by a loved one can be a deeply emotional moment. We may even turn to our lover and say, “I love you to say my name.”

But hearing her name, “Mary,” and seeing the empty tomb didn’t help Mary Magdalene, or didn’t touch her deeply. Evidence, or even good theology, doesn’t always touch us. We can accept the evidence as being pretty good. We can recite the Creed and say, “On the third day he rose again.” Perhaps we are not quite convinced, and yet we are good church members, and our loving church welcomes us in our doubts.

Today, the church invites us in deeper. We are invited to be honest. In a real sense, the losses of abandonment we may have suffered are to be faced. It’s all right to cry. It’s all right to go into the garden and weep—or wherever we go to be alone and private. Perhaps we still mourn the loss of a loved one by death or separation or divorce; or perhaps we live in discontented union with someone we seem to have lost or are, indeed, losing. In our loneliness it may be possible to believe in a present Jesus. How can we believe in a loving God when that God allowed us to lose our loved one—or even our job? It is entirely one thing to tackle the evidence and the theology. It is quite another to hear the name we were given when we became children of God in our baptisms. It is not accidental that baptism is connected with Easter.

Our garden may be this church. Jesus promised to be in the garden of the Eucharist as we receive and take Holy Communion. As a piece of bread is offered and a sip of wine is given, Jesus names us. In that naming, as he communes with us, enters us all together, perhaps in the stillness we hear our name, our special name, the name we own, not just in terms of a human family, but in terms of our eternal family. When we hear our name, then evidence and theology may well fall into place. After all, evidence and theology may seem cold and lifeless. Yet when we hear our name, eat the Bread of Heaven and drink the Cup of Salvation, we are able to return home, wiping our tears and gladly sharing out belief that the Risen Lord has found us in our garden, and will be with us always and forever.

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Christopher Sikkema


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