New Identity John 20:1-18

This is a story of mistaken identity.  Last Friday, I took my mom to have her chemo port removed.  It was a significant day that culminated her battle with cancer; which she has valiantly fought since 2005.  I shared the news of this day with many family and friends via a social media platform called Facebook, maybe you have heard of it?  Here is what I wrote; “For those of you who have been following this long five-year journey with my fight with cancer; today is a monumental moment as the last vestiges of the battle are removed-so long chemo port, you been useful, but no longer needed according to the recent clean scans.  Thank God!

I realized omitted a word, when an outpouring of support poured in from people who thought I had suffered a very private battle with cancer.  I later posted, “I am extremely sorry for the confusion of my earlier post, details have not ever been my strength.  I left out a key word ‘my mom’s fight with cancer’ Sorry for confusion”  I had Facebook egg all over my face!  I sometimes have troubles with who is who.

The essence of Easter is God knows exactly who is who.  This series asks: Who am I?.  It has been leading up to this day of celebration that declares our mistaken identities are cleared up in the light of Resurrection.  Paul declares, “Your life is hidden with Christ.  When Christ is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”  John’s Easter story is about a mistaken identity that gets cleared up in the light of Jesus being raised.

Mary Magdalene goes to where Jesus’ body was laid on the first Easter.  Shutters are closed and light hasn’t dawned.  She must have a lump in her throat and heart full of sorrow.  The space which separated her from Jesus was infinite.  She was comforted; sitting by herself near his earthly form.  She could treat his lifeless body with spices; providing the care that wasn’t possible as they hurriedly placed him in the tomb before sundown commenced the Sabbath.  On this morning, she didn’t worry what others might say of her love, she is there to recall good feelings that didn’t hurt.

Mary’s heart raced when she saw the stone rolled away and his body gone.  She interprets this surreal scene using the framework of the past; assuming a mistake-someone moved his body or it was stolen.  She leaves to tell Peter and John.  They run to see, and they see enough to make them wonder as they wander back.  Mary stays, which tells us something.  She had not only go to mourn for Jesus; but also to mourn for herself-wondering if who she had become because of Jesus had a future.  Mary stays!

In her tears, she looks back into the tomb and sees two angels, which the text inexplicably does not indicate Peter and John saw.  The strange beings ask her why she is weeping.  She horribilizes the scene, she can’t imagine anything but a same old sad story. Jesus is lurking in the shadows of dawn.  She thinks he is the gardener.  When she hears his voice say, “Mary” she recognizes him, in the way we do when Jesus calls our names in sermons, songs, nature, nurture, woe, or weal.  Mary understood or did she?

Mary says “Rabbouni!”, and then throws her arms around him holding him tight, as if to say, I’m never going to let you go.  Jesus replied, “Don’t hold me“, though the text does not say she was holding him.  Perhaps, he didn’t mean physical embrace.  He may be speaking of the reality that human love cannot love enough so to prevent a person from leaving us, which we know too well.  Jesus is instructing her to let go of the way they were.  Jesus can’t stay with Mary.  He had others to beckon to let go of the past, so they might follow him into a world he is making new.   Others were mourning; needing hope only his resurrection power makes possible  The Spirit of the living God walks among us; offering an intimate relationship that brings daily strength and a visible joy.  Can I get a witness?

Scholars debate whether Mary was trapped in a promiscuous lifestyle.  There is no debate that Mary lived a very unstable existence.  We know Jesus cast seven demons from of her.  We cannot say what seven demons meant in her day.  We can say this is woman who many questioned the content of character in her day and in our day, you read the Da Vinci Code.

There is no debate Mary Magdalene, who many cast shadow on, was first to see Jesus after he was raised.  Mary, who others whispered about is commissioned to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord!”  Mary, who some looked at with disdain is the last at the cross and the first at the tomb.  Mary, a person marked by suspicion stays when other disciples flee.  This is God’s way of correcting her mistaken identity.  Whatever Mary thought of herself, and whatever anyone else thought of her, in the eyes of Jesus, Mary was a case of mistaken identity was corrected by her spiritual relationship with Jesus; imparting on her a new identity.

No matter how welcome a change, it’s hard to let go.  We want our lives to be predictable; the older we get the more predictable we want.  Yet, this can cause us to feel stuck doing the same old thing as we bury ourselves in a tomb of safety and comfort.  Our culture can kidnap us; fooling us into thinking our past defines our future.  Our old identities, branded on us by our own action are others by expectation dig us into graves called routine.

I fantasize of dispensing a Jesus pill, so to free people from a past that holds them down.  I know that would be counterproductive; causing people to think they only need a little dose of Jesus.  Don’t fall into a trap of making the Easter message a “self-help” book.  That kind of cultural thinking distorts the faith.  We can’t realize our new identity by simply appreciating Jesus.  Resurrection power is real and can make a new identities possible.  We are to trust in a sway that can correct the mistaken identities that beset us.  Everything can be different if we allow our new identities to find meaningful expression into our future, so that our imagined limitations transcend human constraint; all because of the power of the risen Christ.

This happens quietly most of the time.  The Biblical Arts Center painting by Ron DiCianni is 12’ high by 40’ wide; portraying Jesus bursting from the tomb in dazzling white, flanked by two angels, Moses and Elijah, other biblical figures, a dove, rainbow, and religious symbols everywhere.  I appreciate the artist intent to capture the big moment.  But, with all due respect, that’s not the report of the biblical text.  Jesus is resurrected in the same way he lived; his dead body was transformed humbly, quietly, and out of sight.  We may wish it was more obvious, Jesus comes out of the tomb the same way he left the garden to go into the grave; a humble willing servant of his Father. 

We usually realize resurrection power in an unassuming way.  Something quietly dies, which was preventing our new identity from springing forth.  Slowly but surely, we engage with the risen Christ.  Little by little our imaginations are ignited; growing more confident the living Christ walks with us each day.  We hear more clearly the still small voice of the Risen Lord calling us to put on our new identity.  This is not a mind game-God knows exactly who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next.

An imperfect church tenderly cooperates with God; correcting mistaken identities.  She does so by loving others as Christ loves us.  Persons realize their life is hidden in Christ.  They allow Christ to be more revealed in them, new identities shine forth.  This is not a mind game-God knows exactly who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next.

I invite you to begin your journey to a new identity; speaking boldly the traditional Easter greeting.  When the leader announces from the chancel, Christ is risen, the people declare in one voice, Christ is risen indeed.  Join me; responding with the same humble self-assurance you will carry from this place to live into your new identity.  This is not a mind game-God knows exactly who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next.

Christ is risen!

He is Risen Indeed.

Then live like it my friends.  This is not a mind game-God knows who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next, Happy Easter!

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