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!

Your Sunday Name

When I hear someone yell, “SIR!” my attention is not roused; they’re calling an older man.  Then I hear again: “SIR!”  To my surprise, he comes toward ME with my keys.  “Hey, sir, you left these,” he says.  I wonder when did I become “sir?”  I see myself as a “hey”; but not “sir”.  When did I say bye to my carefree days of being a “young stud.”  I don’t want to accept I have entered the “hey sir-hood” of my life.  My name has changed.  A name change speaks of a new stage marked by a new identity because of a change in our lives.  No matter how welcomed the change, it’s hard to let go of the old name that describes a previous reality.

Mary Magdalene was still holding onto Friday names of sorrow, despair, and death when she returned to the Jesus’ tomb to spread spices on the deceased body.  Mary knew the space separating her from Jesus was infinite; yet sitting a near Jesus’ familiar earthly form was comforting.  She came there to relive “good old memories” that didn’t hurt or “good old feelings” experienced with him.  Yet, she was stuck in that old reality.

The stone was rolled away and the body was gone when Mary arrived.  She interpreted this surreal scene using the old reality.  She assumed it was a mistake; someone moved the body; or it wasn’t a mistake and his body stolen.  Never mind Jesus clearly said he would be raised after three days.  Never mind the angels sitting in the tomb clued her that something marvelous had occurred.  Even Jesus could not break Mary out of that old reality. she thought he was the gardener.  Finally, she got it when Jesus said her name.  He said, “Mary,” and she understood.  Or did she?

The first thing she said was “Rabbouni!”; means “teacher.”  Jesus said in reply, “Do not hold on to me.”  It’s peculiar since there is no evidence Mary was holding him.  Perhaps Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical embrace.  Perhaps he was referring to her calling him, teacher; his Friday name.  Maybe he was saying let go of the way we were.  “Teacher” meant limited, fallible, and vulnerable.  Sunday had dawned; new life was possible.  Old categories no longer fit because Jesus Sunday name was “Risen Lord”.  The event of Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally transformed those limited, fallible, and vulnerable Friday names. 

I have trouble sleeping on the night before a big day; a lot stewing in my subconscious.  That often equals weird dreams.  Some dreams are so real we check to see if there is evidence they happened.  Dreams can become realities if we allow our limited Friday names to be changed to a Sunday name by a resurrection power that transcends it all and is real and available when any or everything needs to change.

Is this your story?  You knew Jesus; respected for his teachings; yet you had your arguments with the church.  There came a day when you realized something was missing.  So, you enrolled in a class, attended a Walk, participated in a spiritual activity and encountered the power in knowing the risen Christ.  You were transformed from being an agreement with a set of beliefs to being in a living relationship that brings daily strength, power, and joy that is visible in all you do.  Everything, including your name changed when you met the Christ of Easter.  Do you know that person?

The church equips people; providing tools needed for serving the world.  We offer classes, model ministry, and point to examples.  I fantasize about passing out a pill of theology or of waving a wand of biblical lessons so people can experience fully Jesus’ resurrection power.  However, if I led you to believe all is well if you are acquainted with the teachings of the Jesus; I would be do harm-misrepresenting the faith by reducing Jesus to his Friday name, ‘Rabbouni’.  The essential idea of the Christian faith is on that first Easter, Jesus the teacher, underwent a name change.  Jesus’ Sunday name became “Risen Lord” so our Friday lives might experience his Sunday resurrection power and our names may be changed.

The Stockholm Syndrome is when captives identifies with captors.  It’s the reason Patty Hearst assisted in robbing banks; Elizabeth Smart denied she was the missing and claimed to be a daughter of her captors.  Captives identify with their captors assuming they are less likely to be harmed if they fade into the background or mouth their ideology.  Citizens of liberated nations prefer previous despots rather than new-found freedom.  We want life to be predictable, and the older we get, the more predictable we want.  The spiritual version of the Stockholm Syndrome occurs when we can choose to remain in the tomb of an old predictable and safe life, rather than step toward new life because it seems unknown and risky.

Thanks be to our God who comes to us in surprising ways to disrupt when we are stuck in our same old ways.  God’s love never fails to call us from the tombs of our own making.  Our response to a God who surprises us with a persistent call is not to adopt or relearn teachings from a good teacher to get us to the next place in life.  Easter requires a vivid spiritual imagination to be in relationship with the risen Christ.  People with an Easter imagination walk with the living Risen Christ into all parts of their lives knowing in Christ they can experience the power to break loose from any grave entombing them in their old reality.  Resurrection changes everything; our name and our identity as we are reborn and remade.

This sermon was inspired by Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones, who told of a man who changed his middle name to “After.”  After experiencing Christ, he reasoned, everything was different; so he added this reality to his name.  After we encounter the risen Lord we move past our Friday names to something infinitely better as we are changed in the process.  We get Sunday names that describe a new power in our lives that defines us as a whole new person AFTER encountering the Risen Christ.

An operator whose job was to assist airline passengers in making calls began her day quite routinely.  At 9:45 a.m., she received a call from a passenger on United 93.  The passenger told her the plane had been hijacked.  He asked her to call his wife.  He said, “Promise you’ll do that for me and let her know how much I love her and the boys.”  Then he asked her to pray with him.  The operator was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him.  After he was sure she would talk with his family, he told her they were going to try to stop the hijackers.  The phone dropped and she did not hear any more from the passenger.  In a matter of minutes, that woman’s name changed.  She went from “operator” to “minister.”  Her Friday name was “work as usual”; her Sunday name was “God’s instrument.”

Call Jesus by his Friday name, “Teacher”, and you can get by because he was a good person with good advice.  Call him by his Sunday name Risen Lord, and you will be changed.  Your Friday name may be “Business As Usual”, but your Sunday name can become “God’s Instrument”.  Your Friday name may “Sadness”, but your Sunday name can become “Joy”.  Your Friday name may “Prejudice”, but your Sunday name can become “Openness”.  Your Friday name may be “Weakness”, but your Sunday name can become “Strength in the Lord”.  Your Friday name may be “Despair”, but your Sunday name can become “Hope”.  Your Friday name may be “Fear”, but your Sunday name can become “Peace”.  Your Friday name may be “Death”, but your Sunday name can become “Resurrection”.  Friday is over.  Don’t hold on.  Let it go.  This is Sunday you have a Sunday name because Jesus Christ is Risen Indeed!

Christ the Lord is risen today!  He is Risen Indeed.

Happy Easter