April 4, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The scene that St. John sets before us in the gospel lesson we just heard has all the features of a good movie: vivid detail, gripping suspense, and powerful human emotion. More importantly, it tells a down-to-earth story about something with which all of us struggle: the odd claim to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, even though he has never stood before us physically in the flesh. But even more bizarre is the Christian claim to believe that he rose from the dead, for we know that dead people don’t rise from their graves and walk around.
Like most Christians, we Episcopalians believe that our relationship with Christ begins with baptism. In the baptismal rite, the priest asks the Candidate or the parents and godparents, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?” It’s very easy for most to respond, “I do.” It’s also easy to say, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” as we will in a moment when we recite the Nicene Creed. Speaking these words is quite simple, but is often done without much emotion or thought, and doesn’t indicate that we’ve necessarily had some sort of personal encounter with Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we see a very different kind of encounter with Jesus. This encounter isn’t only tangible and physical, it’s emotional and deeply personal. For Mary Magdalene, her encounter with the risen Christ involved her eyes and her ears and a person standing before her. It is very real.
After the events that lead to Jesus’s arrest, torture, and death, she comes to his tomb only to find that someone has presumably stolen his dead body. She is so caught up in her raw emotion that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus when he’s standing right in front of her. When she responds to him, assuming he is the gardener, Jesus doesn’t offer some sort of generic response. He says, “Mary.” He uses a word that applies to her and her alone, a word that captures the particularity of her individual life – her name. His response was deeply personal.
You and I don’t have the benefit of seeing the resurrected Jesus in the flesh as she did. How can our faith in Jesus be as real as Mary Magdalene’s faith?
While we don’t see him in the flesh, in the waters of baptism, God used ordinary water to grant us grace, despite the fact that we didn’t earn it or deserve it. According to our catechism, at baptism, God adopted us as his children and made us members of Christ’s body, the Church. At baptism, we were united with Christ in his death and resurrection, born into God’s family, forgiven of our sins, and given new life in the Holy Spirit.
Children. Life. Members. Family. Born. Forgiven. These words reflect a deeply personal relationship between us as individuals and God, a God who calls us each by name, just as he did Mary Magdalene. At baptism, the candidates are baptized not anonymously, but by name. God’s interest in us is deeply personal – his interest in us is just as real as it was when he said to her, “Mary.”
I’m not sure about you, but if God were distant and far away, like a clockmaker who sets his clock in motion and leaves it alone to operate without any further interaction, I wouldn’t have the slightest bit of interest. But a God who sees and knows the most intimate parts of my life – my body, my past, my dreams and disappointments, my future – a God who loves and cares deeply about all these intimate aspects of my life? That’s the sort of God we see revealed in Jesus Christ.
Like with Mary Magdalene, Jesus comes to us not as a zombie, or a ghost, but as a person. He doesn’t come to us as a disembodied spirit, but as a whole, integrated person – body, mind and spirit. He didn’t just come to save our souls, he came to redeem our minds and our bodies as well. He cares about how we spend our money, and what we do with our time, and how we treat the bodies God gave us, and how we treat the poor person we encounter, just as much as he cares about our thoughts and prayers. Jesus doesn’t just come to us in our hearts, he comes to us physically: in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine at Holy Communion, in the physical intimacy between spouses, and so on.
We don’t get to see Jesus in the flesh like Mary did. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…it’s not an easy thing to wrap our heads around as dead people don’t generally rise up from their graves and walk around. I’m not sure about you, but to me, a God who is interested in both the spiritual and the physical realms...a God who loves humanity enough to become one of us in order to redeem the worst parts of who we are…a God who loves me enough to care about the intimate parts of my life…a God who loved the world so much that he not only gave his Son for our sake, but promised us that he would be with us always…a God who lavishly pours out his love for us physically again and again in our world today…that’s the kind of God that sounds interesting to me.
This Easter Day, as we encounter the risen Christ at this altar, let us pray for the grace to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Let us renew our faith in the One who loves us so deeply that he gave up everything for us. And let us rejoice that he has called each of us by name into a deep and personal relationship with him. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 376.
 Feasting 378.
 Catechism of the 1979 BCP..
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!