In the movie The Incredibles, Bob Parr, Mr. Incredible, comes home one day, feeling defeated. He slumps out of his car, shoulders hunched, in a funk. Behind him, he catches sight of a little boy on a tricycle, who stops pedaling and looks up at him. This same little boy, just the other day, had witnessed Mr. Incredible pick up his car, like a trinket, and threaten to throw it down the street in anger. The boy was amazed! He couldn’t believe Mr. Incredible’s strength!
But on this day, Mr. Incredible is low-key. As he looks over at the tricycle, he says to the little boy, “Well, what are you waiting for?” The little boy responds, “I don’t know. Something amazing! I guess.”
The little boy was waiting for something amazing, just as he had seen before. Not unlike our characters in the garden, discovering the empty tomb.
On this Easter Sunday, we’re aware of a something amazing: the resurrection. It’s a big deal, it’s the central story of Christianity, it’s the most consequential act of God in human history. The discovery of that empty tomb, the one we celebrate today, was a monumental event! For God had done something amazing! God had proven to be bigger than death! The resurrection, the central story of Christianity, the most consequential act of God in human history, proves God is larger than our imaginations, larger than our sin, larger than evil, larger than death.
God looms large on Easter. The resurrection is something amazing!
So let’s hear that story again on this Easter Sunday. We pick up the story after Mary has found the tomb empty, told the disciples, and been left alone at the empty tomb. As you hear it, listen for that grandiosity, for the something amazing about the story.
Did you hear the something amazing?
No? Me either.
The story isn’t really spectacular; certainly not like we’d expect for the resurrection. It’s quiet, serene, peaceful, calm. It doesn’t seem at all grand, not at all amazing. Not at all what we would expect. It seems, rather, underwhelming.
By all accounts, it’s a pretty quiet Sunday morning when Mary arrives at the tomb. She’s there to take care of the body, lovingly tending to it. When she gets there, she finds the body gone, the linens remaining but not disheveled like tomb robbers would have left them. She runs, in a confused panic, to tell the disciples who come and discover that she’s telling the truth. They then return home, probably out of fear, leaving Mary to her grieve alone there at the tomb; the stillness of this Sunday morning disturbed only by her sobbing.
Which just underscores how unremarkable this moment, this huge consequential, central, moment is. Jesus has been quiet about his resurrection on this Sunday morning. He’s not recorded to have said or done anything until he calls Mary by name. His first words spoken after the resurrection, are “Woman, why are you weeping?” Not, “I’m back!” Or “You thought you could kill me, but you were wrong.” Or “I have fulfilled the scriptures.” Or anything that we might expect.
No, he says “Woman, why are you weeping.” Not very consequential words for a man who just rose from the dead, defeating sin and death in the process. In fact, it’s quite an odd thing to say considering what he’s just done.
What follows Jesus’s first post-resurrection words is a poignant, emotional, beautifully told, tender story of Jesus comforting and commissioning Mary, making her the first disciple and the first preacher of the risen Christ. The whole scene is peaceful, quiet, serene, touching, beautiful.
Not grand. Not huge. Not at all like we expect Easter. Not at all like we celebrate Easter.
Where is the something amazing?
The cosmic significance of the resurrection is underwhelming in our Easter story this morning. Where’s the grandiosity? Where indeed is the something amazing? Doesn’t seem to be here in the text.
In light of the past week, where Jesus has gone through a figurative and literal hell, we would rightly expect Jesus to act much differently on this first Easter. We would expect that Jesus would go and settle scores, perhaps converting a whole host of people in the process. What if he’d risen from the dead and then paid a visit to Pilate, Caiaphas, or any of the villains of the passion story? What if he’d shown up at the temple, among the crowds, and begun teaching again, just as he had before?
Now that would have been something amazing! His enemies would have cowered in fear. He would have run off the pharisees, the sadducees, the Roman officials. The people would have cheered and been overwhelmed with amazement. Think of the spectacle! Think of the number of people who could have been converted at that moment of Jesus’s glorious return!
We would rightly expect that, on this Sunday, Jesus would ride into Jerusalem in an even grander fashion than he did last Sunday, on Palm Sunday.
Because the people, like the boy, were waiting for something amazing! They wanted their king to come! Why didn’t Jesus go and give himself to them as their King, now that he’s risen from the dead?
Why didn’t Jesus do any of this or anything like it? Where’s the something amazing we look for in the resurrection story?
Looking back at the first Easter Sunday, this tranquil, low-key, story that seems to lack any grandiosity, where God doesn’t seem like a giant at all, we’re left feeling like the little boy, waiting for something amazing, we guess.
At the tomb, Mary’s probably in the same position; thinking that Jesus’s body has been stolen, hoping for something amazing. Her grief compels her to remain at the tomb, probably unsure of what to do.
In fact, she’s so struck with grief that she seems unaware that the men in the tomb are angels. So struck with grief that she doesn’t recognize Jesus when he first talks to her. So struck with grief that she must hear Jesus speak her name, tenderly, before she realizes it’s Jesus.
It’s without grand signs and wonders that Jesus reveals himself to Mary. He speaks to her, directly to her and no one else, revealing himself and bringing her into new life. In an instant, Mary’s life is forever changed, she is reborn, as she experiences the wonder of the love of God that would send his only Son to die and be resurrected for us.
Unlike his birth with angels appearing to shepherds and a star in the sky, Jesus’s resurrection begins with intimacy; through the simple, tender, and gracious revealing of himself to one person by simply uttering her name: Mary.
Jesus calls her by name; his first act after the resurrection. And, in fact, that is the something amazing we’ve been looking for.
I can relate. In the midst of my own grief one afternoon, I went for a walk. After a time, I sat by a tree and looked out across a field to a sunset going down behind a mountain vista. I sat with my grief, my sorrow, my agony. The tension, the stress, that came from that moment seemed overwhelming. I felt lost in life, lost in myself, unsure of who I was.
As I stared across the field, enjoying the sunset as it dipped behind the mountains, somehow, suddenly, deep inside of me, I felt a peace, a calm, a lessening of anxiety and a hope for my future. Nature seemed to come alive all around me with joy and hope. The beauty of that moment overwhelmed me and I felt God’s presence intimately. It was as if I heard God say to me, tenderly, “Ted.”
I knew in that moment the power of feeling the intimate presence of Christ; I knew in that moment that Jesus had called me by name.
Jesus has called me by name and said, “Ted, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Jesus has called me by name. God called Mary by name.
In fact, Jesus has called each of our names. And that, truly, is something amazing.
We celebrate this fact of Jesus calling us by name when we mark baptisms and confirmations. At those joyous occasions, just as we celebrate this Easter Sunday, we note how God has called us by name. God, like with Mary, has been with us every step of our lives, quietly and tenderly saying our names. Just like that old hymn, “softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me.”
Imagine, the great God of the universe who, on this Easter Sunday, proves larger than death itself, calls each of us by our names. That’s because this same God wants relationship with each of us; a relationship that’s as intimate as the one portrayed in the garden, as the one I experienced on that day and continue to experience to this day. Of all the things God can do, the resurrection proves that God desires most to have intimate, close, relationship with each of us. And so, Jesus calls us all by name, every day, every moment of our lives. That really is something amazing.
But I wonder, do you know it? Have you experienced the intimacy of Jesus calling you by name?
For we can know all about the resurrection, we can know, like the disciples, that the tomb is empty. We can be well versed in scripture and understand, more than the disciples did, that Jesus must rise from the dead. We can be thoroughly convinced of the rightness of Christianity. We can even be extremely dedicated to our church.
But if we haven’t experienced intimacy in our relationship with Christ, if we haven’t heard Christ call our name: if we haven’t experienced joy breaking into our sorrows almost magically, if we haven’t known what it is to feel a peace that passes all understanding, if we have no sense of a hope that transcends and resolves our despair, then we do not really understand, we do not intimately know, the resurrection.
Perhaps, we have not heard Jesus call our name.
The resurrection began, and continues to this day, through experiencing the love that comes from knowing that Jesus is speaking your name, calling to you, softly and tenderly: Mary, Ted…You.
We don’t have to have seen Jesus in person to know the intimacy Mary knew; we know it when we feel that presence, that sense that we can’t quite describe, but we know it to be God. That, in fact, is exactly how our confirmands described what it is to know intimacy with God: that sense that God is present with you; a sense that you can’t quite describe.
The resurrection makes that possible. And that’s the something amazing about the resurrection story: God came to have relationship with us: a relationship that Jesus and Mary model here in the garden, right after the resurrection. A relationship born of God’s undying, unwavering, unyielding, unconditional, love.
You are called by name by our savior, who rose from the grave and reigns victorious on this Easter Sunday. That truly is something amazing. I wonder, have you heard that call? If you have, have you called back? Do you know the love of God intimately?
If you know that love intimately, don’t delay in telling others. The first thing Jesus tells Mary, after calling her by name, is to go and tell. If you have heard Christ call you by name, do the same: go and tell. Get involved in doing things here at the church or volunteering within our community in ways that let people know they’re loved, they’re cared for, especially if they’ve fallen upon hard times. Be willing to speak of your faith and your relationship with Jesus. When we go and tell, we help others hear Jesus calling them by their names.
And if you don’t know the love of God intimately, if you haven’t heard Jesus call you by name, if this has been a hard to relate to sermon, it’s time to call back. Jesus is calling your name, all you need do is call his name back: Jesus, I need you, I need your love, and I believe in your resurrection.
For to each of us, Jesus has called us by name saying, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” The resurrection means that God, like he was with Mary in the garden, is walking every step of our life’s journey with us.
That truly is something amazing!
I wonder, do you know it? Have you heard Jesus call your name?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.