Easter 2017 Sermon – Whom Are You Looking For?

SCRIPTURE – John 1:1-18 – Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Whom Are You Looking For?
John 20:1-18
April 16, 2017 – Easter Sunday
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

He is risen! (He is risen, indeed!) That’s all I’ve got (act like I’m sitting down, dialogue with Trish, who encourages me to keep preaching). Ok, ok, I AM a preacher, and it IS Easter Sunday, so I guess I should keep talking. But I’m not sure what else to say. Is there anything to add to “He is risen” that will give it any more power? Maybe a better question is, “Is there anything I can add to ‘He is risen’ that would make it actually make sense?” No way. But we’re all here, in God’s house, so I trust God has something to say to us, either through me or in spite of me. And we want you to know, whether you’ve been with us for the last 51 Sundays or not since last Easter or not at all, we’re really glad you are here.

But not everyone is here. This is the biggest day for church attendance all year and the second-biggest Sunday for prayer behind the Sunday before UK plays for the national championship, and yet there are still folks who stayed home. Maybe they feel church doesn’t have anything to offer them, that the story we just read doesn’t apply to them, and that the God we claim to worship isn’t interested in them. Maybe you feel that way sometimes, too. Maybe they don’t believe in God because they think God is behind all the bad things that are happening in the world right now. That’s OK, I don’t believe in that God, either.

But you are here, so I’m going to assume you have a good reason for being here. Maybe you’re here because, well, it’s Easter and you’re supposed to go to church on Easter. Maybe you’re here because you know that if you skipped church today, Granny would climb out of her grave and whack you with her cane. Maybe you’re here because this was a requirement in order to get an extra piece of pie at the big meal later. There are lots of reasons for being here today.

I wonder if there’s a deeper reason you’re here, a reason that compelled you to come. The question I have for you is the same question Jesus asks Mary in our reading today: “Whom are you looking for?” As an aside, can I admit that I get a little giddy when Jesus uses proper grammar? “Whom.” That’s a savior after my own heart. I bet he also was a stickler for the Oxford comma. But, I digress. You came here today for some reason. Whom are you looking for?

That’s the question Jesus asks Mary in the garden. We know whom Mary was looking for, because she answers: she’s looking for Dead Jesus. That’s the only rational, logical answer to that question. She looked into the tomb, she saw the body was missing, she knows people don’t actually come back to life once they’ve been crucified, so there’s only one thing Mary could possibly be looking for: Dead Jesus. There is no multiple choice here. It’s the only answer. But what she found wasn’t what she was expecting.

What would you do if you woke up one morning, and what you expected to be there wasn’t there? When I was in seminary in Indianapolis, Leigh and I lived close to a not-so-nice part of town. That never bothered me until one morning when I walked out to my car. I went to unlock it and saw that the lock had been popped out of the door. Uh-oh. As a seminary student my first thought was, “I hope they didn’t steal my theology textbooks!” Thankfully, my car wasn’t broken into by Billy Graham because my textbooks were still there, but my car stereo and CDs were missing. That’s not how I expected my morning to start. If you’ve ever had something stolen from you, you know the feeling of expecting one thing, but instead finding something very different.

Mary had something stolen from her. She was expecting to find Dead Jesus; she wasn’t expecting Easter. Are we expecting Easter? I don’t mean on our calendars, because that’s a given. We may not know how to figure out what day it falls on each year, but we do know it’s going to happen. Happens every year. This is my 46th Easter, so I think I’ve got it pretty much down pat by now. I imagine you have, as well. It’s almost old news, isn’t it? We’ve heard it so many times that we probably don’t even really hear it anymore. We hear, “Early in the morning on the first day of the week…” and we start thinking about Easter dinner. I’m saying, “And then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there…” and you’re thinking, “I wonder if we’re having corn pudding and mashed potatoes?”

Really, why listen? Don’t we know this story? Hasn’t this story been retold in a million ways? TV news specials and popular books and magazine covers. Do I know the Easter story? Of course I do! I’ve watched “The Passion of the Christ.” I own the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I know this story. I know what to expect on Easter. Stone rolled away. Empty tomb. I wonder if we’ll have ham or turkey? Strips of linen. Angels in white. Is Kory done talking yet? Risen Jesus. Yawn. Another Easter.

The problem is if we think we know this story, if we’ve experienced it more than a few times, if we don’t come here looking for someone, we run the risk of thinking that tomorrow is going to be like yesterday. And we run the risk of leaving this place today the same person we were when we came in. We have the perspective of 2000 years of knowledge, history, and tradition. Has that dulled our appreciation of the magnitude of this day? Do we respond to the empty tomb with indifference and detachment? Another Easter.

But could there be more to this day than what we know? The one thing I do know about the Easter story is that I don’t know anything about the Easter story, even after hearing it 46 times, because Jesus has this pesky knack for not letting himself be pinned down and pigeonholed. If Jesus can escape from a sealed-up tomb, then Jesus can also escape from our pre-conceived notions of who we think he is. The question is, are we going to insist he be the Jesus we’re expecting, or are we going to open ourselves to experiencing Easter in a new way? Are we willing to look for him again this year?

Do you remember chasing lightning bugs when you were a kid? It was one of my favorite summertime activities. Once it got dark, we’d go stand in the yard and wait to see that little flash of light. Then we’d run to the spot where we saw it, but it then it would appear in another part of the yard. So we’d run over there and wait for the flash of light again and repeat this process until we finally were able to catch one.

Keeping up with Jesus is like chasing a lightning bug. You see a flash of light at the empty tomb, so you come here today to see Jesus. But then the light flashes in a locked room full of scared disciples, or on the road to Emmaus, or on a beach where the disciples are fishing. And each time that light flashes, it’s Easter all over again. That doesn’t just happen once a year; that happens every day…if we are looking for it. We can be standing in a yard filled with lightning bugs and never see one of them if we’re not looking. That doesn’t mean their lights are flashing all around us; it just means we’re too preoccupied to notice.

I believe, if we’re willing to admit it, that each one of us are here because we’re looking for something. We may not even be able to put a name to it, but I can. We’re looking for resurrection. Something in us has died this past year – a dream of a better job, a hope for restored health, the strength to face a challenge in front of us, the desire for a restored relationship, the longing for a deeper faith. There is heartache in every pew this morning. Something in our lives has died. Have we come here today expecting those things to stay dead? Or are we expecting God to do something new?

Every Easter there’s something within us that needs to be resurrected. That’s not going to happen if we keep looking for Jesus, the a historical figure locked away in a 2000-year-old story that we think we know so well. What if God has something new to say to you today, something about rolled-away stones and empty tombs and resurrections? What if Christ really is alive today? Are you willing to chase the light of Jesus into the future God has for you? It might lead to places you don’t expect – into a new job, a new relationship, a new leadership role…or back here to church next week. Are you willing to follow that light, to see what new life God has for you, or would you rather keep looking for the Jesus of the past?

You know, I thought I knew what to expect today. I expected to see lots of people and to sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” After all, I know what this day is like. Another Easter. But then I heard this story, old but somehow new, about an empty tomb and a garden encounter, and I realized: nothing will ever be the same. God is going to do something new. Something that I thought was dead is going to be resurrected. A new Easter! He is risen, indeed! When I came here today, I was expecting it would be Easter, but I wasn’t expecting resurrection. Are you?



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2 responses to “Easter 2017 Sermon – Whom Are You Looking For?

  1. Anonymous

    Well, I have heard all about this sermon, and how it has touched so many of our family and friends, but reading it and imagining your voice saying the words, Kory, was so meaningful for me. I have printed it for Ben to read. Thank you and those involved in making this possible for those of us away on Sundays. It is a wonderful way to “be there”. Easter Love, Roberta

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