The Lord of Me

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“The Lord of Me”
Rev. Stephen Milton
March 31, 2024

Do you have trouble believing that Jesus could rise from the dead? Many do. More and more now. Well, don’t feel too bad about that, so did Christ’s closest disciples. Jesus had told them, over and over again, that prophecy predicted that he would be killed, but he would be raised. He told them this in many ways. But, when you tell people something they don’t want to hear, it’s like you are not talking to a wall. They had seen Jesus work miracles, even raise Lazarus from the dead. But the idea that he would be raised from the dead after such a terrible death on the cross – that was impossible.

Today’s reading for Easter Sunday is the story of three people who loved Jesus, followed Jesus – and didn’t believe He would be resurrected. Peter, John, and Mary. All three of them think his death is final. Peter and John are mourning at home three days after Jesus died. But Mary can’t sit still.  She decides to walk in the dark, before dawn, and go to the tomb. She expects the tomb will be closed, a large rock blocking the entrance. She doesn’t bring spices. She arrives in the dark, expecting to sit outside a closed tomb. That’s how down she is feeling. 

But when she arrives, she sees that someone has pushed the rock aside. She runs to tell the others that Jesus’ body has been stolen. As if being crucified wasn’t bad enough, now the Romans have stolen his body, too. This day is just getting worse. The men run back with her. Each of them takes a look in the tomb. There’s no body there, just the clothes Christ’s corpse was dressed in. They take a look, shrug their shoulders. Jesus is still dead, still gone. Now they don’t even know where He is. But gone is gone. So, they go home. Case closed.

But Mary stays. She stays and weeps. What happens next – did it really happen this way? Hard to say. All the gospels agree that women saw the empty tomb and angels first. In three of the gospels, they see Jesus first, too. That’s embarrassing for the men. It should have been the men, especially the leaders like John and Peter who saw Jesus first. If this resurrection story was a complete fabrication, then the men would have seen Jesus first. But in today’s gospel passage, John wishes he could say that, but he can’t. He and Peter race to the tomb, but they don’t stay. The women in their communities wouldn’t let them change the story. Mary saw Jesus first, embarrassing for leaders like John and Peter, but that’s the way God wanted it.

Does that mean the next part about Mary and the angels and Jesus is absolutely true? Probably not. John tells us straight up; he went home after seeing the empty tomb. So, he isn’t an eyewitness to what happens next. This is a second-hand tale. A version of the events, part true, part fabrication or extrapolation. And what John does is he tells us a story about how a person, Mary, went from thinking Jesus was dead, to knowing that he was resurrected. How do you go from disbelief to belief? That’s what John does with this story, and he does it because Mary’s story is everyone’s story who has faith. A journey from disbelief to belief. 

So let’s carry on with the story. The men have gone into the tomb and discovered that Jesus is gone, but his burial clothes are still there. Clearly, this was no grave robbery. The men have seen that inside, the clothes Jesus was wrapped in have been left behind, and even carefully placed. No grave robber would do that. Jesus is missing, and probably naked. The men see this as strange, but it fits with their preconceived notions – Jesus is dead and gone.

But Mary still wants to find Jesus. But how? In her grief and worry, she weeps. Then, finally, she stoops to look inside the tomb, just like the men did. But unlike the men, she doesn’t just see the burial clothes. No, she sees two angels, dressed in white. This suggests that they were there the whole time, but the men couldn’t see them. Why should Mary see them? Unlike the men, she is weeping, desperately wanting to be united with Jesus. They have given up, she has not. She is also consumed by grief and confusion, weeping. When you feel like you have lost your way, when old answers no longer work – that appears to be when we are open to new possibilities. When we know we are lost, that is when we are most likely to welcome direction. To welcome and accept some heavenly messages.

The angels see her, and ask “why do you weep?” Now, it may seem like a chiding question, like “silly human, why are you so upset?” But Jesus will ask the same question, and we can trust him not to be insulting or condescending towards someone so devoted. So let’s hear the angel’s question again: “Why do you weep?” They don’t ask what makes you weep. No, they ask why.

2000 years before psychotherapy is invented, these angels appear to know that what Mary needs to understand is why she is weeping. Not what caused her weeping, but why Jesus matters to her so much. Why are you weeping. Does she know why she feels so bereft? What did Jesus mean to her that she feels so alone now? 

What she says next is telling. “They have taken away my Lord.” A more literal translation of the Greek has her reply they  have taken away “ the Lord of me.” [1] John is always asking us to read his Gospel theologically. This is not just a story about a woman looking for a man who has died. To John, Jesus is the Lord of the universe, the one who made life itself possible on Earth, the Word who became flesh. “I am seeking the Lord of me.” That’s when Mary understands she is looking for the source of her life. A penny has dropped. She has realized Jesus is what makes her life possible, and worth having. He is the Lord of Me, just as he is the Lord of you and you and you, and everyone alive today. The source of life. And now that she has realized that, she feels dead inside without him.

She says she doesn’t know where this Lord of Me can be found, a good shorthand for anyone’s spiritual journey. The angels don’t give her an answer because their answers don’t matter. It’s what she can understand that matters. Once she realizes she is seeking “the Lord of me, “ she is ready for the next revelation. 

And at this moment, she suddenly has the urge to turn around. That’s when she sees a man she takes for a gardener. He asks the same question the angels asked: “Why do you weep?”  Why does this Jesus matter so much to you?

Why do you weep? Why do you get upset? Why do you get angry? Why do you withdraw from people? We often answer these questions with “what’s”. I am angry because of what they are doing. I am depressed because of what they are doing. But “what” isn’t really the answer. It’s why these things bother us that really matters. I withdraw because I am afraid, I will get rejected. I get angry because I feel powerless and afraid. I hate because I see something in them that I don’t like in me. 

When Jesus asks, “why do you weep?” he wants Mary to find out more about herself, why Jesus matters to her. He wants this to get personal. And it works. Before, when Mary reported to the men that Jesus was missing, she said 

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Who is this “we” she speaks of? She was alone at the tomb. But now, when she speaks to the gardener, she says: 

“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

She is no longer hiding behind “we”, this all about her now. Tell me where you have put him, and I will get him. 

This is no longer someone else’s problem. She has found her passion, this is her problem, and she will solve it, with no mention of the other men, no we or they, just I. Mary has figured out what matters to her, why she weeps, and that gives her the power and the passion to act on her own.  Even risking her safety facing this man she thinks is a grave robber. She is willing to take risks now, to act on her own passion. 

Our spiritual journey is about that movement from we and they, to I. We can read about other people’s spirituality for a long time without it becoming our own. We can repeat what other people in our group say, what “we” believe, without believing it ourselves. Often, it is when we suffer, when we get lost, that’s when we go from what other people believe to finding what we personally believe. What we can become passionate about. When we decide that this isn’t just a problem, but my problem or my journey. When we are ready to say, I will take what matters to me, I will take care of what I love. 

That willingness to go on a spiritual journey is what God wants for us, to draw closer to God. To get closer to the source of our being. And what today’s scripture tells us is that if you are willing, you will get help. Angels will appear along the way to ask you the questions you need next. God will appear, to ask you why do you weep, and who are you looking for? And when you get close to the answer, God will help you, not by giving a big lecture, but by recognizing you as you.

For when Mary faces that man she thinks is a grave robber, and says, give me the body you have taken, Jesus replies simply with her name, “Mary.” She has found herself, and in that moment, she has found Jesus, too. She recognizes him as he recognizes her. He was there the whole time, but she couldn’t see him. Now she can. 

When we see God more fully, we are also more fully ourselves. The resurrection story, is not just about Jesus coming back to life, but the promise that all of us, like Mary, can enjoy a richer life. We, too, can be reborn, emerge from our darkness, and find love and life again. God’s triumph over death is more than a parlour trick that happened to just one man. It is an offer , a guide to how to live life with God, a path where getting lost occasionally is how we get found and rescued. And having found Mary, God offers the same to each one of you – especially when you feel lost in the darkness.

Happy Easter.