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, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
This past Sunday, many of us came to church and declared together that “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!” This central declaration of the Christian faith is, in my estimation, a non-negotiable article central to our proclamation. Either Jesus was raised from the dead, bodily, or he was not. There is no in-between. In fact, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “ If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” I would also underscore this with an insight given by one of my colleagues in ministry: “Jesus’ bodily resurrection is no metaphor; I don’t worship metaphors.”
Beyond the declarations of faith, however, the question we must all face is, “how does this declaration become a reality in our lives?” Do we come to believe this after a long line of argumentation, and the weighing of pros and cons to believing that Jesus was raised from the dead? Is faith a choice we make, boldly and courageously determining that we will believe contrary to what the critics and our own doubt suggest? Was Kierkegaard right that faith, ultimately, is an act of dauntless courage, a leap into the chasm of the ineffable mystery of God? I think John chapter 20 gives us an excellent guide to understanding this dynamic of coming to believe that Jesus is risen, and thus, Jesus is Lord.
In John 20, Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb and saw it was empty after Mary reported this fact to them. John 20:8 tells us that the beloved disciple entered the empty tomb and believed. But what did he believe? In verse 9, we are told that they did not yet understand that it was necessary for him to rise from the dead, according to Scripture. In fact, the whole affair didn’t seem to leave a lasting impression for as John tells us in verse 10, they looked into the empty tomb, then returned to their homes. They believed something — maybe that the body was missing, or maybe that he truly was someone magnificent who was taken up, much like Enoch in Genesis 5:24.
Mary also believes, and knows the tomb is empty. Yet, knowing the tomb is empty is never, ever enough. If the story ended here, we wouldn’t have much to say. Yes, messengers, or angels, ask her why she is weeping. This ought to be a sign. Surely she gets it by now. However, she doesn’t. Jesus, standing behind her, unrecognized, asks her the same thing. The reality shattering truth that Jesus has been raised hasn’t dawned on her yet. In fact, the full dimension of this core article of our faith doesn’t come home to her until Jesus calls her by name: “Mary!”
At the end of the day, we can marshal all the evidence we like about the historicity of the resurrection. We can talk about our subjective experiences of the spiritual reality of belonging to God through Christ Jesus. We can take leaps into the cavernous mystery of God and our subjective wrestling with God’s presence in our midst. However, in the end, what life-altering faith requires is Jesus speaking our name, calling us in the power of the Spirit to see and to know that his is risen, and that we are his. The initiative always belongs to God in Christ Jesus.
I give thanks that God works in this way, calling us each by name. I give thanks because that means that the God who created the universe, the God who is greater than the sum of cosmological parts, the God who became one of us in order to save us is the same Lord who, in the glory of the resurrected Jesus, calls us by name, changes us, and makes us His own.