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Plymouth United Church of Christ
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“Called By Name”
Sermon, Year B, Easter, April 5, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 20:1-18

Today is Easter! Today is Easter.

How wonderful it is to be together, to celebrate together, to sing together. How wonderful the sound has been in here this morning, all these voices raised together in song. How wonderful the sound is when the people of God, the Beloved Community, is gathered together in worship and in praise. Imagine having that sound be a regular part of your life. If you don’t have a spiritual home yet, imagine having this experience every Sunday. All of us here to celebrate Easter. To celebrate resurrection. To celebrate new life. To celebrate God’s love on this day that we remember that the tomb was empty.

Mary went to the tomb and found it to be empty. Not just empty, but also that the stone that had been in front of it had already been rolled away when Mary arrived. The stone was gone. The tomb was exposed to the light. Think of that stone that was in front of the tomb working as a kind of defense, a barrier, between life and death. Between light and darkness. “Put that stone there so that I don’t have to see the darkness!” As we might put stones in our own lives. Put a stone in front of this so I don’t have to see the darkness in my own life. Put the stone there to cover up the things I don’t like. Put the stone there to cover up the things that cause me anxiety so I don’t have to look at them. I can pretend that they are not there any more.

Put the dead body in the tomb and put the stone in front of it so that the taint of death, that unhidable fact of death is hidden away. Or at least we think it’s hidden away. We can think of it as something over there. Something we don’t have to deal with. But then Jesus rolls that stone away. Or has it rolled away. We don’t know if it was Jesus or an angel or someone in God’s employ that rolled the stone away.

I can picture Jesus rolling it away, saying, “No no no, don’t try to hide what is happening here. Don’t try to hide this. I am the Lord. I am the Lord of life, the Lord in the realm of death, I am the Lord of light who expels all darkness. I am the Lord of all, so don’t try to hide this. This is reality. This tomb is as much of a reality as all the wonderful things in life, as all of the good parts of life. So let us be honest about it. Because I, Jesus, am sovereign over all of it.”

With Jesus, there is no hiding. We can’t pretend with Jesus. Jesus knows who we are. Knows our name. Knows what we have done. Knows us intimately and fully, and loves us! Loves us just because we are made by God. Because we exist. Jesus loves us.

No matter how many stones we roll in front of our dark places to pretend they aren’t there, or to put them out of sight, or to try to hide it from other people or even to hide it from ourselves, Jesus knows. And Jesus wants to redeem it. Jesus wants to show love and help dispel those dark places. And until that stone is moved away, it will be a source of worry, anxious suffering, shame. Jesus loves rolling away those stones that we put in front of things. Jesus is all about taking away from us whatever it is that blocks us from full life. Fully experiencing the life that God intends for us. That God wants for us. Jesus loves being part of our lives. Not being sequestered away. Jesus meets in life. Jesus wants to be part of our lives. Because Jesus loves you! That’s the simple truth. It is the big truth of Easter. It is the truth that we in the church proclaim: Jesus loves you! Loves you so much that even death could not keep him away from us. That even though we crucified him, he wants to be with us. So much that even death could not keep him away from us. So desperate to be part of our lives that he came back from the dead, and it is at our stones that Jesus meets us. That, I think, is where Jesus meets us more fully: in our dark places, our places of suffering, our places of shame. Jesus doesn’t wait until we’re happy, perfect, pain-free to come to us. He comes to us where there is pain and darkness. Where is God? God is wherever there is suffering in the world. It is at our stone that Jesus meets us. The Lord of light does his best work in our darkness.

That’s redemption! Jesus had to come back from the dead. He had to roll away that stone of separation. He had to stand there at the tomb so that he could be with us. So that he could call out to one of his disciples with her name, “Mary.”


So personal and so intimate. That’s a God who wants to enter into our lives. Not an abstract distant God, but a close one. A God so close that he sees us, knows our name, and isn’t afraid to use it.


Or Joe, Charlie, David... or Sarah, Jennifer, Lucy... whatever your name is. Imagine Jesus saying your name, calling to you. Because he is! He knows our names.

And there is a moment here that Mary does not recognize Jesus. We might think that’s odd. And maybe it is. But I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t so odd that she doesn’t recognize him, because we expect dead things to stay dead. She saw him be crucified, saw him put in the tomb. There is no reason to think that she should be looking for Jesus among the living. We expect dead things to stay dead, so why should we think that the living man would be the one she is looking for? So she thinks he’s the gardener.

Though I wonder if as she looked at the gardener, she had the thought, “Boy, he does look an awful lot like Jesus, though.”

But in her head, thinking he looks him, “I don’t know where the body is... the tomb is empty. This man is standing here I don’t know...”

And then he says her name, “Mary!”

And a memory is triggered in her head. How many times has she heard him say her name? How many times has he said her name to her. There is such power in a name. Our names. That’s why in our street ministry one of the first things we do is to learn peoples’ names. Learn their names, and use their names, because it is so important both that they know they are known, and also important for us that we know them and they know us. That’s community. That’s the beloved community. That we know one another.

For a people who have little, for a people who don’t have much, a name is an incredibly important possession. A name is one of the few things that is so linked to who we are and to our identity. Names are so important. One of the few things that cannot be taken away from us. Or that can enrage us so much when people try to take it away by calling us by a different name, or giving numbers to prisoners, or other forms of trying to steal peoples’ identity, or label them as a word instead of by name, calling them just “homeless”, or “gay”, or “woman”, etc.

A name is that one thing that should never be taken away from us, no matter how much else we might lose. So Jesus says, “Mary.”

Then she knows who he is.

Like recognizing the voice of a loved on over the phone, or someone knocking on your door and calling your name, or calling your name from across a room. That moment of hearing your name and recognizing the voice of the one saying it. In that moment when Jesus says “Mary” she recognizes him. I think that’s a moment in which her world is changed. Distinctions that she thought mattered are shattered. The distinction between life and death. Between what she thought was possible and what really is possible. What she thought God is about and what God is truly about. Maybe you can see the neurons firing in her brain, rewriting the narrative of what she thought was possible. She hears the name, and maybe in her brain is thinking, “That sounds like Jesus, this man in front of me looks like Jesus, but I saw him die. I saw him put into the tomb. Saw the stone rolled over it. But I came this morning and saw the stone rolled away, the body isn’t there. The linens are nicely folded so probably no one stole the body... “ can see her trying to make sense of all this and the realization come to her that, yes, he is alive! “This is Jesus standing in front of me!” She recognizes him. The stone of her assumptions about death have been rolled. The stone of her despair over the power of state sponsored violence has been rolled away. The stone of her hopeless rolled away. Whatever she might have been feeling that day, all rolled away. She comes into a new life with Jesus. She is ushered in, by speaking her name he invites her into the beloved community of God’s realm where all ideas of separation and loss and difference are shown to be nothing but an illusion. She is brought into the Divine Whole. Into the divine community. As are also we brought into that community through the good news of Easter. A promise that it’s impossible to die alone. A promise that death is not the end, because we live in Jesus Christ. Jesus, who meets us at the tombs of our life, and calls out our name, and invites us to him.

Serene Jones is the president of Union Seminary in NYC, the seminary I went to, and she writes this about the encounter between Jesus and Mary when he speaks her name: “This is the shared space where Jesus meets us, calling our name, receiving our touch, calming our anxious worries and reminding us again and again that grace is not an object to be known but a gift to be lived.”

Mary leaves the tomb to announce to a broken, suffering, tomb-filled world, “I have seen the Lord!”

And so also can we say, “I have seen the Lord.” Let Jesus rolls away those stones that keep us from the tomb that God never intended for us, because we are made to live. We are made to be loved. And you are loved! No conditions! All our faults and foibles, we are loved. So much that Jesus came back from the dead to roll away a stone to speak your name and bring you into the beloved community.

And I invite you to continue to be part of the beloved community. Don’t have to make a lifetime commitment to this, but maybe a commitment for April. For the next three Sundays. Come back and be part of this beloved community of Plymouth. Come back for the next three Sundays. We will be talking about stones and barriers and things that block us from full life in Jesus, the one who wants us to live because we are loved. This week, I offer you the invitation to continue coming, but also offer an invitation to think about this encounter that Mary has with Jesus. She is looking right at him, but doesn’t see him until he says her name. When have you recognized Jesus? I don’t want to call this a homework assignment, but a spiritual practice for you for this week: think about when have you seen the Lord? When has the Lord called your name? When have you heard, felt, seen the Lord? How can you say to the world, “I have seen the Lord”?

I leave you with an Easter blessing that you may know the risen Jesus today and all days. May you know the risen Jesus. Jesus who loves you. May you know Jesus this day and all days, for you are beloved, and you are part of the beloved community.

Amen, and happy Easter!

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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