There is a fundamental truth that I think we can all agree on: In life, you don’t always get what you expect. We get certain ideas, or visions in our mind of how something is going to be, and we can be surprised, shocked even, when the reality differs from these expectations. I think we’ve all experienced this from time to time.
Examples I can think of include:
- The expectation that when Easter falls on a Sunday in April, it will be a warm, beautiful spring day… then expectation, meets the reality of living in Minnesota.
- The expectation of that moment when you bite into a delicious looking chocolate chip cookie…only to discover that it’s really oatmeal raisin. I hate that. The expectation, meets the reality.
- Or that moment when you’re certain that your beloved purple football team is going to finally make it back to the big game after 41 years…with the Minnesota Miracle just one week behind us…and then the expectation, meets the reality of being a Vikings fan.
Expectations versus reality. What we hope for, versus what we actually experience. It can make all the difference in the world. This was certainly true during Jesus’ time.
It was early Sunday morning, and still dark out. Mary Magdalene, walks to Jesus’ tomb. She just needed time; time to grieve…time to think and time to let the reality of her loss, and of what she experienced sink in.
As she arrives, she is shocked to find that the tomb was open, and the stone removed from its entrance. She knew right away what this must mean: someone had broken in and taken Jesus’ body.
This is not an unreasonable assumption. Jesus was clearly dead. She had seen him crucified herself. She’d stood at the foot of the cross and watched him die. It’s the only answer that made sense.
She turns and runs from the cemetery to go tell Peter, and another disciple, presumably John, that someone had taken Jesus’ body from the tomb. They can’t believe it. Who would steal his body? All three immediately took off running to the gravesite.
Peter and John arrive first and enter the tomb. Mary arrives a moment or two later and remains outside.
Scripture says that Peter and John saw, and immediately believed Mary’s assumption that Jesus’ body had been stolen. Again, it’s the only logical possibility that made any sense.
Peter and John returned to their homes, now grieving even more, and uncertain of what to do. But Mary…she remains…she drops to her knees, weeping and staring into the empty tomb. Suddenly, she sees two angels, sitting there; they say to her “woman, why are you weeping?”
She could only understand what she sees through the lens of her expectations and of what makes sense to her. She says, “someone has taken away the body of my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Mary turns away from the tomb and sees the risen Jesus standing before her. But again, her rational mind doesn’t allow for her to see clearly, or to think beyond her expectations. She presumes that Jesus is the caretaker of the cemetery. Still hoping that this is all just some kind of giant mistake, she asks him “Sir, if you have carried him away tell me where you have laid him, and I will take care of him.”
Then comes the key moment: The risen Jesus looks her in the eye, smiles and simply says “Mary.” I don’t know if it was the sound of his voice, or maybe his compassion that she heard…but all of Mary’s expectations; all of her assumptions; they all evaporated, and she was suddenly able to see clearly what was before her eyes. With shock…she says “Rabbi,” which means, “Teacher.”
You see, there is a difference between being seen and being recognized. Mary saw many things. She saw the stone rolled away; she saw the empty tomb; she saw the burial cloths lying on the ground; she saw the angels; she saw the gardener. But in none of this did she recognize what had actually happened. She saw only what she expected to see.
But Jesus…he knew Mary. She was his follower; she was his friend, and he called her by name. There was a relationship. And that makes all of the difference. “Mary,” he said. And like a fog lifting, suddenly she saw him. “Rabbi!”
Jesus saw something within her. Jesus sensed her faith. Known, she knows. Seen, she can see. Loved, she loves… and then goes and tells what she has seen, known, and loved to the other disciples. She tells the story.
Pastor and author, Michael Yaconelli has written about an experience that the youth group at his church had. They would visit a nursing home, faithfully every month, leading a worship service there. Daryl was a reluctant adult volunteer. He was ok working with the youth group, but he wasn’t comfortable visiting the nursing home. He thought it was depressing…he didn’t know what to do or say…going there made him feel nervous, awkward and out of place.
Once while visiting, Daryl leaned against the back wall, trying not to be noticed as the youth led the worship. As the service ended, and as Daryl was thinking about a quick exit, someone grabbed his hand. Startled, Daryl looked down to see a very old man in a wheelchair holding on to his hand tightly. The man was frail and obviously lonely. What could Daryl do, but hold his hand back?
The man’s name was Oliver Leak, and his 92-year-old frame was bent and twisted, his face covered with deep wrinkles, and his mouth open most of the time. Oliver’s face was expressionless, and Daryl doubted whether the man could even see or hear him.
As everyone began to leave, Daryl realized he didn’t want to leave the old man. Confused by his feelings, Daryl leaned over to Oliver and whispered, “I’m uh…sorry…I have to leave. But I’ll be back. I promise.” Without any warning, Mr. Leak responded by squeezing Daryl’s hand and then let go. Daryl’s eyes filled with tears, and he grabbed his stuff and started to leave. Inexplicably, Daryl heard himself say to the old man, “I love you.” As he walked out, he wondered to himself “Where did that come from? What’s the matter with me?”
Daryl came back the next month…and then the next. The routine was the same. Mr. Leak would grab his hand. Daryl would say he had to leave. Mr. Leak would squeeze his hand and Daryl would say softly, “I love you, Mr. Leak.”
On Daryl’s sixth visit to the nursing home, something was wrong. Mr. Leak didn’t come to the worship service. Fearing the worst, Daryl asked a nurse about him, and the nurse led Daryl to Room 27, where Oliver Leak lay in his bed, his eyes closed, his breathing uneven. It was obvious that Mr. Leak was approaching the end of his life. Daryl knew this might be his last time seeing the old man. So, he simply sat there, holding his hand, and talking to him.
Finally, Daryl needed to leave. He squeezed Mr. Leak’s hand for the last time and said “I’m sorry, Oliver. I have to go. I love you.” As he let go, he felt Oliver squeeze his hand.
With tears in his eyes, Daryl turned to leave, and was startled to see a young woman standing in the door who he did not recognize. She said “You’re Daryl. The nurse told me about you. I’ve been wanting to meet you. I’m Oliver’s granddaughter. He’s dying, you know.” “Yes, I know” Daryl replied.
She continued: “The doctors say my grandfather can’t talk, but he always talks to me. Not much, but I can understand him. Last night when I was here he woke up. We talked, and he said, “Please say goodbye to Jesus for me.” I whispered to him “Grandpa, I don’t need to say goodbye to Jesus, you’re going to be with him soon and you can say ‘hello.’ But Grandpa got this smile on his face and said, ‘I know, but Jesus comes to see me every month and he might not know I’m gone.’ Grandpa closed his eyes and hasn’t spoken since. I imagine Jesus is very glad to have been mistaken for you, Daryl. I know Grandpa is glad. Thank you.” And she hugged the stunned man and left. Mr. Leak died peacefully the next day.
Daryl went to that nursing home with a set of expectations. And those expectations met a new reality. Maybe old Mr. Leak was mistaken in thinking that his visitor was Jesus, but I don’t think so. I just think he was able to name it. That old man recognized the presence of Jesus inside Daryl. He saw, and he knew, and he loved something that Daryl didn’t even see within himself.
This is the Easter story, my friends. It is when the old expectations for death are blown away by something new! And it is a story full of good news. Jesus is risen! Jesus is risen indeed! Alleluia! And Jesus, the risen Lord sees you, knows you, and loves you.
- Jesus sees things in you that you might not even see in yourself.
- Jesus recognizes things in you that you might not recognize in yourself.
- Jesus loves things in you that you might think make you unlovable.
Jesus, he knows you, and he loves you anyway. And on those occasions when we don’t recognize him, he looks at you and calls you by name: “Mary,” or “Jason,” or “Greg,” or “Jennifer,” or whatever your name is; Jesus calls you.
And just like Mary Magdalene, you are his follower; he is your friend, and he knows you. There is a relationship. And that makes all of the difference. He calls you by name, and like a fog lifting, suddenly you see him. “Rabbi! Teacher!”
Known, you know. Seen, you can see. Loved, you can love…
And like Mary Magdalene, we can go and tell the story of what we have seen, known, and loved.
He is risen! He sees, knows, and loves you. No go and tell the story. Thanks be to God!