Can’t Find Jesus - John 20:1-18 (Sunrise Service Sermon)
It was a year and a half ago that we bought our college-aged son a Tile. No, not tile, a Tile. Tile are used to tag things that you might lose so that you can use your smartphone to locate the lost item. The thing about the Tile is, though, that individually they cost $20, or you can purchase four for $60, and they only last a year. So, what would make us spend that kind of money for a 2”x2” square piece of plastic. We had made our way to the other end of the state to watch Davey run in the Cradle to the Grave 30k run in the Pisgah National Forest. We ended up in the mountains well before he did. We kept trying to get in touch with him, and finally did. We found out he was running behind because he had lost his wallet…with all his cash, debit cards, and ID…and had never found it. He had $20 and was driving through the Blue Ridge Parkway with his gas warning light on, coasting down every mountain in an effort to stretch the gas to Brevard. We met him when he finally got of the Parkway and we could meet up with him. We filled up his car with gas…had a great couple of days in Brevard (well, as good as you can have in the mountains) …and on Sunday, he found his wallet…while looking for something else in the backpack he had carried with him all weekend. This is not the first time he had lost his wallet, just the first time that we were close enough to be a rescue for him.
To be honest, when I purchased his Tile, I thought about picking up some to tag the stuff I misplace and lose. However, if I was to try and tag everything that I typically misplace with a Tile, I would almost need to purchase their warehouse. I would need to tag my keys, my wallet, my phone, my glasses, all the remotes in the house, my coffee thermos, my water bottle, my car in the parking lot of any shopping center or hospital, and many days I would have to find a way to Tile my mind.
Most of us have things we lose or misplace and if the Tile was less expensive, we might all have things we usually lose tagged to be able to find easier. However, not many of us have the problem losing what Mary Magdalene thought she had lost, what she knew someone had stolen.
Mary Magdalene and the other women had watched exactly where Joseph and Nicodemus had put the body. Tears most likely filled their eyes as they watched the man they loved so much, who had loved them so much, placed in this nearby garden tomb. They watched the two men seal the tomb with the huge stone. They could not come back the next day for it had been the Sabbath, so here she was, prepared to say her final goodbyes and anoint his body with perfume one last time.
Something was wrong. The stone was moved. The tomb was no longer sealed. Slowly she peered into the darkness. It was just as she feared. She couldn’t find Jesus. He wasn’t there. She turned and ran as fast as she could. Somebody had taken Him. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew who would—they might even know where His body was—maybe one of them had moved the body for some reason. Mary’s legs couldn’t carry her fast enough, and she found them…they were gathered in the room where they had secluded themselves waiting for the courage to come out of hiding. They may have even spent the Sabbath hiding away in that room. She found all eleven of them and told them that she couldn’t find Jesus, someone had taken His body.
Peter and one of the others, most figure it was John, took off running. She had to be wrong. They knew that they would get to the tomb and find Jesus’ body. Mary just hadn’t looked very well. Maybe the shadows had fooled her. Maybe she had looked in the wrong part of the tomb. Maybe she had just seen the stone moved and let it spook her and she never really looked in. They knew they would find Jesus—his cold body in that cold tomb.
They arrive. Mary was right about the stone. It was moved. Once they found Jesus’ body inside, they would have to check with Joseph and Nicodemus and see if one of them had come back for some reason, and just not been able to get the stone back in place. The two of them slide into the darkness to confirm that Jesus was still there. What they found was that Mary had not lost her mind or her skills of observation. She was telling the truth. Jesus was gone. Someone had stolen his body, and left the burial clothes behind. The two men looked at one another, exchanged a sorrowful hug, then slowly walked to their homes, sorrowful that the grave of their friend had been so terribly desecrated. Again, they decided they would definitely have to check with Joseph and Nicodemus…just maybe for some reason, they had to come back and move Jesus. Surely, they would know what was going on. All Peter and John knew was that, like Mary, they couldn’t find Jesus.
How many of us have had times in our lives where we looked, but felt like we couldn’t find Jesus?
Maybe we have been like Mary in a season of mourning. A loved one has died. Maybe we knew it was coming—maybe we had watched them suffer and struggle, for weeks, for months, maybe for years, and then they weren’t with us anymore. Maybe that sudden absence came quickly, either from a sudden illness or a tragic accident. In the midst of that pain and loss, we try and search for Jesus and through our tears, we can’t find Jesus. It seems as if we are alone and abandoned.
Maybe the absence seemed to occur on a larger scale. It has been almost seventeen years, but I still remember the response of so many following 9/11. It was there after Hurricane Harvey. I’m sure it was there after the attacks at Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, and Parkland. It happens with almost every disaster, almost every attack. Many folks questioning their faith, many more questioning our faith. They say, “We don’t see your Jesus. He’s not here. He’s still in a cold tomb somewhere.” Maybe the shock of a sudden tragedy even leaves us searching for Jesus and not able to find Him at first.
Maybe we find ourselves in the middle of a place we should never have gone. We found ourselves surrounded by the sin we have chosen for ourselves. The bills are piled high and the collection calls keep coming in. We anxiously await the test results after years of promiscuity. Every joint from our hips to our knees to our ankles ache from carrying the weight of yet another round four trips through the buffet line. We find our reputation taking hit after hit as our name travels through the same gossip lines that we have so often used talk about others. We find ourselves standing before the judge as our temper has led us beyond words to actions of violence we never thought ourselves capable. We struggle to catch our breath and focus our minds after years of taking abusive substances into our bodies. We can’t find Jesus in the midst of any of it.
That is when we need to know the rest of Mary’s story. The disciples had left. Mary was alone. That is, she was alone until she sensed the presence of someone else. Thinking him the gardener, there to make sure everything was in order, and thinking that maybe he had moved the body, she pleads with him to reveal the location of her teacher, her friend, her savior. That’s when she hears it, “Mary.”
She hears her name…she knows the voice. It is Him. She had looked for Him in the tomb, and He wasn’t there…He wasn’t there because no longer bound by the tomb, He was alive and there with her. She couldn’t find Jesus, but Jesus found her.
That’s the story of Easter. We constantly look for life in the places of death—not realizing that Life has already found us.
We might look for Jesus and not be able to find Him in the face of illness and accidents thinking Jesus is only to be found in the cure and miss seeing that He is there carrying our loved one and walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death…that we may never experience the true touch of death and its finality, the darkness of nothingness.
We might only look for Jesus in the prevention of disasters and attacks thinking that if Jesus were to be found, the tragedies would never have happened. We fail to realize that the reason that we can’t find Jesus is because He is not to be found in the prevention but in the providence—in the strength and resource that God gives us to survive the tragic events of a fallen world.
We might have trouble finding Jesus in the midst of our sin…because we are in the midst of our sin, because with sin comes death…when we hear the voice of Jesus calling our name to turn from the paths and places of death and turn toward Him and find not death, but the opportunity of a forgiven, new, and resurrected life with Him.
My brothers and sisters, we may find ourselves having trouble finding Jesus…our lives may feel overwhelmed with the darkness of an empty tomb…but let us remember that the empty tomb is not there because we’ve lost Jesus, we simply need to become still and listen…listen for Him to speak our name—for when we can’t find Jesus, He will find us, and as He wipes away our tears, we will realize that He has never gone anywhere, that He is with us, and that He will never abandon or desert us—and our darkness can turn to dawn as we announce to the world, “My Savior has found me, and I have seen the Lord.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.