On 27 March, Easter Day, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Isaiah 65:17-25, Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18.
Well here we are, at the Big Day which we’ve looked forward to for over six weeks! I imagine we have each had a different journey through Holy Week in terms of times of worship and prayer in order to arrive at Easter Day.
Here on Epiphany Island we began with reading through Luke’s account of Jesus’ Passion on Palm Sunday. Then on Good Friday at our Tenebrae service we read through John’s account of the Passion. At our Easter Vigil yesterday we read Matthew’s account. Today we could have had either Luke’s or John’s account of that first Easter morning. In my offline church we also read through the same readings on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. This morning our vicar chose to read from John.
There is an advantage in hearing the retelling of the Easter story several times in quick succession. I think it gives an opportunity to really get into the story again, rather than believing we know it all already. There is a chance that something new might jump out at us and make a real impact. As I listened in church this morning, I was struck by something that Jesus said and I made a connection I’ve not made before which I’d like to share with you.
In John’s account of the betrayal of Jesus on the Thursday night, when Judas brings the soldiers and police to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stepped forward into the light of the torches. He asked the group coming to arrest him: “For whom are you looking?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” When Jesus told them: “I am he” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Falling to the ground is something that we read of people doing in the presence of God. Perhaps it was Jesus’ use of “I am”, the name of God, which left them awestruck. Perhaps it was Jesus’ demeanour and authority.
When they had set off, it seems the group had expected to deal with some desperate criminal who would resist arrest. In fact, in Luke’s account Jesus questions whether they had come with swords and clubs as if he were a bandit. Certainly when the story later tells of the charges against Jesus brought for Pilate’s consideration, it’s possible to believe that Jesus was a terrible trouble maker. The name Jesus of Nazareth was associated with trouble for the Pharisees who had sent the arresting squad. Yet the arresting squad met someone calm and commanding who had the presence of God about him. This was not what they expected. Jesus had to tell them twice who he was before they could gather their wits enough to arrest him. Their preconceived ideas were thoroughly challenged by Jesus.
Fast forward to today’s part of John’s Gospel and we find Mary turning from the empty tomb to address the gardener. The idea had formed in Mary’s mind that ‘they’ had taken her dead Lord away. She had come to the tomb to find the body of her dead Lord and do for it what was right and proper, but it was not there. Jesus said to her, “For whom are you looking?” When she addressed him as the gardener Jesus spoke Mary’s name and she fell at his feet on recognising her Teacher, not the gardener she had assumed he was. Jesus was very much alive, certainly not a corpse.
To both the group of soldiers and police and to Mary, Jesus addressed the same question: “For whom are you looking?” Both found Jesus to be more, much more, than their expectations. He was not a common bandit, but the Son of God. He was not a dead rabbi but a living Saviour.
Whether we have been Christians for many years or are only now tentatively exploring Christ’s claims, we approach Jesus with expectations. Maybe we need peace, or healing, or forgiveness, or wisdom, or hope in a dark time, or something to assuage our loneliness and isolation, or reassurance about our future. Jesus turns to each of us and asks, “For whom are you looking?” Whatever it is that we are looking to Jesus for, he is far more than our expectations. Jesus may surprise or challenge us but he will never disappoint us. He is the answer to all our seeking.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor