In the Gospels we read how Mary of Magdala came to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. It was early, before dawn. Mary had been to the garden tomb earlier, when Joseph and Nicodemus had laid Jesus’ body inside. To her dismay, the stone was now removed from the entrance, and Jesus was missing. Distraught, she ran to Simon Peter and John and told them all about it. It was true: all that remained in the tomb were the linens Jesus had been wrapped in. Jesus’ body was gone.
So the disciples decided to travel back to their homes in Galilee. Mary, however, stayed outside the tomb crying. While weeping, she bent over to look once again into the tomb. Was he really gone? This time she saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been. “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her. “They have taken my Lord away,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Mary was beside herself, lost in grief, for she could not find her Lord. Then suddenly she noticed someone behind her – the gardener perhaps? “Woman, why are you crying?” he asked her. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Mary would do anything and go anywhere to retrieve Jesus’ body. He, of all men, deserved a proper resting place.
Then she heard her name, “Mary.” In that instant Mary recognized her Lord. She clung to him and wouldn’t let him go.
When Jesus spoke her name – “Mary” – everything changed. She had been looking for Jesus, but Jesus had found her. It was she who was lost, not him. It was she, bent over in despair at the tomb, who needed lifting up. Jesus, the living one, raised from the dead, found Mary and transformed her life.
So it was for the rest of Jesus’ disciples. Cleopas was on his way to Emmaus, trying to process with a friend all that had happened to Jesus. Jesus’ closest disciples were huddled together behind closed doors in Jerusalem, mourning and afraid that they too might be arrested. Others had gone back to fishing, not knowing what else to do. Yet whether on the road to Emmaus, confused and bewildered, or in a room locked in fear, or in their boats, laboring and frustrated over yet another dismal attempt at catching fish, Jesus came to his own. In their need he spoke their name – “Thomas,” “Simon Peter,” “Cleopas” – and their eyes were opened, their hearts burned, and they believed.
The disciples, scattered and aimless, each in his or her own way was found by Jesus, brought back to life by the one who was still doing his Father’s work. “Why seek the living among the dead?” the two angels asked Mary. “He is not here; he has risen!”
Yes, Jesus was gone, missing. And yet he was alive. One by one his disciples encountered him anew and were changed forever. Jesus was on the loose, finding all those who could not find him, seeking out all those who could seek no more, revealing himself to those whose hopes and beliefs had been shattered.
As with Mary, Jesus still comes to us. Yet if we are not careful, we may not notice him. We may be too wrapped up in the material world, bent over with the weight of things that don’t last. We may even be looking where Jesus can’t be found: in buildings and books, holy places and sacred times, confessions and creeds. Jesus is not there.
And yet he goes ahead of us to our various “Galilees,” to transform those familiar places where we feel safe and secure but where we, despite all our good efforts, remain empty. He penetrates the walls we hide behind so we might believe again. He interrupts us on the roads of everyday life, in the midst of confusion and controversy, to open our hearts and minds to the kingdom of God.
Easter must never become a remembrance, a mere celebration, or worse, a discussion or debate. For Jesus wants to come to us again and again, here and now. As with Mary, he calls each one of us by name. And he asks us: Why are you crying? Who are you looking for? What are you straining to find? What is upsetting you so? Why are you afraid? He speaks into our hearts, personally, directly, so we can see him as he really is. Our lost Lord finds us.
Jesus comes to everyone who feels lost without him. This is the miracle of Easter. On our own, we can never find him. But he can find us. Our names are on his lips.