Parish Eucharist 16th April 2017
I have called you by name
Sermon for Easter Sunday 2017 – Acts 10: 34 – 43; John 20: 1 – 18
I have called you by name
I began my sermon by calling out various names, ending with Mary.
I wonder if have just called out your name – and how it felt if I did. Our names are important to us. Although we may share them with many others, they still give us a sense of who we are, as if they somehow hold our identity. We are sensitive to their sound, and especially to the sound of someone familiar, someone who loves us, calling our name. So Mary Magdalen, griefstricken and blinded by tears, who cannot see angels when they are right in front of her – never mind the risen Christ – instantly recognises the sound of His voice calling her name.
Names are important to God too. Back in Genesis, in the story of Creation God names things as He creates them – Day, Night, Sky, Seas….and so on. And he gives to Adam and Eve the job of naming all the living creatures. Sometimes we read in the Bible that God gives a new name to someone – so Abram, the founder of the Jewish nation becomes Abraham as a sign of the promise that he will be the ancestor of a multitude. Jesus does the same many centuries later when he tells Simon that from now on he will be Simon Peter- the rock on which He will build His church. Peter then has to learn, painfully, to become that rock.
Mary Magdalen’s name shows her origins. She is Mary of Magdala, a Roman garrison town near Jerusalem where there would have been prostitutes. We can’t be certain, but tradition identifies her with the woman who was a sinner who anointed Christ’s feet at a dinner (Luke 7:37). We do know, because Luke tells us, that she was one of a number of women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities – in fact Luke reports that seven demons had gone out from her (Luke 8:2). These women travelled with Jesus throughout Galilee and supported him. So, for whatever reasons Mary was someone whose life had been rescued, turned around by Jesus. She was filled with gratitude, love and devotion to him. John’s Gospel tells us she was one of the few who remained with Jesus to the end, standing at the Cross when most of His disciples – even including Peter – had run away (John 19:25).
Her love and devotion now brings her, early in the morning on the third day, to Jesus’ tomb, hoping that she can do one last service for her Lord. But everything has changed. The stone has gone. The body has gone. All is confusion and bewilderment.
And instead of the task she thought she was going to do – anointing Jesus’ dead body. Her living Lord sends her off to tell the other disciples that He has risen from the dead and is going back to God the Father. Suddenly grief turns to amazement and joy; her life has new purpose.
God has always been calling His people. He has never stopped. Hundreds of years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah writes these words to encourage and reassure God’s people:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine”
God is still calling – in any way and by any means that we will listen. In our own time the poet John Fuller writes of a mysterious elusive sense of being called. Here are some of his words:
There, don’t you hear it too?
Something is calling, although
The day is blank and gray.
The eye fastened on nothing,
The ear undistracted
And we with nothing to say.
But still that sense of calling,
Of something seeking attention
Beyond our consciousness.
God is still calling. Today, on Easter Day, Christ calls us all. We may, like Mary, have spent the last days following the events of his Passion, watching at the foot of the cross, feeling the emptiness of Holy Saturday. We may, like Peter, have denied him, or like most of the disciples have absented ourselves. Or we may have stumbled upon the Easter story like the centurion at the Cross or the guards who fled terrified from the tomb. It doesn’t matter.
Christ is risen. He calls all of us now to share in His resurrection life. Whatever has been in the past is cancelled out, just as it was for Mary Magdalen. The slate is wiped clean. We are freed, forgiven, healed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead new lives. However uncertain and dangerous life may feel in 2017, as the balance of world powers shifts, as the old order disappears, God still calls us by name. And He says: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; you are mine.”
Alleluia. Christ is risen. Let us rise and follow him.