April 16, 2017 (Early Service) – Hush, Somebody’s Callin’ My Name

John 20:1-18

Hush, hush somebody’s calling my name
Hush, hush somebody’s calling my name
Hush, hush somebody’s calling my name
Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord what shall I do, what shall I do?

Those words are part of an African American spiritual song.  We don’t know who the author is but you can picture the sentiment – hold on, someone is calling for me.  One of my seminary friends mentions that she heard her call to ministry while a women’s choir was singing this song.  She distinctly heard God calling her name.  And of course the last line of this stanza also applies – “Oh my Lord what shall I do?”

I think of the scripture passage from John’s gospel.  Perhaps we have heard this a time or two before.  We know how the events play out in this Easter account.  We heard how the women went to the tomb early in the morning to properly anoint the body of Jesus.  We know they were trying to figure out how they would roll away the great stone from in front of the tomb.  We know they encountered an angel or two inside the tomb, telling them Jesus wasn’t there and to come and see the place where he laid and the grave clothes he no longer needed.

But we also come to the part of the story where Mary was weeping outside the tomb, convinced that someone had stolen Jesus’ body and she wouldn’t even be allowed the opportunity to properly grieve.  She was right about that.  For this funeral ritual was another one that Jesus interrupted.  There would be no grieving today!  There would be no tears of sorrow and hopelessness.  There would be rejoicing and praise to God – Jesus was no longer in the tomb.

But we’ve jumped ahead a bit.  Mary at this point still doesn’t know about Jesus’ resurrection.  She encounters someone outside the tomb and assumes he’s the gardener.  She pleads with him – “please tell me where they have taken his body so I can do what needs to be done.”  All Jesus had to do is call her by name – “Mary.”  That’s all it took.  Her eyes were opened and she saw before her the man she grieved for who had hung and died on a cross just 3 days earlier.  She saw the living, breathing Jesus standing before her, alive again just as he had told her before.

One thing I appreciate about being a part of this church community is the ability to share communion.  It is a special time for me as we reenact Jesus’ time with his friends.  We are truly sharing in a blessed moment of breaking bread and drinking a small bit of juice.  Yet for all of us this is a victory dance.  This is an amazing celebration of the love of Christ for all who come together at the table, seeking comfort and peace from the ultimate life-giving force.  Can you hear Christ calling you by name?  Can you feel the presence of God in this place?  Consider where we are.  I love coming out here to spend a time of peace and awe as we experience God within the elements of creation.  Even when there are distractions all around,  here, in the presence of the cross on this sacred ground, surrounded by this natural sanctuary, there is real peace.

This story of Christ’s resurrection is not logical.  Surely somewhere along the way something went wrong and there is a valid explanation that is logical and easy to comprehend.  Maybe Jesus wasn’t really dead.  Maybe someone left an opening in the tomb that allowed Jesus to perform a Houdini magic trick and come back looking like he rose from the dead.  But consider what has been recorded.  Jesus hung on a cross for 6 hours.  He had been brutally tortured, beaten, battered with a crown of thorns placed on his head, physically nailed to a cross in such a way that had been perfected by the Romans to inflict the maximum amount of pain and suffering for the maximum amount of time.  Jesus fulfilled the prophesy taking on the role of the suffering servant and died around 3 PM on Friday afternoon.  When Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus, Pilate sent soldiers to confirm Jesus was actually dead.  For good measure they pierced his side and literally bled him dry.  Jesus died on Golgotha – of this I am sure.

Perhaps our minds have no trouble comprehending Christ’s death.  But the rest of the story makes us pause and take notice.  Christ rested on the Sabbath, but on the third day everything changed.  On the third day Christ went from being defeated to being the ultimate victor.  On the third day Jesus of Nazareth was confirmed as the son of God.  On the third day Christ arose!  We sing that song during the Easter season, “Up from the Grave He Arose.”  Today is truly a day of celebration!

“Hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name” – can you hear Jesus the Christ calling your name today?  In the midst of all your problems and trials, your physical ills and mental anguish, can you hear Jesus calling your name?  In the midst of the busyness of today, with meetings and text messages, Facebook posts, and e-mails flooding your day, can you hear Jesus calling your name?  In the middle of a constantly changing world, can we hear Jesus calling our names?  Jesus is calling us to follow him.  Jesus is calling us to remind us of his love for us, in spite of our brokenness.  Jesus is calling us to love him and love our neighbors in every way possible.  Jesus is calling our church to be his witness to the resurrection – Christ is risen!

I’ve shared this story before but I think it bears repeating.  There is a small detail of the resurrection story that is often overlooked.  Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection?  The Gospel of John (20:7) tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes.  The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin.  Is that important? Absolutely!  It really is a significant detail.

In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the master and servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished. Now if the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, ‘I’m done.’  But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the folded napkin meant, ‘I’m coming back!’
We have been placed in this story. Jesus is Coming Back!  The story doesn’t end with Easter – it only begins here.  Jesus will return to fulfill the prophesy of a new heaven and a new earth.  Yet while we are here in this life, we are called to celebrate God’s incredible love for us as we pledge to love God and love and care for each other.  We are called to feed those who are hungry. We are called to walk beside those who are struggling with addictions. We are called to be kind to those who have forgotten all shreds of kindness.  We are called to love as Jesus, who gave his all for us, first loved us.  Listen and respond – somebody’s callin’ your name.  Share God’s love with your neighbor.  Celebrate the good news of the empty tomb and our risen Lord.  Hallelujah!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Amen.

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