Your Name, God’s Lips
John 20: 1-18
What’s it like when your name is called?
Sitting in line at the DMV, updating your Facebook status by iPhone, waiting hours for your turn in line. How does it sound when your name is finally called? How about waking up from sleep, groggy, with your mom calling your name, turning on the overhead light, saying, “We have to leave in 45 minutes”? Or at the doctor’s office, waiting to be called back to hear what’s wrong? Your roommate comes home to find you’ve eaten all of her Easter care package candy – how does it sound when she yells your name then? More quietly, what’s it like when you hear your name whispered, an inch from your ear, in the tender tone of your beloved?
Names are not simple words. Each time we hear them spoken they ring with the echoes of other times our names have been called, other circumstances, other voices. They evoke the ones who named us in the first place. Our names sound differently to our ears depending on whose voice is saying them or if we are guiltily munching on stolen Easter candy at the time.
I wonder how Mary heard her name that morning in the dark next to the tomb.
She’d been pretty busy, walking to the tomb, running back to tell Peter something was wrong, and back to the tomb again. By the time she hears her name, Peter and the other disciple have seen the empty tomb, the linen wrappings left behind, and returned home believing.
Who knows what she’s thinking? It’s not like the other disciples recited creeds to let her know just what they ended up believing about all that had happened. They saw, we’re told they believed, and then they headed home. Maybe Mary is crying not only because she doesn’t know what’s happened to Jesus’ body, but also because her friends have just left without a word. It must have been a lonely moment.
And then this strange gardener starts talking to her. It doesn’t sound like much of anything at first. Just ordinary words from an ordinary man in a graveyard. So Mary behaves in a pretty ordinary way at first, too. She launches into it: If you know where they’ve taken him, please tell me. I promise to take care of him and get out of your hair if you’ll just please tell me what’s happened here and where he is now.
“Mary!” That’s Mary with an exclamation point. Forceful, direct, punctuated. Don’t you wonder how that sounded to her? Did she recognize his voice or was it something about hearing her name on God’s lips that brought her home again? When that strange gardener is revealed as Jesus himself, it’s because of this one word. “Mary!” It stops her cold in her rambling. It stops everything.
That’s all he says at first, just “Mary.” It’s him! It’s Jesus! She hears her name and knows that all he has ever said is true. He is the same but the whole world has changed, been made new. Promises fulfilled. Grief transformed to joy. Death overcome.
Next Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him. Most biblical scholars and readers I’ve encountered seem to hear this as a warning. As if Mary is headed for him with open arms and he waves off the hug and admonishes her. But our friend Debra Rienstra (goodpreacher.com) helped me read this a different way. She points out that somewhere in this encounter, in the midst of the name-calling and recognition, Mary has already grabbed hold of Jesus, already embraced him. He isn’t warning her to stay away but letting her know that it’s time to move on. He has allowed her embrace but now he has a job for her and it’s time to go.
And she does. She goes and announces all that happened, the first witness and evangelist to the resurrection.
I still wonder how Mary heard her name that morning in the dark next to the tomb. What did the sound of her name convey? Did she hear that exclamation point – “Mary, pay attention!”? Or did it sound like a question on the lips of Jesus – “Mary will you go tell everyone what’s happened?”
How does it sound to you? Mary’s there so that we can be, too. Mary’s there, imperfect and ordinary, to demonstrate how we might encounter Christ. Mary shows us how to respond when our names are called – and they are. Your name, God’s lips.
What’s it like when your name is called? The Good Shepherd calls each of us by name and he is confident that we’ll hear his voice and know him and follow where he leads. The gate’s been opened. The sting of death removed. Our failures redeemed… The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ poured out for you.
Your name, God’s lips. Don’t linger too long at the mouth of the tomb. Enjoy the embrace but then let go, confident you’ll hear your name called many times. Let go now and run through the gate he’s holding open. Run out to tell everyone the good news!
Thanks be to God!
© Deborah E. Lewis 2011