"By Your Name": Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year B

"By Your Name": Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year B

Apr 01, 2018

Passage:John 20:1-18

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Easter

Category: Hope, Mercy, Resurrection

Keywords: easter, hope, love, mercy, resurrection


Mary Magdalene stands crying outside the empty tomb and mistakes the risen Jesus for the gardener. Only when he calls her by her name does she recognize him. What does this say for us this most holy Easter?


In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Happy Easter morning!

The powerful and provocative story from John reminds us again this morning why we are here.

Just outside of Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago on a similar Sunday morning to this, Mary Magdalene makes her way to the tomb of Jesus. A most devoted follower, disciple, and friend, Mary is grieving the death of her teacher... her rabbi... her Messiah--Jesus.

When she arrives at the tomb she's shocked to find it open--the stone has been rolled away from the entrance. She runs as fast as she can to tell the other disciples. Simon Peter and the beloved disciple have a footrace to get back to the tomb. The two enter the tomb, see the linen wrappings rolled up neatly, then they leave, not fully understanding what they have seen.

But Mary remains.

She is grief stricken.

Her world, which was already upside-down with Jesus' death, now makes no sense at all. Where could they have taken his body?

What's going on here?

Mary stands there weeping and crying.

She's in a panic. The world is not as she understood it to be.

But then...

Something amazing happens.

She sees two messengers of God, who ask her why she is crying. Importantly, their question does not hold criticism. It's not an accusation. You see, it's okay to cry when we are grieving. These angels are simply providing a "compassionate inquiry." They ask: "Woman, why are you weeping?"[1]

Mary is certain that Jesus' body has been stolen, so she answers them: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

Right when she says this, Jesus appears behind her, asking her again why she is crying. In her grief, she doesn't even recognize him, mistaking him for the gardener.

Jesus also looks on her with compassion and asks her why she's crying.

She is so lost in her sadness.

"Who are you looking for?," he asks.

She begs: "If you've carried him away, tell me where! I'll take him away."

She's flailing. She's desperate for answers... desperate for hope... desperate for action.

Then... Jesus calls her by her name: "Mary"... and everything changes.

She immediately sees him for who he is. THIS is not the gardener.

This is her Rabbi. This is her Messiah. THIS is her Lord.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Like the sheep who recognize the voice of that shepherd, Mary now knew that voice... and the shepherd knows each sheep by name![2]

This is true for all of us. ALL of us.

Jesus knows us all by name!

My mother, Joyce, often tells a story of her own encounter with Jesus calling her name in a time of grief and confusion.

More than fifty years ago, my parents had been happily expecting their first child. They went through all the normal first-time parent preparations. They fixed up a nursery. They bought baby clothes and toys. They dreamed and planned and prepared.

Then the day arrived for the blessed event.

They went to the hospital and there, my mother gave birth to their first-born son. They named him Harvey Rudolph Pace, III, after my father.

But there was a problem.

The doctor told my parents that Baby Dolph had difficulties. In fact, baby Dolph had Down's Syndrome.

And more than fifty years ago, the doctors recommended to mothers that they consider institutionalizing their Down's children.

Lying there in the hospital, my mother was heartbroken.

She was grieving and did not know what to do.

The doctors gave their opinions, but left it up to her.

She prayed and she cried.

She cried and prayed.

She was flailing. She was desperate for answers... desperate for hope... desperate for action.

An attendant brought baby Dolph to my mother to try nursing him. As he nursed and his blue eyes looked up into hers, with tears rolling down her face, mom prayed. She had a vision.

She saw Jesus standing in the garden beside the empty tomb.

Jesus asks her: "Woman, why are you crying?"

There's no accusation here. It's okay to cry when we are hurting or grieving.

She answers him: "What am I to do about baby Dolph?"

Jesus looks at her lovingly and says: "Joyce, your name is 'Mother.'"

That was it.

She knew. Jesus knows her name... her heart... her needs... her hope.

Dolph is the oldest of the three children raised by my father and my mother--including me and my sister, Joy. In fact, Dolph's now fifty-three years old and still lives with my mother Joyce, who Jesus knows by name.

When Jesus calls Mary by her name, in that moment, Mary Magdalene had the privilege of understanding the full nature of God's promise in Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of God's assurances from the beginning of creation. Jesus is the Word who brought into being all that is, for the purpose of living in God.

When Jesus overcomes the grave, this means that we all overcome the grave. God's grace and God's mercy extends this resurrection to us all.

In other words, we don't have to just sit in darkness, struggling to make it through to another day in this life. We are promised--each and every one of us by name ­--  that the Good Shepherd will provide a new life that abides in God forever and ever.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen,

The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!



[1] Thanks to Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of John (Harrisburg, NY: Morehouse Publishing, 2007), 81-85.

[2] Ibid., 84.