Sunday 9 April 2023 Easter Day
The Risen Lord calls you by name
Context: a congregation that includes recently arrived migrants, such as those from Hong Kong or Ukraine, many of whom have left family and friends behind and are unsure of their identity and status in the UK
Aim: to provide reassurance that Christ calls each of us by name and to speak pastorally into the feelings of confusion and disorientation that accompany many in diasporic communities
One hundred years ago, my grandfather set foot on English soil for the first time after enduring many months at sea. He had left China on a boat in the 1920s in search of a new life. And yet his arrival in this promised land was not marked with triumphant celebration. Instead, it was marred by intense confusion. In Chinese culture, it is customary to introduce yourself by your family name first, followed by your given name.
And so it was, that the British immigration officers mistook my grandfather’s given name to be our surname. Having lost his family name — and still reeling from the trauma of being smuggled under a ship — my grandfather was confused, bewildered and all alone in this new land.
ALONE AND CONFUSED
In our Gospel reading, Mary Magdalene is left alone in her confusion and bewilderment. On her first trip to the tomb, she discovers it is empty and runs back to the city to inform the disciples. They hurry to the tomb, followed by Mary, who remains in the burial garden after the two disciples head their separate ways. It is no surprise that our passage opens with the words ‘while it was still dark’. Mary is still in the darkness of her grief. Her understanding of what is going on has not yet dawned: she has not yet recognised the resurrected Jesus.
Whilst Mary is left on her own, she is not alone. She is accompanied by angelic visitors, although she does not recognize them. Neither does she recognise Jesus when he speaks to her, mistaking him for a gardener.
JESUS CALLS MARY BY NAME
Although Mary does not recognise him, Jesus recognises her. Woman, he calls her, inviting her to represent not just Eve but all of humanity. Mary — who is likely still afflicted by the previous few day’s trauma — is unable to comprehend who is standing before her, until Jesus says her name, Mary. At the mention of her name, her grief and confusion lift and her eyes are opened. Jesus moves beyond recognising Mary as a representative of all people, and instead receives her as an individual person, as someone he knows and loves by calling her by name: Mary.
JESUS CALLS US BY NAME
Jesus longs to call each of us by name. We know from John 10.3 that ‘the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name.’
One hundred years after my grandfather arrived in England — and on the night before I was ordained priest — my Bishop asked if she could call me forward using my full Chinese name, a name that was lost at sea over a century ago. And so it was, that my family’s name and identity were restored, as I was welcomed and ordained into the Church of England. This had a tremendous impact, not just on me, but on my whole family who was present at the ceremony. It was good news.
JESUS’S CALL GOES OUT TO ALL PEOPLE
Towards the end of our passage, Jesus commands Mary not to hold onto him, implying that she is embracing him tightly. It is at this point that we receive the first suggestion that Jesus’ ultimate future — and therefore the ultimate nature of faith — is for him to be ascended and to send the Holy Spirit. On the dawn of this new day, and in the garden of this new land, God is not just Father to Jesus, but to all who truly believe.
The good news of the empty tomb is that we are all now one — brothers and sisters in Christ — established on that Easter morning and made real by the Holy Spirit. This is the news that Mary goes to the disciples with. Mary has been called by name and sent to proclaim the good news. Each one of us has been called by name. Each one of us has a story to tell.
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