Encounter at the Tomb

John 20:1-18

The iron fist of Tome came down and it was supposed to be over. Failure, loss, the body safe in the tomb and then comes this morning. This morning when Mary came early to weep, to mourn the loss of Jesus her teacher. When she sees the stone is rolled away she goes for help and Peter and the beloved disciple come back and don't get it either. Its empty he's gone, they took him and they leave. This just adds another layer of loss for Mary. Mary the women healed by Jesus he cast out seven demons from her. Mary is in a fragile state of mind, so she is weeping and the gardener comes, at least this is who she expects to encounter. Then when Jesus speaks her name she knows, her perspective shifts and she knows it is the Lord.

We shouldn't judge her too harshly because this is the resurrection story. Stories of not recognizing and not expecting to encounter Jesus. Isn't this the way we are? We want some shining break through moment where we can say, "See there is Jesus", yet it doesn't work that way. Being attuned to encountering Jesus means we need to be attentive to where we are, who is in front of us, what is going on. The previous Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold described it this way at an Episcopal Youth Event (this is paraphrasing and from my own memory). He expected to encounter Jesus at his retreat with the monks, but nothing had come through. He always did a service project when he was at this monastery and he went to feed the homeless the next day. This was where his encounter happened. Not where he expected but where God met him in one of the homeless people.

This is where the shift takes place. Just look at the scriptures the encounters happen at the tomb with Mary or the women in general. All the gospels tell us the women were the first to the tomb. It is here where they expect to encounter death that they see Jesus or angel with the news he is risen, go and tell the others. The disciples are in an upper room. Locked away for fear of losing their own lives. Jesus appears among them, in their midst and he has tot eat something to prove he is real, not a ghost. The disciples are on the beach fishing and catching nothing, the stranger on the shore tells them to try the net on the other side of the boat. They bring up more fish than they can handle and the beloved knows it is Jesus and tells Peter. They are walking on the road after the crucifixion and they are talking about the disappointment in this failed Messiah. A stranger joins them, walks with them, teaches them why it had to be this way. Then it is time to part ways and they invite the stranger in for food and when he breaks the bread they know it is Jesus.

All of these encounters are shifts of perspective. We need to become attentive to where we may see the risen Christ and many times it is in the places we least expect to encounter him. There is a ministry in Boston to the homeless called Ecclesia Ministries. One year the youth group and I went to see this ministry in action and help distribute clothes for winter on the porch of St. Paul's Cathedral. While we were there several of the homeless spoke to us and told us their stories. One of them was speaking of the art program they have and showing off his work of art. Matthew raised the host above his head and in that moment I had my own Jesus encounter. It was a holy, sacred moment when all of what you could see dropped away and mystery broke wide open.

This is the encounter with Jesus. In the midst of where we least expect it. In the places where it shouldn't be. In the simple acts of service or in the simple acts of kindness we share. I have seen the Lord. Will you become a witness too?