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March 29, 2016, 8:43 AM


John 20:1-18
I love baptisms, whether I’m officiating or in attendance. I love baptisms. I love the joy, the liturgy, the sense of hope and expectation that hovers, Spirit-like, in the air. I love the flow of the sacrament: the words of invitation, the symbols of faith, the questions, the blessing of the water, the act of baptism itself, and the words of welcome. I don’t know if we should have a favorite part, but I really love the naming. Just before that Spirit-filled water touches the head of the one being baptized, they are named, usually the full name. “Jane Marie Doe, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” There is this balance of solemnity and joy in the statement. And I always imagine, behind the words spoken by the minister, the whisper of God can be heard. This moment of baptism is held within community but it is so deeply personal. This isn’t some generic act, it is specific. This named person is the one being baptized. This named person is being welcomed into the community of God, which is world-wide and diverse. This named person is being called into a life of discipleship, blessed by the Holy Spirit.
No matter what Juliet pines to Romeo from the balcony, there is something about a name. It is a critical part of our identity. When someone speaks our name it grabs our attention like very little else can. It calls us back to ourselves, refocuses us when our thoughts wander, and calls us to alertness.  When we are named we are being attended to; sometimes in positive ways, sometimes not. When one of my parents called me by my full name it usually meant I was in trouble—Teressa Jo McConnell. I certainly knew I was being attended to.  So in our baptism, when our name is spoken, we are called into focus in this sacred moment, to attend to these waters that will pour over our heads. Even the littlest of babies has heard their name hundreds of times before it is spoken in their baptismal moment. There is something about a name.
It was all Mary needed.
The Gospel of John is wondrous in its simplicity and its complexity. John uses such simple and beautiful Greek but he conveys such depth and meaning in his storytelling. So much is at play in this wonderfully familiar resurrection passage. Mary arrives in darkness—a popular theme in John, one that speaks of unknowing and one that hints at the dawn of creation. “In the beginning…God created the heavens and the earth…and darkness covered the face of the earth.” John tries to nudge the community receiving this beloved story to remember how John’s gospel began. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Ah, a new beginning is happening here.
Mary journeys in darkness to a garden, where she is about to encounter a new creation moment. On finding the tomb open, a lot of running happens. Mary runs back to the disciples. Peter and the Beloved Disciple sprint to the tomb. They explore inside, finding burial linens suspiciously arranged in an orderly fashion, but no body. Did the disciples seriously believe grave robbers would unwrap the body before stealing it? Uncertain what to do next, the two followers exit the scene, returning to the city and the other followers. Mary finds herself alone once again in this garden as the light of dawn begins to lighten the sky, but not her yet. Not her heart, not her mind, not her soul.
Mary begins to wail—translations like to soften it to weeping, but she is wailing the mourners wail. She is bereft and alone and afraid and lost. Not only is she grieving the loss of the One who has completely redeemed and restored her, but now she cannot even spend time alone at this grave in prayer, grief, and remembrance. The One who lifted her out of the darkness of seven demons is dead and his body is missing—she is wailing in despair and grief. Is it any wonder she seems unaffected by the sudden appearance of two individuals in the once empty tomb? Is it any wonder that when someone speaks to her from behind, she mistakes them as the gardener? Her entire self is focused on one need, find Jesus’ body. She cannot perceive anything else.
Not until she is named. “Mary!” It is all Jesus has to say. “[The Shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.” 6 Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.” (John 10:3-6) Oh, but now we understand. “Mary!” Jesus calls, and Mary’s world is again changed forever. All of that pain and grief, confusion and anguish that drug Mary down into further darkness falls away as Jesus attends to Mary—calls her name, focuses her attention, returns her to herself…and to him.
Jesus calls Mary into this new creation birthed from the empty tomb in the garden, as the light of a new day dawns around them. Jesus calls Mary to new life, and then sends her forth out of this garden in joy, to share the wondrous news for the first time, the news of resurrection.  She is baptized in the Spirit of Life, of Hope, of Love. “I have seen the Lord!”
As those named and baptized as well, this story is our story. We have gathered here on this Resurrection morning to hear again this story of wonder and joy, and to find ourselves within it. Though it is light outside, other types of darkness may have journeyed here with us: the darkness of loss and violence in our world as our hearts and minds still ache for the terrorist attacks in Belgium and Egypt, Turkey and Nigeria, Pakistan and the Ivory Coast; the darkness of loss of beloved members in our communities of Oneonta, Cooperstown, Schenevus, and Laurens; the darkness of division and disagreement in our nation, in our communities, and in our world; the darkness of stress, grief, depression, loneliness, illness, and so much more. Perhaps we understand all too well the cloud of pain wrapped around Mary as she wails outside the empty tomb.
Jesus knows your name too. And mine. Jesus speaks it even now, attending to us, refocusing us, calling us back to ourselves, and to him. Can you hear it? Jesus calls us by name, that name that was spoken at our baptism. Jesus calls us into this new creation, this new life, found in our relationship with him.  That darkness that followed us into this space, that darkness of violence and grief and illness and despair, it will never, ever have the final say. We have gathered here to remind ourselves that the final word belongs to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, breathing love, calling your name. We have gathered to witness together the good news, “We have seen the Lord!” And we will be sent out into that waiting world, still trapped in darkness, with such glorious good news to share! As John began the gospel in chapter one, so now the risen Christ embodies, “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, cannot understand it, and cannot dim it.” Thanks be to God. Christ the Lord is risen today!

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