Year B, Easter Sunday
Mary Magdalene went to the other disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord!” But isn’t it interesting that when Mary first saw Jesus she thought he was the gardener? She was looking into the tomb with tears in her eyes, and the angels asked her why she was weeping. Before she could even answer, Jesus appeared behind her and spoke to her. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
Mary looks right at Christ and does not recognize him. Supposing him to be the gardener, she asks for Jesus’ body. Mary, Peter and the other disciple had no idea that Jesus was resurrected. She looked right at him and did not recognize him. Only when Jesus speaks her name with love does she realize that the risen Christ is standing behind her!
I wonder how often Christ has stood behind or beside us and we did not recognize him? Today we celebrate that Christ is risen with joy and with song, but that is true every day. Christ is risen, and we encounter Christ over and over again. Christ is risen, and Christ is present to us in the people we meet each day.
Have you ever been surprised by a smile from a stranger on the street? You are walking, thinking your own thoughts, and unexpectedly you meet the eyes of someone else. Maybe you were just looking up long enough to avoid running into them, but your eyes meet and they smile. That’s all there is to the encounter. You pass each other and go your own ways, but your heart is briefly warmed.
There is something about encountering the person, the humanity in someone else, that reveals the image of God. When we recognize the humanity in someone else, the barriers between us fall and a new connection is made.
My wife told me a story this week about one of those moments. She was riding the bus home on Friday night and someone from the middle of the bus spoke up, asking, “Does anyone know what stop sleeping guy needs to get off at?” The other passengers looked at each other, shaking their heads. No one recognized “sleeping guy.” He was completely sacked out, with giant headphones over his ears, slumped into the wall of the bus.
The man who asked the question then said, “Well, if no one knows where sleeping guy is supposed to get off, I had better wake him up.” He reached across the aisle with his boot and pushed sleeping guy’s foot. Sleeping guy woke with a start, and the man asked him, “Hey buddy, which stop are you supposed to get off?” With bleary eyes, sleeping guy pulled his headphones off and looked out the window at the approaching stop. Then his eyes grew wide, and he exclaimed, “Here, now, this is my stop!” Stumbling to his feet he discovered that his leg had fallen asleep while he was slumped in the seat. “Oh my goodness, I can barely walk! My foot is asleep,” he said as he struggled to the doors.
Here’s the interesting thing about this story. Everyone on the bus started giving sleeping guy encouragement as he got off the bus. “Just walk it off,” someone said, “and your foot will wake up.” “Have a good night,” someone else said. After sleeping guy made it off the bus, the people on the bus started sharing stories about sleeping through their bus stop and ending up somewhere completely unexpected. The usual silence on the express bus was replaced with happy voices and funny stories.
By that one act of kindness, shared by several strangers on a bus, a momentary community was created. The people on the bus experienced and recognized and shared their common humanity, for a few stops, and then each of them got off the bus and went home.
I heard another amazing story from one of my professors in seminary, Bishop Mark Dyer. When he was serving as bishop he traveled to Calcutta, India to meet Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. He spent days walking through the slums of Calcutta with his guide, a young sister of the order. One day, as they pushed through the crowd at the edge of a market, a beggar asked Bishop Mark for a blessing. Mark looked at the man sitting in the street on a mat and he was horrified. The man had advanced leprosy, with open sores on his head and part of his nose missing. Bishop Mark was repulsed by this image of corrupted flesh and he froze. After a long moment, the sister next to him poked him in the side and asked, “Well, are you going to give him a blessing?” Bishop Mark says that he was shamed into doing what he should have done right away. He reached out, placed his hands on the man’s head, and spoke a blessing and a prayer for healing. As he finished, the man looked into his eyes, and in that moment, Bishop Mark saw the face of Christ.
Jesus reveals God to us, and in doing so, Jesus reveals true humanity. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s intention and hope for humanity. When we realize that to be fully human is to become an expression of God’s love we also realize that when we see the true humanity of someone else, we are seeing in them the image of God. We are seeing Christ in them.
The next time your heart is warmed by an unexpected smile, or you experience a public kindness and connection, like the people who helped sleeping guy on that bus, or you look into the eyes of someone who is suffering and recognize their humanity, remember what Mary said to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord.”
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
April 5, 2015