Looking for Jesus

 

The Resurrection of Jesus

 

 Revelation 21:1-5a

 

Looking for Jesus

If someone were to ask me today, “What is this book called The Bible about?”  I would say, “It is a long story about looking for Jesus.”  Many people, in many times, and for many reasons, are looking for Jesus. — or, to be more precise, are looking for a savior, a Messiah.  In the Old and New Testament — from Abraham through John the Baptist, our Israelite ancestors prayed for, hoped for, watched for, a deliverer, a messiah. And when He was born in a Bethlehem cave, only a handful of people knew that the one they had been looking for was born.

Even those who recognized the Messiah spent a lot of time looking for him — because Jesus frequently turned up missing, or appeared in unlikely places. 

On the very night of his birth, the search began.  The shepherds are first to receive a clue:  You will find the child wrapped in blankets in an animal trough in Bethlehem. And so they went with haste and found the baby lying in a manger.  Shortly thereafter, astrologers from Persia start looking:  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? And Herod, with evil intent, says, “Go and search diligently for the child — and let me know when you have found him.”  Which leads, of course, to Herod’s own nefarious search for Jesus, but Joseph has already secreted his family to Egypt –out of Herod’s reach.

The only story of Christ’s boyhood years is, once again, hide and seek.     At age 12, Jesus is with family on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  But on the second day of their journey home, they discover that he is not among the pilgrim band.  So, his parents must return to search.  Only after three days, do they find him –only a boy– in the temple,  sitting among teachers of the law, oblivious to his parents’ frantic search.

Fast forward to adulthood, and Jesus remains hard to pin down. He secretly attends the Jewish Festival of Booths in Judea, slipping through the hands of the Jewish authorities, only to reappear in the temple, teaching. After feeding the 5,000, Jesus withdraws himself –translation: he hides– on the mountain because the enthusiastic mob is about to make him king. During most of his ministry, Jesus finds ways to evade –to hide from– those who search for him with all the wrong reasons.

But for those who sought him in truth, Christ was visibly present.  Matthew says, “He went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease among the people.”  And Christ was fond of appearing in the most unlikely places — among lepers, at the table of tax collectors, speaking with Samaritan women, parading through Jerusalem on a donkey.  But when the hour of his suffering arrived, Jesus was in clear view — making no attempt at deception. The arresting guards find him in clear view, praying in Gethsemene.  “Why have you come in stealth, under cover of darkness, to arrest me,” Christ asks.  “Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me then?” Jesus did not hide from what was to come.

And then there is the most beautiful search story of all:  Early on the first day of the week, the day after Christ’s crucifixion, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, intent on finding and properly preparing Christ’s body.  But instead, she sees that the stone had been removed from the entrance, and the body of Christ is missing! She runs to Simon Peter and John, telling them, “They, [the Romans — someone!] has taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  After the events of the past forty-eight hours, having to search for the lifeless body of their beloved rabbi is unthinkable, unbearable. Mary backs out of the tomb and stands weeping.

Peter and John confirm that the tomb is empty and, utterly defeated, they head for home.  But Mary can’t leave.  She takes a second look inside the cave, and where the body once lay now appear two angels:  “Woman, why are you weeping?” one asks.

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” she says.

Behind her, outside the entrance, a man’s voice asks the same question: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she says, “I am searching for my Lord’s body.  I do not know where they have taken him.  Please tell me so that I can take him away.”

“But, Mary, the voice interjects, turn around.”

That voice. She knows that voice.  It is. . . but it, no, it can’t be. The Lord?

“Rabbouni,” she whispers.  “Beloved teacher.”

For all who had sought the messiah, generations upon generations who had prayed for deliverance — for a savior even greater than King David.  In all the waiting world, it is a woman — one Mary of Magdala — who becomes the first to find, to witness the resurrected Christ.  She is the first to see the fullness of Christ’s glory.  For all who would believe, the search was over.  Prophecy had been fulfilled.  Through Christ, God now reigned among us. Allelujah!

But we do not stop looking for Jesus. Although we know He dwells among us, we crave the sight and companionship of Christ. We pray for eyes to see and the conviction to keep searching. //

I hope you came to church this morning not because it was the Easter thing to do, but because you are looking for Jesus — whether for the first time in your life or for the ten thousandth time.   You want to catch another glimpse of Him, hear his voice, share the bread, taste the wine.  You want to learn a little more, sit at his feet for an hour, feel his presence again. You want to touch his hands and side, and see for yourself that He did not die on a hideous cross.

For me, the odds of a Jesus sighting are very strong in a worship service.   I feel his presence in the reading of his Word, I see Him in the strength of voices praying together, I witness Him at the sight of the cross and font, in the bread and the wine.   I sense his nearness in the crimson glow of the windows, in a strain of music, in the excitement on a child’s face. Sometimes I hear Christ speak my name:  “Kellan.  Look around, I am right here, as close to you as the person on your left.  As real as your own heartbeat.”

But it is not to say that Christ cannot be spotted elsewhere.  In God’s creation– always being made new– I see the triumph of life over death, of beauty over darkness.  In friendships, I see the self-less love for which Christ gave his life.  Those who have eyes to see encounter Jesus in hospital rooms and refugee camps, college campuses and disaster sites, soup kitchens and dinner tables.  Christ is present around us, among us, in us.

But where I most see the risen Christ is in other resurrected lives –people who were dead but now live again because of Christ’s power:   Drug addicts freed from addiction through faith and now serving God; war veterans healed of PTSD through a Samaritan’s Purse program called  “Healing our Soldiers.”  Prison inmates –angry and filled with hate — now praising God because of the Kairos prison ministry. Young boys, kidnapped and conscripted into terrorist cells, reclaimed through Christian intervention and counseling.  Child survivors who have watched their families murdered and their villages torched who have been resurrected by the love of God.  Closer to home, I see Christ in marriages restored, prodigal children brought home again, grief-stricken widows loved back to live, abandoned children given homes in loving families, people now able to forgive and move forward because of the love of Christ. Where do I most find the risen Christ?  In resurrection stories such as these.

A tomb could not hold God’s son.  The vastness of Christ’s presence exceeds boundaries of place, time, gender, age, ethnicity, and religion.  There is no realm in which Christ cannot be found by those who seek him, and there is no Lazareth that Christ cannot resurrect.  Whatever is dead in you — in me– is no problem for God.

Praise be to God that we do not search for Christ among the dead, but among the living! “See,” proclaims God. “I am making all things new.”  Today is Easter.  The tomb is empty!  The old you has died, and a new you has risen with Christ.  Allelujah!  AMEN