Easter 2023: To see and be seen

This is my sermon from Easter Day. We are using Wilda Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year A. The lectionary for Easter was Isaiah 49:1-13, Psalm 18:2-11, 16-19, Hebrews 11:1-2, 23-24, 28-39, and Matthew 28:1-10.

In my family, we have one of those quirky habits that is both annoying and endearing.  My father, my brother, and a couple of uncles and cousins sometimes will respond to “Good to see you,” with “It’s good to be seen.”  Though I don’t see them often since I moved to New Jersey so haven’t heard this in years, it popped into my head when I first read today’s Gospel and then on Tuesday at the clergy Renewal of Vows service when I heard Bishop Hughes preach about people wanting to see Jesus.  Though my family members respond this way to tease, there is some truth, or perhaps there is an expression of desire, in what they say. There is something really life-affirming about seeing and being seen.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, people traveled sometimes considerable distances, across terrain that was not necessarily easy to travel, to see Jesus. It took a real commitment to get from one place to another. Yet people did this because they wanted to see Jesus. They wanted to be in his presence.  When they were seen by Jesus, they were seen for the fullness of who they were. 

I can imagine that at least some of them felt the way I imagine I would feel if I were to meet Jesus –  both really grateful and excited, and also a little bit wary and concerned, because Jesus saw the fullness of who they were.  Jesus saw all of their best traits, their strengths, and their gifts. Jesus also saw all of those things that they might want to keep hidden, from him,  from their family and friends, perhaps even from themselves.

Jesus saw it all. And, yet, Jesus saw beyond their human frailties, beyond their afflictions, beyond their brokenness.  What was more important to Jesus was the image of God in them. And when Jesus saw that, and they were present with him, they were brought to wholeness.

To see and be seen by Jesus meant healing and redemption.  And it didn’t matter how big or small the need, how relatively benign or malignant the sin.  From providing wine to all the guests at a wedding in Cana, to forgiving those who betrayed and denied him,  as well as those who sent him to the Cross, Jesus saw what was needed and offered grace, that gift which is freely given and undeserved.

In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, go to the tomb to see Jesus.  Their need to see Jesus transcends his death, which they have witnessed.  So they go.

The emotion in this story is almost palpable.  As read it, I can feel my stomach kind of in knots, as I imagine I would feel if I went to the tomb to see Jesus. I imagine the fluttering of my heart thinking about what I would do if I saw him, and then looking behind me in great surprise as the messenger of God comes down in this flashy white and says, “He’s not here.” I can imagine all of it from a place of needing to see Jesus.

These women who have followed and supported Jesus in his ministry know first-hand what it means to see and be seen by him.  They understand Jesus’ mission of mercy, justice, compassion, and hope in a way that may be hard for us over two millennia later to comprehend. 

And yet that does not stop us from seeking to see and be seen by Jesus.  Even though our relationship with him is as post-Resurrection Easter people, their need resonates deep within our souls.

We come together as a community of faith to hear the biblical stories, because they’re our stories.

We come together to receive the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist to be closer to Jesus, to acknowledge our need for redemption and healing, to be part of the communion of saints,  members of the household of God. 

And then we go into the world to share the Good News of God’s love for all people, in ways that are similar to those who journeyed with Jesus in Palestine and shared in his earthly ministry. 

We do this with the sometimes discomforting knowledge that we are seen by Jesus even before we see him, even when we don’t.

There is something incredibly and beautifully humbling about being seen and known so completely, perhaps in ways that we cannot see or know ourselves, to know that God come to live as one of us and then allowed us to take him to the Cross to die as one of us so that we might be saved healed of our brokenness and saved from our sinfulness.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus greets Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James, after they leave the tomb to go in search of him. His greeting to them is “Shalom, “which in Hebrew means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It is blessing as well as greeting.

It is a greeting and a blessing that encompasses all that he knows that they need, and that we need today.

It is a greeting and a blessing that encompasses the reason for his life, his death, and his resurrection.

It is a greeting and a blessing that expresses the fullness of God’s love for them and for us,and embodies that grace that is freely given and undeserved.

It is a greeting and a blessing that tells us that the Easter promise is being fulfilled.

Amen!  Alleluia!

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