John 20:11-16, Psalm 139 a Lenten Wednesday sermon
They have taken my Lord away and I do not know where they have laid him.
Ever feel like that? I know I do. For some reason Lent always reminds me of those times when it seems like we can’t find God no matter how hard we look. It probably happens to everyone at some time or another in their faith life. Everything is going along just fine and then you suddenly realize you can’t remember where you left your Jesus.*
Actually, it’s never like that. Jesus isn’t like a set of keys you can forget to hang on the key rack or a cellphone that migrates to the bottom of a purse or a power bill that gets misplaced. And we never seem to lose track of Jesus on an ordinary day either. No, it’s almost always in the middle of a crisis or during a time of confusion or questioning what we truly value and believe that we suddenly realize we can’t remember where we put our Jesus. Or actually, much better said we seem to feel very distant from Jesus.
There’s always that annoying question people ask when you lose something : well, where did you see it last? Not helpful at all! Obviously Jesus is God not the TV remote and it isn’t about where we “put” him or “left” him, so trying to remember where we last saw him won’t really help.
Or will it?
Have you ever had a time in your life when you thought something like: Where is God in all of this? Sometimes, when we face difficult things in life, we feel like God is with us every step of the way. And then other times, we may feel utterly alone and try as we might we cannot seem to find God anywhere.
Two Alaskan explorers are having a conversation about religion. One is a Christian and the other is an Atheist. The Atheist says, “I just can’t bring myself to believe in some sort of divine being looking after us. A few years ago, I got lost out in the wilderness for days and days. No food to be found anywhere and it snowed constantly. Finally, as I fell down in the snow about to pass out from exhaustion and starvation, I found myself praying for the first time in my life. Please God, I said, save me! If you will just come and save my life, I’ll believe in you forever.”
The Christian smiled and said, “Well, see there! You’re alive and well! You must believe in God now!” “Ha!” the Atheist replied, “God didn’t save me. God never showed up. An Inuit happened to come by just by chance in the very nick of time, took me home and took care of me. God didn’t show up, but he did!”
In the text we heard tonight from the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning on the day after the Sabbath to finish preparing the body of her beloved teacher for his permanent rest in death. But she cannot find him! The tomb is empty! She is confused and, no doubt, very upset! It has been an absolutely awful few days with the arrest, torture and death of her dear friend not to mention the fear so many of Jesus’ followers had that they, too, might be arrested and put to death. She is so confused and upset that she asks a man she believes to be some sort of gardener what they have done with Jesus’ body because she cannot find him. She doesn’t even realize she is talking to Jesus himself.
Where is God in all of this? Sometimes it’s all in how we look at it. The truth is that God shows up in our lives over and over again as Inuit and gardeners, as friends and strangers and in circumstances both strange and ordinary.
The psalm we heard this evening speaks about God knowing all there is to know about us. Not just about us as humans in general but about
each specific one of us. There is no place we can go that God is not with us, whether that is up to the highest heights or the lowest depths. Even if our lives are covered in darkness, even then God is there because, as the psalmist writes, even the darkness is not dark to God and the night is bright as the day. Even when we cannot see God, God is there.
So, when you can’t seem to see Jesus, when God seems distant and the usual ways of feeling connected to God do not seem to give the same comfort they usually do, keep looking around. Where did you last see him? Was it in the eyes of a friend who was there when you needed them? Was it in the breathtaking beauty of the world around us? Did you last see Jesus in the face of a laughing child or in the simple kindness of a stranger? Maybe you last saw him when someone forgave you for a mistake you made or when you let go of your anger and resentment and forgave someone else. Is it possible that someone else’s last experience of Jesus was in your actions?
When we remember the times we’ve experienced God in the past, we begin to see Jesus showing up everywhere! If you’re looking for God, if you’re wishing Jesus would be a bigger and more visible part of your life, if you’re wondering where God is in all of this messy world, then think about it: where did you see him last?
*this is an intentional allusion to “My Jesus” ways of thinking as though the Son of God were a pet. I am not intending for this to be an endorsement of that particular view of Jesus at all.