On Easter Sunday Father Ben Thomas’ sermon at Saint Gregory’s Episcopal Church further enriched the Gospel passage (John 20) that pulls me deeper into it each time I read or hear it.
When Mary Magdalene journeys to Jesus’ tomb, her friend, her teacher, her Lord is gone. Where have they taken my Lord? She wants, she needs to know. Instead of answering her question, the gardener calls her name. “Mary.” By his voice she recognizes Jesus and re-calls him “Rabboni,” Hebrew for teacher.
Like the Magdalene, I’ve often imagined that someone has taken away my Lord, left me to my own limited devices. Unlike her, I feel that way when I’ve abdicated intimacy with him, when I’ve turned away from him, convincing myself he’s the one who’s forgotten me, who’s stopped calling my name.
Fr. Ben left us with a prayer that reminded me not only to reclaim my responsibility for that intimacy, but the certainty that, if I do, I will hear back: “Holy Risen Christ. Call me by my name,” the prayer went. Parenthetically, Fr. Ben added, (Who knows what might happen?)
The prayer reminded of the first time I heard my Lord’s voice. I was twenty-eight. Life was too heavy to bear. Or so I thought. I couldn’t stop drinking. Until a pastor I met only once introduced me to the possibility that, as written in Matthew 7, if I just kept knocking on the door I could, would be called out of my misplaced despair. I knocked on the door of hope as if my life depended on it. Because it did.
Then, one gloomy-turned-glorious day in Upstate New York, I heard him call my name. “Marleen, you’ve had enough.” And that was that. With the drinking, anyway. Not with other kinds of name calling. Food. People. Television. Illness. All kinds of people, places and things still beckon me now and then to turn to them, rather than to him.
When I hear their siren songs, I sometimes try to convince myself (and you, if you’re patient enough to listen) that maybe the Risen Christ’s grown tired of my repeated need, my continued calling. That maybe I’ve already received and consumed my allotted portion of help, comfort, abundance. Then, in the same way Christ appears to the Magdalene but doesn’t respond directly to her question (“Where have they taken my Lord?), Fr. Ben—or another man or woman of faith, another teacher/rabboni—reminds me that answers may arrive in a way I can’t, on my own, imagine. That the name calling—and grace giving—needn’t end. As long as I remain willing to knock, to ask, and to turn toward the voice, his voice ready to receive.
And then: (Who knows what might happen?)