What a glorious day! It was my first Easter as Pastor of Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Retreat, New Jersey. I was so excited! I got there early. And when the first people arrived, I was ready to greet them, “Happy Easter! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia!” The parents shook my hands and smiled. But their little girl tugged on my stole. I bent down and she asked, “Where is Jesus?” I said, “He is alive!” She asked, “But where is he?” I said, “Well, He is right here in your heart and mine.” She persisted, “But, I want to see him. I want to see a Jesus with skin on.”
That’s what Mary Magdalene wanted on that first Easter morning. She wanted to see Jesus in the flesh—with skin on. While it was still dark, she went to the tomb. She saw the stone had been rolled away. She ran to tell the other disciples “They have taken the Lord and do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and another disciple came, went in the tomb, saw the linen wrappings, did not understand, and returned to their homes. But Mary stayed, weeping. She was not leaving until she found what she was looking for. She looked in the tomb and saw two angels, and they asked her why she was weeping? She said, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to the gardener, she asked him where they have taken Jesus. Then Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Then she recognized him. He told her to go and preach the good news. So she went to the other disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord.”
Mary found Jesus, while it was still dark, while she was weeping and sad, confused and searching for answers. That’s where Mary found Jesus, and where Jesus found Mary. And that’s where Jesus finds us. Right where we are. Just as we are. Mary saw Jesus, in the guise of a gardener, a common person who we might look right past. That’s where Mary sees Jesus. And that’s where we can see Jesus. Right where we are. Just as we are.
This Lent, we met on Wednesday nights for supper. One night, as I stood in line for supper, little 4-year old Lily and 3-year old Effy wanted to play hide and seek with me. While they hid, I counted, “1, 2, 3, 4 5,…ready or not here I come.” I opened my eyes. I didn’t have to search long. They were standing by the prayer wall, in plain sight, where I could easily find them. I said, “Lily, Effy, I found you.” And they giggled with delight.
That’s how it is with Jesus. He hides where we can find him—in the people all around us. He hides where we can see him—if we open our eyes and look.
This past week, there were some Jesus sightings reported by Community church members:
Jesus was seen in the smile of a woman who brought flowers to a woman in a rehabilitation home.
Jesus was seen in the hands of the people who helped a woman who had fallen down and could not get up.
Jesus was seen in the faces of the homeless men at Men’s Shelter as they enjoyed their colored Easter eggs.
After supper each Wednesday of Lent, we met in small groups to discuss the book Meeting Jesus on the Margins. In it, we discovered an astonishing truth: Jesus can be found where we least expect to find him: in the hungry and thirsty, in the stranger and the naked, in the sick and the prisoner.
It says: “When we recognize Christ’s presence as we gather around tables with the poor, feeding programs transform into Eucharistic celebrations, as hearts are filled along with stomachs. When we join in the meal we soon discover that we, too, are the hungry in need of food. We, too, are the lonely, afraid, and in need of friendship. We discover Christ in the other person and Christ in ourselves.”
Friends, that’s the true meaning of Easter. It gives us new eyes to see. Through our Easter eyes, where there is conflict, we can see compromise. Where there is despair, we see hope. Where there is sorrow, we can see joy. Where there is sickness, we can see healing. Where there is death, we see new life.
With Mary, we can say, “I have seen the Lord.” Because with Easter eyes, wherever we look, we see Jesus—with skin on!