Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
Readings for the Principal Service
O unfamiliar God, we seek you in the places you have already left, and fail to see you even when you even when you stand before us. Grant us so to recognize your strangeness that we need not cling to our familiar grief, but may be freed to proclaim resurrection in the name of Christ. Amen.
One evening recently Kateri told me about an exchange that happened between our two sons. They were hanging out with the hamsters we recently got them, Nugget and Giddy. As they played, the four-year-old casually said to the seven-year-old, “what’s Nugget’s take-out name?” After a significant pause the seven-year-old said, “what’s a take-out name?” The four-year-old replied, “the name you use when you buy something to eat or drink.” After another long pause the seven-year-old said, “Nugget doesn’t have one.” Astonished, I asked Kateri, “How does our youngest even know what a take-out name is?” Apparently he had been with her when picking up food recently, and when she gave the cashier the name “Kate,” he asked why. Kateri explained that this was her take-out name because her actual name so often gets messed up. As it so happens, I have a peculiar awareness of the creative discrepancies that can occur in these moments of exchange. About sixteen years ago I ran into a restaurant to pick up sushi while Kateri waited in the car, double-parked. When I asked for our order by name, the cashier misheard me and said “Cameron?” I was stunned. The cashier had no way of knowing that I was early in the internal process of coming out to myself as transgender and that I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the name I had been given at birth (a name I prefer not to disclose even now). But when I heard the name “Cameron” out of the blue, on the move, double-parked, something in me turned, stopped, and listened again. As I made my way back to the car I realized that in this moment of apparent misrecognition I felt oddly recognized. I found myself telling Kateri about this name. As we both sat there in the car pondering it, I felt myself being unexpectedly named by risen life.
John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection is full of misrecognition, naming, and turning. Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb grieving in the darkness of early morning. Her beloved Jesus had been horrifically executed by the Roman empire, splitting the small community of the disciples who had to figure out what came next and how to avoid getting killed themselves. Now arriving at the tomb, she found it not sealed but opened, setting off a chain reaction of chaos and further loss, of sprinting and emotion. She summoned Peter and the one John’s gospel calls “the disciple whom Jesus loved," and they sprinted to the scene. After a combination of bending, peering, and entering, with the beloved disciple somehow seeing and believing (20:8), they left Mary outside the tomb weeping (20:11). When she bent to peer into the tomb, she saw two angels at each end of the slab on which Jesus’ body had lain. She explained her grief when the angels asked her why she wept. And while her words to Peter and the beloved disciple had been “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him,” this time she says, “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (20:13). She then turned around. In this first turn, she saw a stranger standing behind her where no one had previously stood. Like the angels, this man asked her why she was weeping. And so now for a third time she spoke in her grief, only this time skipping the explanation and simply asking, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.” The Greek term for “sir” here is Κύριε, which could also be translated “Lord.” This Κύριε, so impersonal as “sir” but so potentially familiar as “Lord”, indeed echoing the “my lord” she had just spoken—this Κύριε perfectly encapsulates the bend of mis/recognition at work in this story. This Κύριε expands like a shining bubble of possibility, slowly encompassing this unfolding encounter. And when this Κύριε unexpectedly names her, “Mary!” the bubble pops with resurrection revelation.
At this speaking of her name, the text quite literally adds a new turn: “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’”(Jn 20:16) Scholars have wondered about this seemingly extra turn. Had she not just done that a moment before? Perhaps Mary had half-turned her body before and now fully faced him. Or perhaps this additional turning language is meant to signal something deeper, a soulful response to unexpected recognition. Perhaps we might read this seeming excess as a sign of the foundational turning, the conversion that lies at the very heartbeat of our lives as Christians. For conversion of life happens not simply once in our spiritual lives, perhaps dramatically for those who have had such an experience. And this turning happens not only at our baptism, the sacrament that marks our engrafting into the larger body of Christ, a body in which our broken humanity is cleansed and renewed. As our baptismal covenant makes clear in a series of promises we will soon reaffirm, this turning is an ongoing way of life. Will we “continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Will we persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves? Will we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” Yes, we will with God’s help. All of this continuing, persevering, proclaiming, seeking, serving, striving, and respecting is part of our ongoing turning, our conversion. The bending and turning of Mary, the strange interplay of misrecognition and recognition in the garden, evokes our own bending and turning, our own dynamics of mis/recognition. Her story invites us to consider how the Paschal Mystery is, as the letter to the Colossians puts it, “hidden” in our own lives. Resurrection itself prods us into a process of recognition, to identify resurrection in the midst of life, in our grief and despair, in our sprinting and bending. This process is a turning in recognition, a turning that calls us to recognize the living Christ standing before us in the person of a stranger, calling us out of ourselves, naming us anew, drawing us into growth, to an outward turning of life, inviting us to name aloud our recognition: “I have seen the Lord!”
To name and be named by risen life invites us to look for such life, or at least to be open to the possibility that resurrection may take us by surprise, may even make us laugh along the way. I can say for myself that the name Cameron stayed with me for more than a year before I turned to it again, wondering what on earth this takeout name might mean. When I looked it up online, I learned that it meant… bent. Or crooked. Crooked nose, bent stream, craggy rock. As soon as I heard that meaning, felt its accurate peculiarity, I knew it had laid a claim on me. And I can also say sixteen years later that only this year have I pondered any connection between the bend of this name and the activity of the disciples at the empty tomb. To name and be named by risen life is to embody our names, in whatever ways we each may be called. To name and be named by risen life is to take our names out into the world, to be about the mission of proclaiming the good news in example as well as in word. To name and be named by risen life is to seek and serve Christ in others, to name them not as strangers but as neighbors, friends, family, beloved. It is to honor grief as real where we may encounter it, to recognize the presence of death and loss where we see it, and to open ourselves to the risk, the vulnerability of proclaiming that even so, death does not have the final word. To name and be named by risen life is to take up the call every day to join God in realizing the dream of a good creation, or in the words of Verna Dozier and Howard Thurman, the dream of a friendly world with friendly folk under a friendly sky. So this morning, dear friends, may we bend and recognize our risen names and take them out into the world, embodying together the unfathomably good news that Christ is risen.
CODA: on Easter Monday, the day after preaching this sermon, I pulled into the YMCA in the south bay and found the word "bent": sprayed onto cement pillars all around the parking lot.
 Janet Morley, All Desires Known (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1988, 1992), 14.
 Thank you to the Reverend Gary Ost for bringing this Κύριε ambiguity to my attention!
 E.g. Karmen McKendrick, Word Made Skin: Figuring Language at the Surface of Flesh (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), Ch. 3; Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: a Theology of Remaining (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), chs. 3, 5.
 The Baptismal Covenant is on pp. 304-5 in the Book of Common Prayer.
 Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return (New York: Church Publishing, 2006 (originally published in 1991), 25.