The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
April 16, 2017
It was 1862. Henry Struble was a private in the Union Army fighting in the Civil War. Henry was injured during the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland and was taken to a field hospital. While Henry was being treated for his wounds, a fellow soldier asked Henry for a drink of water. Henry gave the man his own canteen. Soon enough, Henry was released from the hospital to fight again.
Henry Struble survived the war and, in 1867 went to the dedication of the national cemetery at Antietam in Maryland. You can imagine Henry’s surprise when he came upon his own grave, with his name on the headstone. You can almost hear Henry, stumbling upon his own grave and saying, “who, me?” It turned out that the injured man Henry gave his canteen to had died. The only identification the undertaker had for the dead man was this canteen, with Henry’s name scratched into the metal. A case of mistaken identity.
In another case of mistaken identity, Mary Magdalene assumes that the risen Jesus on that Easter morning is the gardener. She comes to the tomb expecting to find a dead man, but finds something completely different. Mary is unsure until Jesus calls her by name. We can imagine her pausing for a moment and asking, “who, me?”
Why her? Why not Peter? Why not Andrew? Why not James or John? Why not any of the other disciples who had been there with Jesus? Or, to put it harshly, why not one of the men? At the time, women were not even permitted to testify in court, because they were thought to be untrustworthy. Early opponents of Christianity mocked the Church because the first witness to Easter was a woman, Mary Magdalene. And women, they said, are prone to hysteria. With all of that crushing in upon her, Mary might have well said, “who, me?”
And Jesus says, “yes, you.” Jesus did not go to the men, who were deemed trustworthy. Jesus did not go back to the powerful, to Pontius Pilate or the chief priests to show that he had been raised again. No, he went to the one person that nobody would have suspected. Jesus chooses Mary – not Peter, or John, or James, or Andrew – he chooses Mary to be the first person to accept the grace of the resurrection. She is the one entrusted with the message. The message that Jesus has risen from the dead, turning the world upside down. That death has now become life. That where there was sorrow, now there’s joy. That where there was darkness, now there’s light. God loves the world so much, that God refuses even death to stand in the way of love. And who did Jesus want to tell this story? Mary Magdalene. Where humanity saw her as incomplete, as untrustworthy, as hysterical, God saw her heart and chose her.
Who, me? The surprise that Henry Struble felt stumbling across his own grave; the surprise that Mary Magdalene felt when she heard her own name called; is the same surprise when God calls us. And yes, God is calling to us.
Learn from Mary Magdalene; God calls us regardless of who we are; because God looks on the heart. Don’t listen to those little voices, don’t listen to the humans, to those societal currents that tell you you’re not good enough for God. Don’t let them tell you that you don’t love the right person, that you didn’t come from the right family, that you’re not right for God. The beauty of living as Easter people is that we are defined, not by others, but by God. The beauty of living as Easter people, is that where others might see us as incomplete or not enough, God sees our hearts and loves us, regardless of who we are.
Whatever it is that you’re telling yourself, whatever it is that society is telling you that prevents you from accepting the grace of God, that must die. God is calling you; even you, to see the risen Lord. And I know, I know the excuses we come up with. Those little voices in our heads that tell us we’re not good enough for this. Those little voices in our heads that say, surely, God must have made a mistake. Surely, God must have someone better in mind. I know those voices. The same voices that said we couldn’t trust Mary Magdalene.
Those are the voices that say we’re too fat, or we’re too skinny. The little voice that says we’ve screwed this up before and we’ll screw it up again. The little voice that says you’re not as good as the guy down the street who just bought a new truck, so why bother? The little voice that says you’re not as good as the other mom who posts amazing pictures on Facebook of what she makes her family for dinner, so why even try? We refuse God’s grace for ourselves.
We have done this as a parish family, as well. Surely, that cannot be God calling us to build a church? Surely, that cannot be God calling us to adopt a school? Surely, that cannot be God calling us to bring over a family of Syrian refugees? Surely, that cannot be Jesus, it must be the gardener. Who, me?
So what I have to say this morning is this: yes, that really was Jesus calling to you. Yes, that tug you felt on your heart, that really was the Holy Spirit. Yes, God has reached out to you, even you, because God loves you dearly and eternally. God does not love you despite who you are, God loves you because of who you are.
And then, when you have doubts, when you doubt yourself and when you doubt that God could really love you, remember this: No, that was not the gardener. No, that was not something you just conjured up yourself. No, God doesn’t want to find find somebody else – somebody who’s better, somebody who’s worthier, somebody who’s smarter – God wants you. God wants you to tell the story.
Easter is all about new birth, new life, new chances, new opportunities. Easter is about God making things new again. Even you. In that garden, God remade the world by raising Jesus from the dead. In that garden, Jesus remade Mary Magdalene by giving her this awesome responsibility. And now, in this church, God is calling to you, calling you to let that little part of you that’s holding you back to die. That’s why this story this takes place in a garden. In a garden, some things die so that other things can live. Jesus died and was raised again. And there are parts of us that need to die so that we can be fully alive to God.
There is one more part to the story about Henry Struble that I have to tell you. After he stumbled upon his own grave in 1867, he did something remarkable. For the next forty five years, until he died in 1912, on every Memorial Day, he laid flowers on his own grave. He laid flowers on his own grave. I can think of no better image of what God is calling us to do on this Easter. Mary Magdalene laid flowers on the grave of that part of her, of that part of society that said she wasn’t good enough to proclaim the gospel.
Who, me? Yes, you. Lay flowers on the grave of that part of you that needs to die. Lay flowers on the grave of those little voices that say you’re not good enough for God. Acknowledge whatever it is that is holding you back, and then move on to go do what is calling you to do. Because it’s not about you being good enough. It’s about a God who is so good, that you, even you are given new life.