“I Have Seen the Lord”
This is the first resurrection appearance of Jesus. But there are some odd things about it. First, it is not mentioned among the appearances by Paul, the Apostle, in his list in First Corinthians chapter 15. Second, the two angels ask a strange question, “Why are you crying?” Third, Mary does not recognize Jesus. Then Jesus asks the questions, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
But fourth, and most important and strange, why does Jesus pick Mary for his first appearance and to carry the message back to the men? Why not appear to a person of importance? Why doesn’t he appear to Pilate or Herod? Why does Jesus not reveal himself in the temple to the religious leaders? Why does he not present himself to Peter or James or John? Why not Mary his mother?
These questions fill my mind as I read this text and seek a word from the Lord.
I don’t have answers to any of these questions. Yes, I know that preachers and teachers have for centuries proposed answers. Some of them are half-way compelling. But today, we move past these questions to the key affirmation of this story, that five-word testimony that Mary of Magdala spoke to the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
This is where the story ends, and this is where I begin today. I have seen the Lord.
How do you sum up your Christian testimony? Take five words and make a testimony. Take ten words and make a testimony.
Your testimony is simply this: how you describe your religious experience or your religious convictions.
There are several of these in the Christian Bible. This same Gospel of John records that Andrew was listening to John the prophet and baptizer talk about Jesus. Andrew, the Bible says, found his brother Simon and says to him, “We have found the Messiah.” That is a testimony.
The Gospel of John records another testimony. Jesus heals a man born blind. The religious leaders go to investigate because this happened on the Sabbath. They claimed Jesus could not be from God because he violated the commandment to “Remember the sabbath and keep it holy.” They confronted the man, saying: “Tell the truth. We know this Jesus is a sinner.” But the man said, “I do not know if he is a sinner, but I know this. I was blind but now I see.”
John Newton picked up this testimony in the hymn we will sing this morning. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
That hymn is found in our hymnal, page 587. It is in the section of the hymnal with the title, TESTIMONY. Many of the best-known hymns are in this section. Such as:
HYMN 589, At Calvary: “Mercy there was great, and grace was free. Pardon there was multiplied to me. There, my burdened soul found liberty. At Calvary.”
HYMN 598, “Why Do I Sing About Jesus?” with the chorus: “He is my lord and my savior, dying he set me free.”
HYMN 602, “In Loving Kindness Jesus Came,” with the chorus, “From sinking sand, he lifted me.”
Hymn 612, “Jesus is All the World to Me.” With these words, “My life, my joy, my all.”
HYMN 618, “Love lifted me, Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, Love lifted me.”
We sing these hymns because they give voice to our deepest convictions. These hymn writers write what we want to say. We love God. We follow Jesus. We rejoice in the fullness of the Spirit of God.
The Jesus Revolution movie introduced me to one of the early contemporary worship songs. It is a testimony. “Ever Since I Opened Up the Door.”
In a shadow, You flood me with Your light
To give You pleasure is now my one delight
When I get weary, You give me peaceful rest
If my life gets troubled, I know it's just a test.
Mary of Magdala had this testimony: I have seen the Lord.
I am sure what she said to those early disciples of Jesus was much more than that. Surely, she described her visit to the tomb, her encounter with the angels, her tears of grief, and her effort to find the body of Jesus. In this account in the gospel of John, the angels never say to Mary, “He is risen,” or “He is not here,” or “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
None of that is here, but some of that may have been in what Mary of Magdala said to the disciples. It may have taken five minutes, or it may have taken 50 minutes. We do not know.
Her testimony is summed up in these five words: I have seen the Lord.
But what did she see?
Somebody she did not recognize, that is for sure. A person different than she expected, that is also for sure.
These resurrection appearances, taken together, point to the most fundamental mystery of all, that encountering God is full of mystery, that the future is different than the present, that your existence after death is different than it is now. Yes, we describe it with words like walking and talking and praising God, but this is the language of analogy. It is like saying, “The resurrection body is somewhat like our earthly body, but different. Our life to come is somewhat like our life now, but not much. Heaven is somewhat like earth, but not so much.”
Years later, Paul, the Apostle, tries to describe this difference. In First Corinthians, he writes, “There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies…. The body raised in power. It is buried as a natural body; but it is raised a spiritual body.”
What in the world is a spiritual body?
There is a mystery. We normally say, there is spirit, which we cannot see or feel or touch, and there is a body, which we can see and feel and touch. But a spiritual body? Who knows what that is!
This calls to mind the song of Iris Dement. She sang in Asheville Friday night. I was introduced to her through John Prine. They sing together that great song, “In Spite of Ourselves.” But she wrote a powerful song thirty plus years ago, “Let the mystery be.” It is a testimony. She says, there is so much I don’t understand. I will just let the mystery be. Check it out.
Mary must have encountered this mystery in the form of a “spiritual body.” She did not recognize it; she did not recognize Jesus.
Other people did not recognize Jesus. I will speak perhaps next week on the experience of the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus joined them in their walk, but they did not recognize him.
Perhaps Jesus appeared to other people who did not recognize him. Perhaps there were other appearances to Jesus, but we don’t know about them because the people did not recognize Jesus. Perhaps Jesus did appear to Herod and Pilate and to the religious leaders in the temple, but they did not notice, did not recognize Jesus, or did not stop to engage the risen Lord.
Maybe the Risen Lord has appeared to you, and you did not recognize him.
“I have seen the Lord,” Mary of Magdala said. Paul later said, “Last of all, he appeared to me.”
The appearance of Jesus to Paul was different. The account of that episode, in Acts of the Apostles, chapter nine, is like this: Paul saw a light and heard a voice. Nobody saw anybody. Paul fell to the ground. When he got up, he could not see. There is mystery here, in this encounter. Paul says the Lord appeared to him, but Paul was blind and could not see. He uses this phrase, “Jesus appeared to me,” to mean something different. He encountered Jesus in some fashion.
This is true of many people. Some people see Jesus, perhaps. But many people give their testimony like this: Jesus spoke to me. I heard the voice of Jesus. Or, Jesus came to me. He was in the room with me. I felt his presence.
Some years ago, Bill Gather had a dramatic change in his life, from unbelief to belief, from indifference to commitment, from ignorance of God and Jesus to friendship with God and Jesus. He wrote a song about it, and you know it. It has this testimony. “He touched me. He touched me. And O the joy that floods my soul. Something happened, and now I know. He touched me and made me whole.”
That is my testimony. Is that your testimony?
Something happened. Jesus came to me. I read his word in a letter or a book. I heard his voice in a sermon or a song. I sensed his presence in a crisis or in the calm. I was surrounded by the Risen Lord, in the worship of a church or in the wackiness of some unbelievable chaotic episode in my family.
Something happened. Jesus changed my mind or Jesus changed my attitude. Jesus came to me at the darkness moment of my life and told me to stand up, quit feeling sorry for myself, trust God, walk into the future.
Something happened. I was deconstructing my religion, as so many people say these days. I was doubting so much, critical of so many people, slipping away from my faith. But then, something happened: a book, a movie, a song, a stranger, a friend, a sermon, and I encountered the Risen Lord.
Something happened. Jesus called me out of my sin and self-centered living. Jesus called me to walk in his way and work in his kingdom. Jesus touched me, anointed me, laid his hands on me as an act of blessing, or healing, or saving.
Something happened. Something happened this week that lifted me up and made me strong. Something happened last month that changed the course of my life. Something happened two years ago that pulled me out of a moral nosedive and set my face toward heaven. Something happened.
I have seen the Lord, Mary said.
This can be your testimony this Lord’s Day. Ask the Risen Lord to come to you, comfort you, challenge you, direct you, or forgive you. You don’t need to be in Israel, or on the road to Damascus, or on the verge of collapse. Right where you are, right as you are, open yourself to the Risen Lord.