Sunday 12 April 2020
I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I am in a specialty store and a shop assistant comes up and asks if they can help. I have this deep-seated conviction that their purpose is to make sure I leave the shop having bought something, whether I want the item or not. My usual response is to say somewhat limply: “I am just looking”.
The process of ‘looking’ is a curious one. It can be successful, or of course, it can fail dismally.
The process can fail in two obvious ways – we can be looking for the wrong thing; or we can be looking in the wrong place. The two Marys mentioned in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew fell down on both counts. They were looking for the wrong thing and they were looking in the wrong place. Fortunately for them, the angel was able to put them right on both counts.
Firstly, the angel identifies that they were looking for the wrong thing. The angel says to them: “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified – … he has been raised, as he said.”
The women are looking for the dead body of Jesus, the one that they had stood faithfully by and watched be crucified by the Romans. The angel is trying to help them to understand that what they should be looking for is the “risen Jesus”, not the dead body of Jesus. After all, didn’t he say that was what would happen – that he would rise from the dead. In this Gospel of Matthew, Jesus three times told the disciples that he would be put to death and that he would rise. He told the apostles, Peter, James and John as they came down from the mountain of Transfiguration not to tell anyone about the event “until after the Son of Man had been raised from the dead”. They had all been warned.
And because the women were looking for the wrong thing, they were looking in the wrong place. To emphasise that they were looking in the wrong place, the angel encourages them to come and look at the place where Jesus had been laid after his death. There was nothing to see because Jesus had risen.
We don’t want to be too critical of the two Marys getting it so wrong. On this day when we celebrate the great event of Jesus conquering death by his resurrection, we should probably ask ourselves about our efforts at “looking”. In our daily lives, are we looking for the right thing, and are we looking in the right place?
Are we looking for the risen Jesus? Is he the centre of our attention as we search for meaning in our lives? There are many other distractions that can impinge on our daily existence. Do we let them prevent us from being focused in our efforts to look for the risen Jesus?
Do we settle for less than looking to find the risen Jesus? Is it more important that we find financial success, status in our circle of acquaintances, career achievement?
If the purpose of our looking is not to find the risen Jesus, we will, like the two Marys find ourselves looking in the wrong places.
I have several times mentioned to you before the contention of a former head of the Jesuit Religious Order that the most serious problem confronting us in the world today is what he termed “the globalisation of superficiality”. I think we can say that the phenomena of which he is speaking, the globalisation of superficiality, is an expression of looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place and a worldwide scale.
So on this Easter Sunday, I want to encourage us all to take a good hard look at ourselves and see whether we are really looking for the risen Jesus and whether we are looking for him in the right places in our lives. Conversely, are we looking for something other than the risen Jesus and consequently finding ourselves looking in all the wrong places?
And if I could add a postscript. I would point out that even though the two Marys were looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place, they did actually encounter the risen Jesus on that first Easter morning. The Gospel says: “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” Suddenly! Through no effort of their own.
Perhaps that might be a warning to us that we need to be careful because, despite our best efforts not to look for the risen Jesus, he may in fact find us when we least expect it!
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen