The other day our daughter Sara Caitlin the jazz singer was in a panic before a performance. She’d lost her music. This was because her car is filled up to the brim with clothes, food containers, and books and papers from the last six months of school. She was convinced the music was lost forever and that she was in a world of trouble. She went and looked in her car a dozen times to find it, no luck.
Fortunately, her hero father saved the day. You see, my daughter comes by her organizational skills honest—she got them from me. Many’s the time I’ve thought I have lost something forever because I can’t begin to figure out where it is in all the pile of stuff I have on my desk or in the trunk or in my closet. And I’ve learned that, when you’re panicked and desperate, you also give up too easy. If you’re convinced you’ll never find something, you’ll never find it, even if it’s right in front of you. So I thought, since I was a bit more dispassionate and a bit less invested, I might stand a chance of finding her music. So I looked in her car, and sure enough, in a couple of minutes I’d found it. Turns out it wasn’t even that hard to find. But if you’re convinced it’s not there, if your mind automatically goes to the worst possible scenario, then you won’t see it even if it’s right in front of you.
I used to be that way, just as she is now. But I’ve learned that if you’re the kind of person who keeps everything, you don’t lose things—you just can’t find them. And there’s a difference. If something is lost, there’s no use looking for it. But if you can’t find it, then you just need to remain patient, and hopeful, and refuse to give up.
Mary Magdelene can’t find Jesus. Where is He? Where did He go? Did someone take His body? What’s going on here? She’s in an understandable panic.
But it turns out that Jesus wasn’t lost. Mary just hadn’t found him yet. So He revealed Himself to her.
What an amazing moment that must have been! In a moment she was moved from desolate despair to fantastic hope!
After all, one of the main reasons she couldn’t find him to begin with was that she already believed she’d lost him forever. Like all of the disciples, she believed that the worst possible scenario had already happened. The messiah was dead. A stolen body was just insult added to horrendous injury. Even if she found him, all she’d find was a dead body. Hardly even any point in looking.
All the Gospel accounts of the resurrection make the point that none of the disciples anticipated that Jesus was to rise from the dead, even though He’d given them a fair amount of warning. So when the tomb comes up empty on Easter morning, they don’t know what to make of it. In our Gospel reading today, only John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” believed that Jesus was raised from the dead without having to see the risen Lord in person. The rest of the disciples have to have what Shakespeare’s Othello calls “ocular proof”—they needed to see it with their own eyes. And they get it, when Jesus appears to them as they hid away from the authorities in a locked, secret room. They see the Risen Jesus.
That makes the disciples different from you and me, because we don’t have that “ocular proof.” We have to believe without seeing. So if it was hard then, it’s even harder now. The hope we have in Christ seems lost forever in the junk that’s piled up over 2000 years of history. Human beings have behaved badly, and Christians have been as bad as anybody else. And what proof do we have in history that God actually loves us or that God even pays any attention to us at all?
For that matter, what proof do we have in our personal lives that God loves us? All we have is hope, sometimes, and that hope seems pretty thin when we have a personal crisis or someone we love is in need.
Where is the resurrected Lord, the one who promised to that “I will be with you, even to the end of the Age”? Was it ever true to begin with? Did we lose Him forever because of our own irresponsibility, or because of God’s frustration with us?
No, He’s not lost. We just can’t find Him. And there’s a difference.
As a person who can’t find things, here’s something I know about myself. Often the reason I can’t find something isn’t simply because I think I’ve lost it—it’s that I’ve “lost it”! I don’t trust myself. I am convinced that I’m a person who loses things, so therefore I won’t find what I’m looking for. I become convinced that I am, quite literally, a loser.
Mary Magdelene stood in the Garden, convinced that Jesus was gone forever because she was a loser. People like her didn’t deserve Jesus. Or even if they did deserve Jesus, the world, the Romans, the Sanhedrin, karma itself was aligned against her. She should never have hoped in Jesus. She didn’t deserve Him.
That was the way all the disciples felt after the events leading to Jesus’ death. What a bunch of losers! We desert him, we abandon him, we betray him. Now we hide away in a locked room hoping that we aren’t arrested. Or maybe they think, you know, we should have known that Jesus would abandon us. How stupid we were ever to hope that God could care for losers like us!
Then, to their surprise, the resurrected Jesus appears to them in a locked room. Then, to Mary Magdelene’s surprise, the resurrected Jesus appears to her outside the tomb of Jesus. You are valuable. You are loved. You are worth dying for. You are worth living for. You are a priceless treasure, a pearl of great price, and I would rise from the dead for you.
You. You–and me. Us.
Paul says, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” What an amazing statement. Your life is now a hidden treasure, as valuable to God as Jesus Christ, hidden away in God’s treasure trove. You are loved and valued by God with a depth beyond our wildest imaginings. This isn’t something obvious to everybody. It’s hidden from the rest of the world. But it’s something we could discover, if we kept looking and didn’t give up.
We are so easily convinced that we’re losers in God’s sight. But that’s not what God sees. God has hidden us away with Christ. What that means is that within us, because of Christ’s life within us, because of Christ’s love for us, is something valuable and blessed. We tend to be distracted by the bad stuff we’ve piled up in our lives, but that doesn’t mean the value is lost. It’s just harder to find. The challenge is to find that valuable thing, that seed of the Kingdom, within ourselves; and once we’ve found it, to nurture it.
But let’s be clear—we make a mistake if, in finding out how much God loves us, we hoard that to ourselves. In fact, that could be worst possible thing to do with such a discovery. To often this is misinterpreted as a “self-help” strategy—we love ourselves better once we know how much God loves us, and because of that we’re happy and we get what we want, etc. It becomes, frankly, a type of selfishness, and an offense to God.
No. Our salvation isn’t just for ourselves, it’s for the whole world. We aren’t to keep it to ourselves. We now know God loves us. But so many other people don’t know that God loves them!
When we find out and are amazed and awed and humbled by the mystery of God’s love for us, the next thing we are to do is to pass it on. The next thing to do is to tell someone else how much God loves them. Just as Mary discovered Christ hidden in a Gardener, we are to find Christ hidden in our neighbor.
And in the world itself. We need to let people know how much God loves the world, that as John says, “The Son of Man came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” In God’s eyes there’s something precious and beautiful about our fallen world itself, something well worth saving. Tell people. Tell the world.
And not just tell them—show them. Because the treasure is hidden. It’s not easy to find. After all, it’s in us! –And we all know that we none of us are the best representatives of Christ on earth. It’s hidden in us, in our fallen world—hidden, yes, but its there, if we don’t give up looking for it.
That’s what Scripture means by us being witnesses. The treasure of the Kingdom of God, the treasure of God’s love for each of us, the fact that each of us valuable in God’s sight, is hidden from view, so our job is to reveal it. We reveal it through our faithfulness, through our good works, through our compassion to those who most need it, through our willingness to put others ahead of ourselves. That’s how other people discover that God loves them.
After all, they’re just like we were—they couldn’t see how valued and loved they are in God’s sight because it was buried under the pile of self-hatred and resentment and questions we all have. They need someone from the outside to have the patience with them and the respect for them to show them what they are convinced isn’t there—the Lord Jesus who rose again from the dead because they were worth it. Maybe, if they see that flawed, imperfect people like ourselves can live a life that shows Christ’s light, they can start to think, “if Christ loves them, why, I guess He can love me, too! If I can see Christ’s life and love and compassion in her life, then maybe it’s really true!”
That’s how our resurrected life, hidden from the world, is revealed to the world. That’s how Christ’s resurrected life, hidden from the world, is revealed to it. That’s how what is hidden changes the world.