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John 20:1-18, Psalm 139
Let me begin this morning by asking you a question: what do you long for in life? In your secret heart, in that deepest place, what are you longing for? Who are you longing for?
As you may have heard over the past two Sundays, we are doing a pulpit series called ‘Jesus Is The Question’ – the 307 questions Jesus asked and the 3 he answered. Well, Jesus did ask many questions. He asked way more questions than he ever answered directly. The question we’re exploring today was one of the few questions Jesus repeats throughout the Gospels. So this must be a very important question: What are you looking for? Who are you looking for? When Jesus asked this question, he didn’t mean it in a sperficial way. It’s not like when I go shopping and the salesperson asks, “What are you looking for?” And I say, “Something pink and furry to go with my outfit.” J Or it’s not like when someone calls the church and I happen to answer the phone and ask, “Who are you looking for?” And they say, “I’m looking for one of the pastors” and I pass them over to Miak… J
When Jesus asked this question, he was asking something much more profound. Imagine you are one of those people having a conversation with Jesus and he looks you straight in the eye and asks, “What are you looking for? Who are you looking for?” What would you say? As you think about your answer, allow me to read you one of those instances from the Gospels. This portion is taken from John 20:1-18 just after Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb.
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “my master” or “my teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
It’s interesting that Mary Magdalene was the first one to discover that the stone was removed from the entrance of the tomb where they laid Jesus’ body. She ran to look for Simon Peter and the other disciple, John, to tell them and they came running to look for themselves. There must have been a sense of urgency, a sense of anticipation, a sense of looking for someone important to them…because John described how both he and Peter were running but he outran Peter and reached the tomb first. We need to understand their state of mind as they were running there. Their hopes were dashed when Jesus was crucified. He was the one whom they thought would deliver them, the Messiah. But their longings were unfulfilled, their hopes dashed when Jesus died on the cross. Have you ever felt like that before? Have you ever had your hopes dashed, your longings unfulfilled?
Now Mary was telling them his body may not be there. They must have been confused, bewildered, thrown out of whack, trying to wrap their minds around the situation. We can almost imagine John panting and out of breath as he bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there. Then Peter caught up, also breathless, and he rushed into the tomb and saw the pieces of linen that had been wrapped around Jesus’s body and head. What were they looking for? Who were they looking for?
Finally they went back to where they were staying and Mary was left standing outside the tomb crying. It’s interesting that she was the one the angels spoke to. And she was also the first person Jesus chose to speak to. He said, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
Jesus called out her name, “Mary.” And at that moment, she recognized who was speaking to her….her master, her teacher — the one she was looking for, the one she was longing for. Some of you may be thinking, “Pauline, the answer to your question is very simple wat. Who are we looking for? What are we looking for? The answer is Jesus lor.” Yes, that may be the model answer for most Christians but what does that actually mean to you? And if we were completely honest with ourselves, what do we truly long for? Who do we truly long for?
You see, as human beings, God made us with longings…all kinds of longings. And we can’t just conveniently say, “Jesus is all I long for” and pretend those longings don’t exist. We want to be able to say that “Christ is enough for us” in the midst of the many longings we may have. We need to acknowledge our longings even as we proclaim that Christ is enough. I’ve been reflecting and I think most of our longings can be categorized under one of these:
1) Longings for a person
2) Longings for a place
3) Longings for a purpose
Longings for a person is not just about wanting someone. It includes the longing to be with someone you love, the longing to reconcile a broken relationship, the longing for someone who is no longer here with us. Sometimes it is the longing for a person who will be there for us no matter what. Someone who knows and understands us deeply and profoundly. We all have various longings when it comes to people.
Longings for a place is not just about a physical place. Sometimes it is the longing for a physical home, a roof over our heads but often, it is the longing for a spiritual home, an emotional home where our hearts feel safe and we feel like we belong. Sometimes this is a longing for a community or an eternal home where we will no longer weep or be in pain. We all have longings with regards to a place.
Longings for a purpose is something that is common to all of us as human beings. We all desire to know why we are here. We want to know our purpose in life. We long to have a purposeful and meaningful life. Sometimes we are dissatisfied with status quo and we long for change, peace, hope, something better.
Can you imagine Jesus looking deep into your eyes and asking you, “Who are you longing for? What are you longing for?” Many of us spend our lives with indistinct longings. We yearn for something but we are not sure what they are. Whether your longings are for a person, a place or a purpose, I can tell you one thing about our longings. You see, there are two kinds of longings:
1) Longings that we can do something about
2) Longings that we can do nothing about
Longings that we can do something about are situations in our lives where we can play a part in. Perhaps you had a falling out with a friend and you want to reconcile with that person but you’re not sure if that person is still upset with you. Or maybe you still feel hurt and the thought of approaching that person makes you feel vulnerable and a little mixed up inside. You long to reconcile with that person but it’s complicated, you say. Well, I just wanted to tell you it’s not always as complicated as we think. Life is not always as complicated as we make it out to be. Our emotions may feel complex but sometimes, what we need to do is simple. At the same time, I am very aware that sometimes our longings are something we cannot do anything about. Sometimes there is very little we can do to change a situation and all we can do is to let these longings go and trust God to be in control. It’s hard to know the difference and we definitely have to rely on God for wisdom to know what to do.
As many of us know, one of our church members, Tony, passed away quite suddenly last week. I don’t know how Tony’s passing affected you but when I first received the news last Saturday, I was shocked but I took the news quite calmly. Then on Sunday, the moment worship began, my tears started streaming uncontrollably. You see, I wasn’t super close to Tony but he confided in me quite a bit. He shared with me his longings and regrets and he cried with me. So I was holding his longings and regrets…the things he didn’t get to tell his daughters while he was alive.
I’m very thankful that during the wake and funeral, Miak and I managed to have long talks with his family and in many ways, helped bring a sense of closure. I’m not sure how some of you may be dealing with Tony’s death. Maybe for some of us, we are grappling with grief or a sense of loss because we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Maybe for some of us, we feel guilty because we had unresolved issues with Tony or you didn’t really get along with him. Some of us may not have been close to Tony and some didn’t know him personally. But even for those who didn’t know him, maybe his death led us to think of our own mortality or that of those close to us, the people we love. Perhaps his death led us to think of our own longings and regrets.
What do you long for? Who do you long for? Is your longing one you can do something about? Or is it one you can do nothing about? Coincidentally, one of the lectionary readings for this week comes from Psalm 139. I found a lot of comfort as I read and meditated on this psalm.
Psalm 139 (The Psalms in Haiku)
You are watching me;
whether I stand or sit,
You know it at once.
You know all the thoughts
of my waking or sleeping,
and all I do.
What I plan to say
is already clear to You
while yet unspoken.
You watch over me,
keeping Your hand upon me
at every moment.
the knowledge You have of me,
Far beyong my grasp!
It was You alone
Who created my being,
formed me in the womb.
It fills me with awe:
the wonder of my being
and of all Your works.
There are no secrets
of my body and my soul
hidden from Your gaze.
Your eyes beheld me
in the intricate weaving
that brought me to birth.
And into Your books
You marked the alloted days
that lay before me.
How precious to me
are Your thoughts of me, O Lord
in all their vast scope!
To try and count them
would be like trying to count
sands on the seashore.
There are a few things we can learn from this psalm with regards to God and our longings:
1) God knows our longings even better than we do
The psalmist says, “You know all the thoughts of my waking or sleeping, and all I do. What I plan to say is already clear to You while yet unspoken.” God knows our longings, our thoughts, our desires better than we do.
2) God longs for us…thinks of us more than we can imagine!
The psalmists says, “Wonderful indeed the knowledge You have of me, Far beyong my grasp! It was You alone Who created my being, formed me in the womb. It fills me with awe: the wonder of my being and of all Your works. There are no secrets of my body and my soul hidden from Your gaze. How precious to me are Your thoughts of me, O Lord in all their vast scope! To try and count them would be like trying to count sands on the seashore.”
Have you ever had someone special in your life and your last thought before you fall asleep is of that person? And your first thought when you wake up is them too? The psalmist is saying we are like that special person to God. God may not slumber or sleep but God has countless thoughts about us everyday. God longs for us and thinks of us more than we can imagine! How would you respond to that?
3) Our longings give us a glimpse of our yearning for God, for something eternal, our yearning to find our home with God, the one the psalmist calls “our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1)
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my souls longs for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1)
Augustine observed that our hearts are restless until they find the rest that is found only in God.
Our earthly longings give us a glimpse to our eternal longings. We all long for the presence of God with a deep aching hunger. But we don’t always realize that is our longing. And unlike our hunger for food, we don’t always know how to fill it.
So let me ask you: what are you longing for? Who are you longing for? And how can we fill our hunger for the presence of God?
Perhaps it is first, acknowledging that God understands our longings better than we do. Perhaps it is recognizing that our earthly longings give us a glimpse of our eternal longings. Maybe it is in acting on some of these longings as the spirit of God leads us. Maybe it is in letting go of some of these longings as we trust God to be in control. And maybe at the heart of it, it is in knowing and responding to a God who longs for us too….both here in this world and for all eternity.
Even in the afterglow of the Ressurection, it is still Jesus’ question: “who are you looking for?”
In some ways, maybe it is THE question.
I wanted to leave you with this song as you ponder over this question: who are you longing for? What are you longing for?
Perhaps like Mary Magdalene, Peter and John who once thought all their hopes were dashed and their longings destined to stay unfulfilled, we may wonder if that is the case for some of our hopes and longings. But maybe God has a much bigger plan and we only need to open our eyes, incline our ears and hear God calling our names?
Blessings (Laura Story)
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?
Let us pray.
God, our loving Parent, you know our many longings…longings for a person, a place, a purpose. There are some longings we can’t do anything about, there are some longings we can do something about. Grant us the wisdom to know the difference and the strength and courage to act or to let go, trusting that you are in control no matter what. But more than that, help us to be in touch with our yearnings for you, our longings for the eternal as we grow to understand your yearning for us too.
Thank you that in the midst of our many longings, Christ is indeed enough for us.