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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

To Say a Name

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: John 20:1-18

Happy Easter, the feast of feasts, the day of resurrection!

Christ is risen from the dead

trampling down death by death

and on those in the tombs bestowing life.

Or at least that’s how the orthodox hymn goes. All through the year we talk about resurrection. The Eucharist we used to have every Sunday is a celebration of resurrection.

In fact, we talk about it so much, I wonder if we really think about what it means anymore. I wonder if we take for granted the hope, the salvation, the love that it stands for. So I first just want to take a moment to pause and reflect on resurrection.

Our faith is rich with multiple meanings. God is not just God, but a Trinity of Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. The cross is a symbol of both suffering and redemption. The resurrection is Jesus rising from the dead, defeating death, which means so much more than we can even hold all at once.

It holds so much meaning, because Jesus holds so much meaning. First, he is a human who loves his friends, lives into his call, and suffers the pain of this life. He suffers the death of a friend. He suffers betrayal. He suffers being falsely accused and then tortured by the state. He suffers death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.

He’s like us, a person navigating the real joys and the real pain of this world.

But he is also God, the Word made flesh. God knows our suffering through Jesus. God feels our pain through Jesus.

So when he rises, trampling death by death, Jesus returns physically, yes, but something mysterious and inexplicable happens to his body. He’s not the same. He’s changed. Changed so much, in fact, that his friends don’t recognize him at first. But later, he will ask Thomas to touch his wounds. Jesus is back and he’s real, alive again in the flesh.

So yes, resurrection is an actual body risen from the dead. It is material, physical, but it is also cosmic, existential. Resurrection is God replying to death and suffering and pain with a resounding NO. When Jesus rose again, he proved that suffering is present, but it will not have the last word. Whatever pain we’re in will end. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

To our logical minds, resurrection doesn’t make sense. Not really. A man risen from the dead and walking among us. It’s absurd.

There are things that we understand with our brains, and there are things that only our bodies understand. We know intellectually that taking the bread and wine doesn’t mean we’re actually eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ. But our body tells us differently. When we take that bread and wine, we know beyond understanding that we become part of Christ’s body.

A man was killed and then came back to life over 2,000 years ago. That’s part of it, and another part is that we know in our body that his resurrection means that our suffering will not have the last word.

So now that we all perfectly understand the resurrection—right?—let’s get to the gospel.

I think the most interesting thing about the gospel today is that the resurrection has already happened but nobody knows it. Mary is panicking. She thinks Jesus’ body has been stolen. She runs to the disciples who run to the tomb—there is a lot of running in this lesson. But then everyone gives up. Jesus isn’t there. He had told them over and over again that wouldn’t be, but no one gets it yet. The beloved disciple maybe does, a little, but he still just goes home with Simon Peter.

What else is there to do in this confusing, seemingly hopeless situation?

Well, Mary does what a lot of us might do. She stays, and she weeps. She’s scared, she’s sad, she feels helpless. It’s a predicament she doesn’t understand.

The resurrection has already happened but she doesn’t know it.

Until she runs into someone she thinks is the gardener, and that gardener does something she wasn’t expecting: he says her name.

He says her name, and she recognizes him. She knows him. It’s her teacher, her friend. It’s Jesus. And suddenly Mary knows: Jesus is alive. Christ is risen. Suffering has not had the last word. Hope has trampled down death.

She couldn’t recognize resurrection until Jesus said her name. He didn’t say, “Hey, it’s me.” Or “I told you I’d be here.” Instead, he reaches for relationship. He shows her that he knows her, that he sees her humanity, her suffering, that he cares.

Because that’s what knowing a name means.

You might have heard a certain phrase during the uprisings after the murders of Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. “Say their names.” The chant rose up at protests around the country. It’s been invoked for so many whose suffering might otherwise go overlooked. Transgender women of color. The six people of Asian descent who were killed in Atlanta. People whose deaths might otherwise be shuffled

into some distant anonymity.

But when we know people’s names, a part of us becomes invested in them. A part of us becomes responsible for them. It’s why we’re seeing the name Derek Chauvin a lot these days. He’s the former police officer who killed George Floyd and is now on trial. Knowing his name makes us responsible for him, too, for his actions.

It’s why, during our Community Prayers, I always try to get the names of the people for whom we’re praying.

It’s why we say the name of a person being baptized.

Knowing someone’s name, saying their name, creates a relationship, a bond. It creates community. It creates the conditions in which we, like Mary, can see the resurrection that was there all along. In which we can recognize the hope and possibility that we might be mistaking for a gardener—or a grocery checker, or a gas station attendant. The risen Christ comes to us in many forms.

So today, on this feast of the resurrection, let us remember to trust that suffering does not ever have the last word. Let us remember that that hope is always there even when we can’t see it. And let us remember that it is when we learn—and when we say—one another’s names that the veil is lifted and resurrection is revealed.

Alleluia. Alleluia.


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