NextSunday Worship

April 1, 2018

“Where is Jesus? - Hiding in plain sight!”

Dr. R. Dale McAbee John 20:1-18; Mark 16:1-8 Year B – Resurrection of the Lord

“Where’s Waldo” is an immensely popular series of children’s books.  Each volume since 1986 offers a dazzling visual puzzle with tons of people, buildings, and even mythical beasts.  In the midst of all that complexity is Waldo, a simple little boy, looking a bit like Harry Potter, who is always wearing his red and white striped sweater and glasses.  Last May a thirtieth anniversary edition came out and to date more than 60 million books have been sold.

What could such popularity mean?  One adult fan reflects from childhood

I remember that guy. White and Red shirts, glasses with weird hat. I remember him as one that I really want to find. I sat down for hours and hours with a book called “Where’s Waldo.”

His words “really want to find” move us away from just a child’s puzzle.  The experience of “really wanting to find” takes us into the depths of being.  What is it that you really want to find?  Searching over a page looking for a little Waldo might be an exterior way of tapping into an interior longing, if we allow ourselves to become aware of our deepest longing.

One psychoanalyst says, “The unconscious at once conceals and un-conceals its declarations, the way it is able to hide in plain sight, as it were, like the Waldos in “Where’s Waldo.” (Theory/Theatre: An Introduction by Mark Fortier)

“Hiding in plain sight” captures our reading from John’s gospel.  Once Peter and the Beloved Disciple have left, we have that wonderful scene of Mary Magdalene longing to find out where Jesus is.  She is bereft.  She sees the gardener and pleads to know “where is Jesus?  Please tell me where you have laid him and I will go to him.”  She doesn’t realize the gardener is Jesus, “hiding in plain sight,” which is often the way John tells the Jesus story. She’s in the darkness of despair but the light of the world is just few feet away.

But then, she hears him call her name, “Mary” and her darkness is flooded with light.  “He was right here and I could not see him until he called my name.”  “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me,” says John a few chapters earlier.

In all the Easter stories from the four gospels, indeed, in the entirety of each gospel from beginning to end, it seems to me the main concern is to answer the question, “Where’s Jesus?”

If we review the story of Jesus’ life, in the beginning, the shepherds wanted to know. They didn’t know they wanted to know.  They were just working third shift.  Nevertheless, hearing the good news from the angels, they too wanted to know “where is Jesus?”  So, they made their way to where Jesus was, lying in a manger.

The magi from the east bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh wanted to know. They trusted that the star knew and would lead the way.   “Where is Jesus?”  He is in Bethlehem according to the prophet Micah, “for from you is to come a ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

King Herod definitely wanted to know, “where is Jesus?” and we know the diabolical reason he wanted to know. A narcissist by temperament, he could tolerate no dissent from his inflated sense of self and when he heard word of the birth of one who would be “king of the Jews,” he squashed it with a dictator’s brutality.

If the magi had gotten word of the terrible slaughter of the innocents and returned to Bethlehem and asked the traumatized people “what happened to Mary and Joseph, where is Jesus?” the answer would have been, “He’s in Egypt, he’s safe there.  Just as Joseph the dreamer was safe there two thousand years earlier, so Joseph, Mary and Jesus are given safe refuge in Egypt.”

When Jesus was about to have his Bar Mitzvah, Mary and Joseph certainly asked, “Where’s Jesus” when they were separated after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  When they finally found him in the Temple talking with the teachers, they asked him “Jesus, where have you been?” He confidently answered, “About my Father’s business.”

As the storm arose on the Sea of Galilee and threatened to capsize the disciples’ boat, with an adult Jesus asleep in the back, the disciples cried out “Jesus where are you, we are perishing?”  But he was there, he woke up and calmed the storm saying, “O ye of little faith.”

Throughout the gospels if we ask, “where is Jesus?” his answer is, “wherever people are being judged harshly I’m there offering compassion and liberation.  Wherever people are sick and ostracized, I am there, bringing healing and wholeness.”

Martha and Mary certainly had two occasions to ask, “Where is Jesus?”  The first answer would have been, “he’s in the living room as our unexpected guest.”   Martha caught off guard scrambles to prepare a meal only to glance out and see Mary at the feet of Jesus.

Her answer to our question would have been “I know where Jesus is; he’s wasting time with Mary while she leaves all the work for me.”  Mary’s answer would have been quite different.  “He’s here and I’m soaking up his teaching at his feet.  This astonishing rabbi is setting me free and calling me to follow him.”

Martha’s second answer to “where is Jesus?” would have been, “not here when we needed him.”  Word reached him that Lazarus was sick and it seems Jesus intentionally delayed two days and then set out.  Lazarus had been dead four days when finally Jesus arrived.  Now we know where Jesus is.  Too late.  Lazarus stinking dead for four days, Jesus is definitely too late.  But miracle of miracles Jesus shouts, “Come forth” and Lazarus does.  Out of the tomb and stink of grave clothes into the sunshine of another chance at life. Where is Jesus?  Right on time.

Of course, today is Easter and we have our own answer:  The Lord is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia! We say it three times, each time louder and louder.  And our wonderful opening hymn “Christ is Risen, Shout Hosanna” tells us where Jesus is.

He is wherever “Healing leaves of grace are abounding, bring a taste of love unknown.”  When we see that, that’s where Jesus is.  When we see “the bread of new creation” that’s where Jesus is.  When we hear the demonic chorus being told, “Get you gone,” that’s where Jesus is.

Getting back to today’s gospel, Mary Magdalene comes to the garden and sees that the stone is rolled away from the tomb.  She runs back to tell Peter and John.  She knows where he is not, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb.”  But she doesn’t know where Jesus is.  “We do not know where they have laid him.”  Peter and John race to the empty tomb, see the linens and the head cloth, and they believe.

Raymond Brown says that “John is a gospel of encounters:  Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the crippled man at Bethesda, the man born blind, Mary and Martha, and even Pilate.”  (

But I think Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene is probably the most beautiful and heart breaking.  She clings to him as for dear life, for indeed, it is.  There is a tenderness and an intimacy. She was the faithful disciple who stayed with Jesus through the crucifixion after the others had fled.  She is the first person to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection and she was the first evangelist of the gospel.  She was not the repentant prostitute that some commentators create from confused scriptural interpretation.

She hears his voice and immediately she recognizes her beloved teacher and the very next verse has Jesus saying, “Do not cling to me.” Recognition and response are almost instantaneous.

But his words “do not hold on to me” strike me as an important command from our risen Lord. Throughout the gospels, we hear Jesus utter numerous commands.  One scholar has found 49 commands of Christ.  They include:

Follow Me
Let Your Light Shine
Honor God’s Law
Be Reconciled
Keep Your Word
Go the Second Mile
Love Your Enemies
Seek God’s Kingdom
Judge Not
Render to Caesar
Love the Lord
Love Your Neighbor
Keep My Commandments
Watch and Pray
Feed My Sheep
Baptize My Disciples
Receive God’s Power
Make Disciples


What on earth could “do not hold on to me” or “do not cling to me,” mean?  We want to cling or hold on to the past when the future seems uncertain or unclear, or when things change.  Mary’s world had been turned upside down.  She saw Jesus die and was lost in grief and then miraculously “he is alive.”  Of course, she wants to hold on to him.  Just like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration Mary does not what to let go of this moment.  But Jesus says “Do not cling to me, I have not yet ascended to my Father.” He is pointing her to the future, “if I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all people unto me,” John says in Chapter 12.  There is a new future for you and all of humanity.  It is the new creation that is dawning.

Paul Tillich spoke of this new reality in his sermon “The New Being.”  “If I were to sum up the Christian message for our time in two words, I would say with Paul: It is the message of a ‘New Creation'” (p. 15). Christianity is the message of the New Creation, the New Being, the New Reality which has appeared with the appearance of Jesus, who is for this reason called the Christ.”

“Do not cling to me Mary.” “The stone, which the builders rejected, has become the chief corner stone. This is the Lord’s doing.  It is marvelous in our eyes.”

As we live into the reality of resurrection, “where is Jesus?” becomes the most important question we could answer.  Jesus himself tells us where he is.  If you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, Jesus says if you do that to them then you have done it to him.  That’s where Jesus is.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Many Christians put great energy into believing all the right things about God, about Jesus, about the Bible, about the church, about the world.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there is value thinking correctly about those topics.  I just don’t think it is the heart of Christianity.  To me the heart of Christianity is living in union with Jesus who is the eternal Christ and resurrected Lord.

There is a wonderful line in a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

 “Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.”

May it be so, today, and all days.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!


About the writer:

For twenty-four years, Dr. R. Dale McAbee worked with Rehabilitation and Psychiatric patients at Baptist Health Louisville as well as those in treatment for Substance Use Disorder. Recently he has become the Oncology Chaplain.  He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. For the last eight years, he has been Choirmaster at Concordia Lutheran Church and prior to that served St. Mark United Methodist for 13 years, Church of the Ascension in Frankfort for 2 years and Tunnel Hill Christian Church for 2 years as music minister.

He is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina and earned the BA in Music from Furman University, the Master of Divinity in Pastoral Care and Counseling at Southern Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Seminary. In the spring of 2009 and summer of 2017, he served as Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care at Saint Meinrad Seminary, Saint Meinrad, Indiana.


Scripture and Music:

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43

John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8



Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

We Welcome Glad Easter

Jesus Christ Is Risen Today

Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise

The Day of Resurrection

Now the Green Blade Riseth

Hail Thee, Festival Day

Crown Him with Many Crowns

Thine Is the Glory

Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious

Christ Is Alive



Christ the Lord Is Risen Again! (John Rutter)

O Be Joyful for Christ the Lord Is Risen (J.S. Bach)

Christ Is Alive (arr. Hal Hopson)

This Is the Day (Blankenship)

In Thee Is Gladness ( arr. Kallman)

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Martin or Mallory)

He Is Alive! (Buryl Red from Celebrate Life!)

Hallelujah (G. F. Handel from Messiah)

Hallelujah (Beethoven from Mount of Olives)



I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (Handel)

Rise Again (Holm)

Were You There (spiritual)

Posted in Dr. R. Dale McAbee, Sermons on March 9, 2018. Tags: , , , , ,