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Speaking to the Soul: Recognition

Speaking to the Soul: Recognition

by Linda McMillan


John 20:1-18


But, something funny happened at the tomb…


A few years ago there was an event in my home town honoring my mother. My brother and I had to put on nice clothes and go to it. I didn’t mind the nice clothes so much, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t know anybody there and I really didn’t want to go. I didn’t mind the ceremony so much, it was the mingling part I wasn’t looking forward to. It’s so hard to be an effective mingler when you don’t know anybody. But, I was fortunate. Even though I hadn’t spent much time in my old hometown there were a few people who recognized me.


Recognition means that you are called out from the group, you aren’t just a face in the crowd. If you are recognized then you may be known and honored for your uniqueness. Of course, it goes the other way too. You may be called out of a line-up and sent to jail! But, I am talking about the kind of recognition which usually has a more positive end.


One of the most famous Bible stories about being recognized is in Genesis 42 when Joseph, having risen from slavery to prime minister, recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph must have changed a lot in the intervening years to make him unrecognizable. He was certainly no longer their insufferable little brother.


Of course, there are times when we fail to recognize others too. I once got in an elevator with a well-known pop music star, but I failed to recognize her. I said something silly about the crowds in the lobby, “I wonder what’s going on?”. Of course, the crowds were there for her.


You may remember the story of the man born blind (Acts 3). As long as he remained a blind beggar, didn’t get too uppity, or try to break social convention people recognized him. He was the blind beggar. But, as soon as he gained his sight and started walking around with confidence, maybe even being able to support himself and gain some dignity, people suddenly didn’t recognize him. He had changed too much.


This morning, Easter Sunday Morning, we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the tomb. But, something funny happened at the tomb. His old friend, Mary Magdalene, didn’t recognize him. Maybe she was overwrought with grief, or maybe she truly thought there’d be a gardener working there at the crack of dawn. But, maybe something about Jesus had changed so profoundly that he was simply not the same.


Over the next few weeks we will have some stories of recognition. The most famous are the stories that happened along the road to Emmaus. We read about it on Tuesday of Easter Week and again the Third Sunday of Easter. Most famously, there are these verses:


Luke 24:31… Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.


Luke 24:35… began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.


Recognition, it would seem, is a slippery thing. When they recognized him, he vanished. And they didn’t recognize him until he was eating with them, breaking bread. In other words, they were only able to see Jesus in the ways they expected to see him. As soon as they lost sight of Jesus the fellow traveler and began to think of him as the messiah, they were no longer able to see him. And, correspondingly, they didn’t recognize him until he was doing one of those few things that unite all humans: eating.


How do we recognize one another? If the people in your life suddenly got out of their assigned roles, would you recognize them? Of course, we’d recognize our close friends. But, what about your accountant, or barista, dentist, or the blind beggar, for that matter? Would you recognize your dentist if she appeared behind the wheel of a taxi, or the blind beggar if she suddenly showed up to do your taxes? People do change. But, sometimes we can’t see them anymore when they do.


There’s probably someone in your congregation who always complains, who is chronically depressed, or broke, someone else who is cranky, a know-it-all, or who takes the biggest piece of pie at coffee hour. There are also those who volunteer for everything, always show up, bring the wine, count the cost and forge ahead. But are they allowed to cross-over, or does the enthusiastic volunteer become invisible when he becomes depressed, or the depressive when he gets better, or the one who is always broke when they get a great new job? Does changing make people invisible?


For the next three weeks we will hear post-resurrection stories about Jesus before moving into the Pentecost readings and ordinary time. I wonder, though, if we’ll always recognize Jesus for who he really is? It is easy enough to believe that he is some other kind of creature, very unlike those of us who have never fed 5000, or healed a blind man, or raised the dead. Yet, the reason Jesus came was to be like us, to join us in the struggle to make it through our appointed time on this muddy planet. We recognize Jesus, by allowing him to be who he is: One of us.


When the first new alleluias of this season have quieted down, we can take a few minutes to think about Mary Magdalene and Jesus at the tomb, about how recognition is dependent on people being who we expect them to be. And, then, maybe we can give one another room to grow and change, recognizing that like Joseph, and the blind man, and Jesus we become different people in the course of a life, or even in the course of a day.




Linda McMillan is from Yangzhong, China


Some Notes of Possible Interest


Image: Magdalene by Donatello © Marie-Lan Nguyen / via Wikimedia Commons


On Tuesday of Easter Week we will read more about the “Gardener Theory,” when “… supposing him to be the gardener…” Mary Magdalene looks for Jesus’ body.

John 20:11-18



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Mark Falby

I remember having my hair aluminized and it turned orange red rather than it’s customary dark brown. I was meeting my parents at the airport and, upon seeing my father stepped in front of him as he approached me to greet him. He tried to ever away from me, so I sidestepped back into his path. He once again veered away from me and I finally said “Dad!” Recognition flooded his features where before there was no emotion, no communication, and a desire to step out of my way. It is an amazing thing to see the flood of recognition fill another person’s face, especially if you feel they are supposed to be close, that they are supposed to love you. I imagine what it was like for those biblical people was pretty much the same. How odd to not be recognized. How strange to finally recognize the unrecognized. It is all in the moment, the flash of an instant. WOW!

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