The One Whom Jesus Loves

Homily, The One Whom Jesus Loves
Easter Sunday, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Tequesta, FL

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Do you have a favorite book or movie character? Perhaps its Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series. Or Anne from Anne of Green Gables. Or Darth Vader from Star Wars. There’s nothing like a strong character in a good story, is there? A character that makes you smile. A character that gives you hope. A character you believe in. A character you can see yourself in. 

Our gospel passage this Easter morning has some great characters. Of course there is Jesus, the one who the whole story is about. But there is also Mary Magdalene, first to proclaim the risen Lord. Peter, Jesus’ most passionate disciple. And the two angels, who sit in the grave as a sign of Divine transformation. But my favorite character in this passage, and in the Gospel of John, is the one that doesn’t even have a name. The character is simply called, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” 

And it’s a great mystery as to who this disciple is. The disciple is mentioned only six times in the gospel, and each in a moment permeated with meaning and intimacy. For centuries scholars have debated who this disciple is. From the earliest days it was assumed to be Jesus’ disciple John, which is where we get the name of this book. But some say that it is Lazarus, the one whom Jesus raised from the dead. And others say a child who grew up to tell his story. Some say Mary Magdalene, though our passage puts them both in the same place at the same time, so I’m not sure about that. Others say, James, Jesus’ brother. Some say the disciple is a metaphor for the Gentile Christians that would soon come to be. But my favorite suggestion is that the disciple whom Jesus loved is YOU. You are the disciple whom Jesus loves. The listener. The reader. Some scholars say that the anonymity here is a literary tool so that we, the listeners, can put ourselves into the text. 

And when we read the story in this way, the story takes on a whole new light. Suddenly we are no longer hearing it as outsiders looking in, we are hearing it as our own story. As our own experience. We are the ones who hear Mary’s testimony. We are the ones who run alongside Peter to the tomb. We are the ones who stoop down to look inside.

And not only that but we take on one of the more important roles. For it was the disciple whom Jesus loved who was first to believe in the Jesus of Easter. You can see it in the middle of our passage this morning. It says, “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” 

Now notice that while it says this disciple saw the empty tomb, it doesn’t say they saw the risen Christ. And notice that it doesn’t say the disciple understood what was happening; in fact it says the disciple didn’t understand what was happening. And yet, it does say the disciple whom Jesus loved believed. 

This disciple’s faith is founded not upon their understanding, but upon their experience. Not only the experience of seeing an empty tomb, but their experience of Jesus and being loved by Jesus. LOVE, not understanding, is the foundation of faith. LOVE, not understanding. It is only in experiencing our belovedness that we can hear the message of Easter. 

This morning the most important question is not if you believe in God. Or in the Bible. Or in the resurrection. This morning the most important question is: Do you believe in your belovedness? Do you believe you are worth loving? Do you believe that you were created good and beautiful? Do you believe that you are the one whom Jesus loves? 

You may have little to no understanding of the Christian faith. You may not have your life all put together. You may be riddled with doubts or anxiety or pain. You may not even know what you are doing here. But do you believe in your belovedness. Because it is only in believing that we are beloved, that we can know that Christ is risen and love never dies. LOVE is the beginning of faith. 

And you are the one whom Jesus loves; so do you believe it? Amen.