O Mary Don't You Weep
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The first Easter morning was about a surprise. Something unexpected. How do you feel about surprises? The other week Jennifer asked me if I like to be surprised or if I preferred to observe things. She was talking about the new banners that were going to be installed that day outside the church. Did I want to hear that they were being installed or did I want to wait ‘til I drove in the next day and saw them (presuming I would notice them at all – I’m not famous for noticing things like that). It turned out that I wanted to know what the surprise was. I’m not really such a fan of surprises. I am generally a fan of new things. I’m a big fan of God doing something new.
Easter Sunday was a day of God doing something new. I said at the beginning of our look at John that John always recognizes the light and darkness. We talked about how John takes the story of Christ back to the beginning, before time. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. In this picture of space we also see darkness. We talked about how the choice is always laid before us. What story are we going to live? What story are we going to tell? We talked about the mystery of the ineffable, the inexpressible meeting the everyday, the mundane. Of promises of life and light, and living water gushing up in us as if from a stream. We’ve talked about a king who doesn’t maybe meet our expectations. A king who we followed on the road to Jerusalem who didn’t look like any king we’d ever seen. We cried out “Hosanna! God save us!” as we followed him on this road to the cross. He invited us to eat his flesh and drink his blood and we believed him because we’ve come to believe that it is in dying that we are born to eternal life – life from above, knowing God, life the way we were created to live it in loving communion with our creator, brought back to God by his Son and filled with his Holy Spirit.
Behold I am doing a new thing. Can you not perceive it? It can be hard to perceive God’s new thing. The resurrection happened at night. Jesus’ death is reported on at length. No one was there to see the resurrection and report on it. In the midst of the darkness light shines. Matthias Grunewald shows this marvellously in his “Resurrection”. You see this image of the risen Jesus with a light emanating from him. The marks of the nails still in his hands and feet, lest we forget. I’ve heard it described as Jesus’ “ta-da” moment. I love that.
The light and the darkness. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” It was still dark. It’s like John is taking us back to the beginning again, when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. The first to discover the empty tomb, the first to encounter the risen Christ will be a woman – Mary of Magdala (a little town on the shore of Lake Galilee, it’s still there). Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. She ran to tell Simon Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved and said “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they laid him.” Grave robbing was apparently quite a common occurrence back then. The two race to the tomb – so much running going on here! The beloved disciple gets there first. There’s enough light to see inside. The linen they wrapped the body in is there. Strange that grave robbers wouldn’t have left the body wrapped. Always impetuous Peter rushes in and sees the linen lying there. The cloth that had been on Jesus’ head is rolled up in a place by itself. We read this and know what’s going on. We think of the story of Lazarus. That was a precursor. The opening act. Lazarus came out of the tomb with his wrappings on, the cloth around his head. He needed help to be unbound.
Now there’s something new going on. If Lazarus was the opening act, this is the headliner. We don’t know what Peter’s reaction to all this was. This is no indictment against him. He didn’t know what was going on. We know that the beloved disciple saw and believed, though as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
We have belief. We have… we’re not sure what we have. Kind of like here today yes? We have grief. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. We have grief. Mary is weeping. I read an article recently by Milton Brasher Cunningham in which he talks about being a pastor of a church in Marshfield Mass which had broken off from the First Church of Plymouth – like pilgrims. It was a clapboard church with a cemetery alongside it. He talks about how they would have an Easter egg hunt and hide some eggs among the tombstones, some of which dated back to the revolutionary war. This is what MBC has to say – “The juxtaposition of cold stones and vibrant children reminds me that the transition from Good Friday to Resurrection Morning is not ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’. We proclaim the resurrection in the middle of the cemetery that is our grief-coloured existence, losing loved ones even as we welcome new people into our hearts. We are the walking wounded, the disconsolate… the ones that need to be reminded there a love that will not let us go.”
When it comes to grief you know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t you will. When we looked at John 6 I said it was written in the shadow of death. Our lives are lived in the shadow of death. There’s a line in “Waiting For Godot” that goes, “Human beings give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” Mary is in the dark. Mary is at the place of death and she’s weeping. Let us sit with her. Everything she had hoped for us gone. She didn’t expect things to turn out this way. Does any of this sound familiar? Have any of us encountered this? She’s in the place of death and she’s disconsolate. As she’s weeping she looks for Jesus. I love that she does that. She looks for him in the last place he was seen. She bends over to look in the tomb. The entrance ways to these tombs were not large and they were low to the ground. She sees two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head, and the other at the feet. They speak to her. “Woman, why are you weeping?”
What a great question. Do you know how good it is for you to tell someone why you’re weeping? Even the EAP’s speak of this. Talk about your problems, please. Talking about your problems helps you get through a problem. Why are you weeping? If you’re not weeping today know that you are surrounded by people who are. Know that we are surrounded by people who need to be reminded of a love that will not let us go. People who feel the shadow of death and loss keenly. People who weep in private because they don’t want their friends to know. People who weep in the shower because they don’t want their families to know. Why are you weeping? We need to have the compassion to ask this question and the courage and trust to answer it honestly. We need to be Christ’s to one another in this friends. We need to be able to pose the question and stick around to hear the answer. We need to stop pretending that everything is ok when we feel like we are dying inside. If we can’t be more honestly ourselves in church or around the people of God then where can we be? This the first question of pastoral care – What happened? Why are you weeping? Jesus himself, our great pastor will repeat the question in a few moments.
“They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Not only did they torture and dehumanise him and kill him in a way you wouldn’t do to an animal, now they’ve stolen his body and we can’t even give him a proper burial. For all I know his body is lying out in a field somewhere. It is at this point that the light appears. The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. Now this light has come into the world in a wholly new and unexpected way. When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus asks the same question – “Why are you weeping?” and adds “Whom are you looking for?” She thinks he’s the gardener, which should remind us of another garden. Jesus as the new Adam. The first fruits of the resurrection. All this is coming though. Mary is so disconsolate she doesn’t know what she is saying. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Oftentimes in a crisis we don’t know what to do say or do. We don’t know what we’re saying or doing. I remember about 10 years ago we were doing a Vacation Bible School here. One of the adults who volunteered was with the children in the gym downstairs after lunch. They were running around. The volunteer fell on the gym floor and hit her head off the concrete. It was ugly – stitches required. Direct pressure. Blood everywhere. I remember vividly one of children literally running around in circles with his hands up in the air, disconsolate. Not knowing what to do.
Mary doesn’t know what she’d doing. What she’s saying. I imagine her talking through her tears. Through her sobs. “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him” – like the grave robber would be hanging around the scene of the crime. “I will take him away” – like she would have the strength to carry a corpse.
Here comes the good news. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Jesus calls her by name. This is what God has been doing for us since the garden. Things didn’t turn out there the way people expected. Going one’s own way in the garden brought nothing but shame and the desire to hide. But the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Later on things didn’t go the way Moses expected them to. Raised in Pharaoh’s house, caught between his Israelite heritage and the slavery his people were in and his Egyptian upbringing. Raised in privilege, one day he sees an Egyptian overseer beating a member of his tribe. Kills him. Flees and goes from the Egyptian court to being a shepherd in Midian. Sees a burning bush and says “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” This was new you see. He hears God’s voice doing what? Calling his name. “Moses, Moses!” Twice! “Here I am” comes the reply.” Or how about young Samuel. Miracle baby. Pledged by his mother to be in the Lords’ service. Too young to have any expectations maybe or to know what’s going on at all or what he wants out of life. Hears a voice and what does the voice do? Calls his name. Again the double name use – “Samuel! Samuel!” and Samuel also says “Here I am” but he runs to the high priest Eli because he doesn’t know who’s calling and Eli says “I didn’t call you!” and it’s kind of hilarious in a who’s on first way and it’s kind of hilarious that God calls our names and seeks us and gives us the power to become children of God because who would have thought that of Moses, or Samuel, or Mary Magdalene, or of us? Because we know ourselves right?
Friends this Resurrection morning, God calls us by name. “Mary,” he said. “Rabboni!” she replies. Not only teacher, but “My teacher.” May we say this today with Mary Magdalene. May we be willing to come before Jesus as we are. With tears in our eyes. With sleep in our eyes. With sheep muck on our shoes. Hiding in some shrubbery. Ashamed. It is here that our shame is taken away. It is here that we find life. If you’ve made the decision a thousand times or if this is the first time, may we say along with Mary – my teacher. I want to be your student Jesus. I want to listen for you calling my name. May we along with Mary give our yes to Jesus. You may not fully understand the implications. Don’t worry. I don’t and this is my job! God grant that we’re coming to understand the implications together.
Christ is risen. The one who is the first ad the last and the living one is here. The time for weeping is over. We’re going to sing a song now about deliverance. I want us to listen to it, join in the chorus if you like. O Mary don’t you weep. Pharaoh’s army got drowned. In other words deliverance is here.
The story ends with Jesus telling Mary not to hold onto him. This may signal the new reality that has been brought about by Jesus’ resurrection. Things are not going to be the way they were before. He’s going to send his Spirit and this thing is going to take off. It’s going to go worldwide. There’s a new relationship going on. “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” We’re part of the family now. Adopted children. Joint heirs. Imagine that! Mary also has a job to do. Go to my brothers and tell them, Jesus says. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” We’ll talk more about this mission and what it means to us next week. May we go from this place this day saying along with Mary “We have seen the Lord.” He is risen indeed. He is alive and active in and among us. May we say along with Jesus, my Father and your Father, my God and your God. May the joy of that first Easter morning be with you this and every day.